WWII veterans visit McConnell

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Abigail Klein
  • 22nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
As you stroll down the hallways of the 384th Air Refueling Squadron, there's no difficulty seeing both photos and static displays of the flying unit's appreciation for its Air Force heritage.

On Oct. 18, 2012, the men and women of the 384th ARS took their reverence of this heritage one step further, as they listened to three veterans of the largest, most widespread war in the world's history.

Charles Chauncey, U.S. Army Air Corps B-29 combat pilot, and Dr. Lew Smith, U.S. Army Air Corp B-17 pilot, were both in their early 20s when the U.S. joined World War II. Both gentlemen were combat pilots and flew more than 70 missions between them, with Smith flying primarily in the European Theatre and Chauncey battling it out over Japan. For their heroic actions, the two each received the Distinguished Flying Cross.

The two men now reside in Kansas, and since the war have become involved with the Commemorative Air Force Jayhawk Wing, a veterans lectureship program which focuses on honoring military aviation.

The two men were accompanied by Herb Duncan, Commemorative Air Force Jayhawk Wing Colonel and Kansas Honor Flight network representative, and escorted by 1st Lt. Adam Cohen, 384th ARS combat systems officer.

The chance to listen to the detailed accounts of these highly decorated men was an honor for the Airmen, and was an opportunity that Cohen couldn't pass up after meeting with Mr. Chaucey and inviting him to speak to McConnell Airmen during the McConnell's 2012 Open House and Air Show.

"It's critical for these men to speak because these are from the greatest generation," said Cohen. "They have an incredible story to tell, not even from an Air Force perspective, because they flew over Japan and Europe."

The men regaled more than 60 Airmen at the 384th ARS auditorium with tales of flying over the Pacific and the English Channel. The somber stories of battle were softened by the humorous accounts that the men used to help preserver.

After speaking, Chauncey and Smith posed for photos with the Airmen, and were coined by Lt. Col. Stan Lawrie, 384th ARS commander, who commented on their appreciation for sharing their experiences with today's Airmen.

Upon leaving the auditorium, Smith headed over to the KC-135 Simulator, climbed into the pilot seat after more than 68 years, and marveled at the complications involved with in-flight refueling.

"This is amazing," said Smith. "I can't believe what you guys can do today."

Smith also gushed about imparting his WWII experiences with McConnell Airmen.

"They were great, they even laughed at my jokes, " he chuckled. "It gave us all a kind of presence. Our war was a different war, everyone was involved [back then], but the most important thing for me to pass on to young Airmen is the story of what we did."

Smith and Chauncey were involved in a war that took the lives of an estimated 40 to 65 million people. Hundreds of millions were physically and mentally wounded. According to the Honor Flight Network website, the WWII veteran survivors are passing away at a rate more than 900 a day.