Castle Air Force Base will be put back in service this fall, providing a historic runway for a flight of local World War II veterans making a pilgrimage to Washington, D.C.
The base that trained many pilots and crewmen during World War II will play host to the fifth Central Valley Honor Flight in October. Honor Flights give veterans a chance to visit the World War II memorial in Washington, D.C. through an all-expense paid journey provided by the nonprofit.
CVHF also provides vets an opportunity to experience a community send off and welcome home, something they may not have received during war time.
Seventy-five local veterans, including two from Turlock, are scheduled to fly out of Castle Air Base on Oct. 27. One of the veterans who will be making the flight is Merced resident Vincent Willis. Willis was a B-24 pilot in WW II and stationed at Castle Air Force Base for five years, during which he made many take offs on the runway the Honor Flight will use in October.
While Willis said he is anxious to see the World War II Memorial, which was finished only 10 years ago, the journey is what he is most looking forward to.
"When I got out of the service in 1945, there was no welcome home. So, this is going to be quite an impression to me," said Willis at a press conference to announce the Honor Flight held at Castle Air Museum on Thursday.
Omaha Beach D-Day survivor Phillip Hauck will also be on the October Honor Flight.
"I was really never given an honor by our government until '08...to go now [to the World War II Memorial] is an honor, a privilege, and I'm glad they're looking forward to taking care of all of the veterans that are left that spent their lives to make this a free country," said Hauck.
Talking about his service at the Castle Air Museum brought back memories for Hauck, who was an engineer in the war.
"That plane right there, the 24, flew over us many times as ground people, as Army...and we saw them battling their way into Germany and we used to say 'Hitler, you better count your chickens,'" he said.
The October trip will be the first flight out of Castle Air Base, but Central Valley Honor Flight's fifth trip overall. Since October 2013, CVHF has taken more than 200 WW II veterans to see the memorial in Washington, D. C. The fourth flight will leave out of Fresno Yosemite International airport in September.
When the veterans arrive in Washington, D.C., they are met at the memorial by local legislators such as Representative Jim Costa, a task Costa said he feels honored to perform.
"After World War II most of them didn't have the marching bands. They went home and they went back to their communities and they continued to work and give back to America. This is a way that we can give back to them. And that's why I and my office and ... my other Congressional colleagues from here in the Valley make a point of being there to thank them. We can never, ever say thank you enough for it's their shoulders we stand on today. America is still the beacon of hope, the greatest democracy in the world because of what they did in World War II," said Costa.
CVHF is seeking donations to help make the October trip possible, and future trips for the over 5,000 WW II vets that live in the Central Valley. For information on how to contribute or for an application to go on an Honor Flight, visit Cvhonorflight.org or call the air museum at 723-2178.
Community members are also invited to come out to Castle Air Base on Oct. 27 to give the veterans a proper send off and then a warm welcome home on Oct. 29.