REGION — Eight military veterans from the La Costa Glen retirement community in Carlsbad took to the skies in a World War II-era Boeing Stearman PT-17 biplane during Ageless Aviation Dream Flights on Nov. 1.
Pilot Mike Sommars flew one veteran at a time at the Oceanside Municipal Airport, while his wife, Lynn, helped coordinate the schedule and prepare the veterans for takeoff.
The couple from Scottsdale, Arizona, volunteers about 10 hours a week for the Ageless Aviation Dreams Foundation, which provides free Stearman flights with the mission to “give back to those who have given.” The nonprofit has provided about 3,500 dream flights across 42 states since 2011.
As Lynn sees it, “Everyone from that era gave — whether it was their military service, living on rations, or losing brothers and other loved ones to the war effort. We want all the participants, who might need canes or have physical pains now, to remember who they were years ago when they get up into the sky today.”
Two of the La Costa Glen veterans served during World War II, while others served during the Vietnam, Korean and Cold war conflicts as well as in peacetime.
Lloyd Anna, when he was 19 years old in 1943, learned to fly in a Boeing Stearman before fighting in World War II. Anna got the chance to return to the open cockpit of his original training plane and recall what it felt like to climb aboard so many years ago.
After his flight Anna said, “Oh man, I was in heaven; close to it anyway!”
Joyce Dietz, who served as a flight nurse during Vietnam, shared, “It was so much fun to take this flight today and to see the coastline, the lagoons and the vastness of Camp Pendleton. It was an exhilarating experience!”
While in the service, Dietz flew to Japan to retrieve soldiers who had been wounded in Vietnam and bring them home. She would sometimes be the sole nurse aboard, whose task was to stabilize the soldiers and care for their injuries. Dietz went on to work as a nurse at the Veterans Administration Hospital in La Jolla from when it opened in 1972 until she retired in the late ’80s.
Her husband, Dick Dietz, also took a Dream Flight on Nov. 1. He had a long Navy career as an aviator based out of Coronado’s North Island. During the Cold War, Dietz flew a Grumman S-2 while searching for Russian submarines. In Vietnam, he flew surveillance missions in search of ships entering the Gulf of Tonkin that were delivering rockets and other weaponry to the North Vietnamese.
Another La Costa Glen resident named Hal Sprogis, who was an Air Force pilot and then a captain for United Airlines, was elated by the flight and the fact that his daughter — also a pilot — was there to cheer him on.
Sprogis, who has logged more than 20,000 flight hours, told the story of how he had applied for the Air Force before being drafted by the Army in 1951. In order to buy himself more time for the Air Force application to be processed, he intentionally took repeated hard breaths during his chest X-ray at the Army physical.
The labored breathing distorted the X-ray and delayed his Army processing long enough to get his paperwork approved for the Air Force. His trick worked and gave him his entry into flying — a passion that he has never lost.
Sprogis’ daughter, Kim Wascher, said her father inspired her to become a pilot. Wascher worked as a captain for Air Wisconsin. “I saw the lifestyle he led and wanted that for myself. I loved traveling, living out of a suitcase and then setting the parking brake and being home for days.” Wascher’s husband was a Marine helicopter pilot who served in Iraq.
The other La Costa Glen dream flight passengers were Dick Haskett, who flew 28 years for the Air Force and then flew rescue missions for Civil Air Patrol; Naval Criminal Investigative Service Agent Roy Mosteller, who was assigned to the Chief Cable Censor during World War II and served in the military for 22 years; Wayne Strunk, who served in the Army from 1949 to 1951 and became a hobbyist pilot; and Ron Ludwig, a career Navy pilot serving during the Korean and Cold wars and currently a docent for the USS Midway.