WWII veterans’ spirits soar on Dream Flights
By Bobby Bryant, Editor
It reminded Roland “Rocky” Gannon of his honeymoon, 70 years ago. “It was so exciting,” said Gannon, 96, of Darlington. “So much excitement. So beautiful. I just was near speechless.” Gannon had just emerged Friday from a brightly painted open-cockpit biplane flown by Marcus Smith of Raleigh, N.C.; they had zoomed around the sky above Branham’s Airport for about half an hour as part of a program by the Dream Flights nonprofit group to “give back” to veterans and seniors. This year – Dream Flights’ sixth event in Darlington – the Nevada-based group is focusing on World War II veterans like Gannon, a former director of the Florence airport who had a nearly 40-year career in the Army Air Corps/Air Force. Gannon left high school in Ocean City, N.J., in his junior year and joined the Army Air Corps, said his daughter Patty Balazs, a retired Darlington High School teacher. “When his class was graduated from high school a year later, he was flying B-17s.” Several WWII veterans were set to take a sky ride around Darlington on Friday, organizers said. If men like them “didn’t go off and do what they did, we wouldn’t be able to do what we’re doing now,” said pilot Smith. Dream Flights uses Boeing Stearman biplanes, the type of plane typically used for military training around World War II. It’s a two-seater with no windshields over the seats. The pilot sits in the rear seat; the passenger sits at the front. The tail of the plane is covered with the autographs of veterans who have flown in it; Gannon added his name after he returned to the ground from his flight. The pilots for the Dream Flights mostly work for airlines and many are veterans themselves. They volunteer their time to the group; Smith said he was taking a couple of months off to devote to the Dream Flights program. Dream Flights’ founder, Darryl Fisher, has said the group realized that time was running out for most WWII veterans, so the group decided to temporarily restrict its flights to those vets for a few months. “We’re going to take our six airplanes and fly barnstorm the entire country, only flying World War II veterans,” Fisher said.