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Published on Oct 10, 2014
BLAINE, Minn. -- Nearly 70 years after the war ended, veterans in declining numbers got a chance to return to the air in a familiar way last weekend.
For the 44th time WWII glider pilots and crew members from around the country gathered for a reunion.
This year's reunion was in the metro area for possibly the last time, with a special trip to the Golden Wings Museum at the Anoka County Airport in Blaine.
Of six thousand glider pilots in the war, less than 200 remain, and about 20 made their way to the reunion this year.
"This is something that won't happen again in my lifetime, to have this many in one spot. Their reunion takes place at different locations around the country. So we're very pleased and happy to have them here," Golden Wings Museum Director Craig Schiller said.
It was a unique chance for these men in their 80s and 90s to share stories and see the planes they knew well.
"(Other WWII veterans) understand when you talk. When you get into the conversation, you can understand each other," William Waggoner, a glider pilot in WWII, now living in Mesa, Arizona said.
"You develop new friends that you hope to see in the next reunion," Clifford Underwood, also a glider pilot in WWII, now living in Redding, California said.
One high point was a ride through the clouds in a Lockheed Lodestar.
"I didn't think I was going to go flying again, but here I am, sitting in the airplane," Jerry Clausen, who was a field lineman in WWII and a former airline pilot, said.
The Lockheed Lodestar was part of WWII as a transport cargo airplane, but one of its roles was also, it towed gliders. And so it would tow the gliders into combat area one at a time," Schiller said.
The veterans said they know there won't be many more reunions to come.
"It's true, I'm 92 years old," Waggoner said. "There's a couple guys that I knew in the service that used to come and they passed away."
"I had three other good friends and the four of us enjoyed these reunions and I only have me now," Underwood said.
With many dark and bright days behind them, this one made them smile.
"The flight was just beautiful," Underwood said.
"It brings back old times," Waggoner said.
"That'll be a memory now, that'll be a memory," Clausen, of Lino Lakes, said.
The Golden Wings Museum is a private collection of about 30 planes from the 1920s and '30s.
Next year, the reunion is scheduled to be held in Memphis, Tennessee.
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