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WWII veteran reunites with former aircraft

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Shelley Gregory
  • 92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
Reunions between old friends are typically full of joy, laughter and shared memories -- especially when more than 50 years have passed between meetings.

For World War II veteran, retired Lt. Col. Alston "Al" Daniels, the reunion with the aircraft he piloted for nearly 2,000 hours was no different. On April 7, Daniels gleefully walked up the steps to a Douglas C-47D Skytrain cockpit for the first time since 1962.

"I never expected an opportunity like this," Daniels said.

Now a resident of Cheney, Washington, Daniels mentioned to his family one night while playing cards that he would like to visit his old plane. His son-in-law, retired Col. Michael Billings, a former 92nd Operations Group commander here, contacted the wing historian, Jim O'Connell, and made arrangements for the aging aircraft to be reopened allowing Daniels an afternoon to re-collect.

When Daniels sat in the pilot's seat once more, the moods of those involved matched the sunny environment outside. He and his family spent time in and around the plane recalling their favorite memories of his time in the service.

He began his career as a cadet in the Army Air Corps in 1942 at Mather Field, California. After graduating from basic flight training in February 1944, he entered advanced flight training in Stockton, California. Later, he earned his commission and was sent to troop carrier transition training in Alliance, Nebraska, where he first flew the C-47.

In November 1944, Daniels arrived in Sienna, Italy, to support the combat mission in WWII. He was assigned with the 8th Troop Carrier Squadron, which actively supported Italian troops operating behind German lines. Daniels also flew gasoline in 55-gallon drums to Army Gen. George S. Patton’s Third Army when their tanks ran dry while in hot pursuit of the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge.

At the conclusion of WWII, Daniels was assigned to Templehof Airdrome in Germany as a member of the European Transport Service and returned to the U.S. in 1946.

Of the 10 planes Daniels flew throughout his career, the C-47 was his favorite. It is the one in which he had the most memorable experiences.

"In nearly 2,000 hours, I lost one engine and flew the old bird, on and off, from the time I got my wings until I was grounded," Daniels said.

The C-47, affectionately called the "Gooney bird," is one of eight aircraft on static display at Fairchild Air Force Base's Heritage Airpark. It was stationed at Fairchild during the 1940s and 1950s for airlift and training.

"It was great to get back in the cockpit and look around," Daniels said. "I was very careful and very lucky as a pilot, and to Airmen today, I say continue to do your duty and obey orders."