Veteran airmen keep the past alive in Morro Bay

judysalamacha@gmail.comSeptember 15, 2013 

In 2006, Morro Bay’s Bob Dixon invited World War II airmen to meet informally but regularly.

Dixon served as a pilot in the Flying Fortress B-17 bombers, and although he passed away Nov. 6, 2010, he would be proud his buddies still meet every Friday at 8:30 a.m. at La Parisienne in Morro Bay. They invite others to come and share memories and opinions. The regulars include Al Findley, William Siler, Hank Hall, Bill Olson, Julius Royal, Mike Fitzsimmons and Mark Sandol. 

A prisoner of war shot down twice, Findley was a radio operator on a B-24 Liberator.
“One’s purpose in the military is survival,” he said.

His best memory is of getting the telegram announcing his first child was born.

Hall, 89, flew 26 missions over Germany and France. On D-Day, he remembered, “You couldn’t see the ground.”

He remembered “getting peppered” over Germany and saying he’d never go up again. But the next day, they’d fly to support the troops.

“You go so you don’t let your crew down.”

From 1944-45, Bill Olson, 93, flew photo intelligence missions in the South Pacific in B-25s. He thought his tour of duty was over, but was sent to Attu in the Aleutian Islands for the duration of the war.

He flew 1,600 missions and said, “Not one landing could you see. You needed a guide to talk you down. We lost more to accidents than combat. We didn’t know anything about the A-bomb. It was a relief it wasn’t an invasion of Japan and it was all over.”

Fitzsimmons is the youngest flyer in the group. He’s Navy instead of Air Force.

Trained in aviation electronics, he explained, “We flew the last prop Sky Raider. We were first in Vietnam in 1962. It was a discreet cargo mission replacing electronics with guns. We lived in tents at the end of the runway and generated our own electricity to keep the planes running.”

Royal served in the Hungarian Air Force during the Soviet occupation of Hungary.

“During the Hungarian Revolution we chased them off. I was shot down by a Soviet Mig 17 on the Austrian border,” he said. “I was born in Austria so I ran to escape. Eventually, I got to Canada.”

Sandol is awed weekly.

“They let me sit in. I’d like to see Americans wear red shirts on Friday — call it Freedom Friday to honor all who’ve served,” he said.

Morro Bay’s Gary Ryan has another way to honor the troops. He’ll be announcing the Warbirds Over Paso Air Show on Oct. 5. It features Eddie Andreini flying a Super Stearman and P-51 Mustang plus Clay Lacy doing Learjet aerobatics. For more information about the air show, visit www.ewarbirds.org. 

Judy Salamacha’s column is special to The Tribune. Reach her at judysalamacha@gmail.com or 801-1422.

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