I took my 7-year-old granddaughter to the St. Louis Downtown Airport to see the "Wings of Freedom Tour." Three World War II aircraft were going to be on display -- a B-17, B-24 and P-51. I wanted her to see and experience a part of history that she may not be taught in school.
As we approached the area where people were waiting for the arrival of the planes, I saw an older gentleman standing tall and proud, looking to the sky and watching for the planes. His hat and shirt were decorated with pictures and emblems of the B-17 named the Nine-O-Nine, one of the planes that was due to arrive. I knew that he had to be a military veteran. I went up to him, shook his hand and thanked him for his service to our country. He smiled and thanked me. I introduced myself and we began to talk.
Not only was he a World War II veteran, he was the pilot of the original Nine-O-Nine B-17. He was 22 years old in 1944, stationed at a base in England with the 91st Bomb Group 323rd Squadron. He flew 30 combat missions, half of which were over Germany. His 30th and last mission was against Berlin, Germany, on April 29, 1944. His 30th mission completed his combat tour and he was reassigned to be a flight instructor. After the war, he continued to fly civilian and commercial aircraft.
His name is Basil Hackleman. He is now 93 years old and resides in Springfield, Mo. I am honored and proud that I met him and that he took the time to talk with me. I will never forget him.