World War II vets gather for AirFest

Air shows help bring military pride, vets say

For George Hawbaker, it would be an exaggeration to say he can remember his days as an Air Force pilot like it was yesterday.

That's because the World War II veteran is 93 years old.

But every time he sees a military air show, the memories quickly return.

"It wakens thoughts of many, many years ago," said Hawbaker, a Sun City Center resident in Hillsborough County.

Hawbaker and a group of several veterans who served as early as World War II to the more recent Vietnam era came to see the return of AirFest at MacDill Air Force Base Friday in a special preview show.

"I've been coming to MacDill since 1957, so I've seen it all," said Ray Carter, 88, who believes the air displays help bring a sense of pride in the military.

While many young people know little about the World War II era, Carter said he was especially touched when a teenager recognized his veterans cap with the World War II insignia.

"This young girl, about 15 years old, came over and said 'Excuse me, I'd like to thank you for your service,'" Carter said.

"She said, 'I've got this bracelet here for you,'" Carter recalled, showing the red, white and blue wristband he was wearing.

"I was so thrilled," Carter said.  "I've been wearing it ever since."

As the Thunderbirds were preparing their air show for the crowd, Carter's wife said being on base reminded her of the days just before they were married.

"I was with him when he enlisted," she said. "We were in high school together. And we have now been married 68 years."

Bill Shanks, a former colonel and Air Force pilot during World War II, said he's thoroughly impressed with today's aircraft technology.

"I started out flying a Corsair," Shanks said.  "It was worth $75,000 and I thought, wow, what a responsibility for a guy 19 years old," he said.

"And now today they're flying million dollar aircraft."

The veteran said the military is recovering from the period after the Vietnam War when there seemed to be more disdain from the public.

But he doubts people who didn't live through the second World War will truly understand the patriotism that swept across the nation.  

"The day after Pearl Harbor the feeling was high, and my feeling was high," Shanks said. He remembered traveling to a recruiting office, only to be told to come back the next day because it was so crowded.

"I was in a long line," Shanks laughed.  

"Every man, woman, and child was involved in World War II. And it was that way right up until the very end," said Shanks.  

"And when we celebrated the end, we celebrated together," Shanks said.

"Everybody was in the streets."

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