2 Chandler WWII vets get flight of their lives SanTan Sun News

2 Chandler WWII vets get flight of their lives

September 27th, 2021 SanTan Sun News
2 Chandler WWII vets get flight of their lives
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By Ken Sain, Staff Writer

It took some convincing for Chandler veteran Frank Forte to agree to be part of Operation September Freedom. He is 93, after all.

Not so for 95-year-old James Campbell, who was eager for the experience.

“That plan was immaculate,” Forte said. “When you got on it, you knew it was safe. It wasn’t just some balsa wood.”

The two Atria Chandler Villas residents each took a half-hour flight aboard a restored World War II-era Boeing Stearman biplane on Sept. 15. They each got a turn with a pilot as the only passengers as they flew over southern Chandler.

The trips were part of Dream Flight’s Operation September Freedom, which aimed to give 1,000 World War II vets a special flight during September.

“It was fantastic,” Campbell said.

“It was a once-in-a-lifetime you’re going to do something like that,” Forte said. “I never thought I’d fly in a biplane.”

Campbell served as a 2nd Class Signalman in the U.S. Navy during the war. He was on board the USS Tucson, right next to the USS Missouri, when Japan signed the papers that ended the war.

“I didn’t stay … in Tokyo after I saw the signing of the peace treaty,” Campbell said. “More or less they wanted me to sign over for another four years. I said no.”

Forte joked that his great idea for dodging the draft back then was to sign up to be a Marine.

“They promised you four years of college for two years of service,” Forte said. “But then they hang you up, before you get out (of high school), to join the inactive reserves. They’ll only call you after they’ve called the reserves and everything else. We shouldn’t have believed that.”

Forte’s service started as the war was ending. He said most of his time was spent helping train others to face the new threat coming from Russia.

When he wasn’t playing a Russian in training drills, he was playing a French horn in the Marine band.

The two men say they fell veterans are treated well in this country. And not just in special events like veterans getting a special flight.

“You get to go to school, you get to have help on a mortgage, that paid off,” Forte said. “We were treated with hugs and kisses.”

Atria Chandler Villas Engage Life Director Alyssa Ethington says she’s been applying for the program for seven years and this was the first year their veterans were selected.

Campbell credits the military with helping his career as a purchasing agent at Arizona State University. He also ran a restaurant with his wife.

Forte said he was briefly a firefighter, but ended up working in information systems for most of his career.

Both men signed the tail of the plane, joining the names of the other veterans who took the flight.

Forte gives the Marines credit for his later success in life.

“I became a man,” he said. “They taught me how to be confident in myself. The Marine Corp tears you down and then builds you back, the way they wanted. You find out, it’s the best way to go.”

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