Sitting in a wheelchair with images of airplanes on his shirt and a U.S. Army Air Corps hat on his head, 92-year-old retired Air National Guard Chief Warrant Officer 2 Robert Hertel was reunited with the P-47 Thunderbolt during the Heritage Flight Training and Certification Course here Feb. 28.
After being wheeled out to the flightline, Hertel was greeted by Gen. Hawk Carlisle, the commander of Air Combat Command, Charles Hainline and Tom Gregory, both P-47 Thunderbolt Heritage Flight pilots.
Hertel flew the legendary Thunderbolt while stationed on Iwo Jima, Japan, during World War II and had not seen the aircraft since retiring from the military in the 1960’s.
“When I found out it was going to be here I just had to bring him,” said Hertel’s daughter Peggy Hertel. “It’s been his dream for so long to see one again.”
Although he does not remember a lot of his past, there is one thing that has stayed clear in his memory.
“He has always remembered his airplanes,” Peggy said. “I think he was thinking he was going to get in and fly it.”
Hertel smiled and laughed as he was wheeled around the aircraft, stopping to reach out with his war-fought hands to touch his old friend.
Just as seeing the aircraft was exciting for the veteran, Carlisle and the P-47 pilots were in for a treat as well.
“I brought some of his pictures and log book, everybody wants to see the log book,” Peggy said. “It shows some of the bombing flights that he went on and firefights and even has a couple of tourist tours that he flew. It’s quite a bit of history to see.”
The P-47 pilots ended WWII with 3,752 air-to-air kills while flying more than 423,000 sorties.
“Thanks for making us the greatest Air Force in the world,” Carlisle told Hertel. “You are a part of our heritage. We wouldn’t be where we are at if it wasn’t for people like you that set us up for success.”
Hertel left the aircraft with an ACC commander’s coin, P-47 patch, and Heritage Flight memorabilia to remember the day he was finally reunited with his old pal.
“I am just really glad that I was able to bring him here and that everybody has been so kind with showing the plane and talking to him,” Peggy said.