Minden-Tahoe hosts generations | RecordCourier.com

Minden-Tahoe hosts generations

by Sarah Hauck
95-year-old Army Air Corps veteran James Mefford speaks with Osprey pilot Capt. T.W. Holman Thursday afternoon during the Wings of Freedom event at the Minden-Tahoe Airport.
Brad Coman |

A World War II waist gunner paused during his lesson on how to clean a B-25 Mitchell turret as a C-130 took off from Minden-Tahoe Airport on Thursday.

The airport will be awash with both modern and historic combat aircraft until Monday thanks to the Collings Foundation Wings of Freedom display and exercises conducted by U.S. Marine Corps 1st Expeditionary Operations Training Group and the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

“It is so interesting,” Army Air Corps veteran Desmond Machen, 92, said of seeing present day Osprey refueling a head’s turn away from a WW II-era B-24. “It is fun to see what has come from technology.”

A pair of Osprey helicopters were being off loaded and refueled, giving the Marines some down time to talk to the veterans, who used to maintain, fly and work in the quartet of historic aircraft on display.

While the Marines are using Minden-Tahoe as a mock forward staging base, being able to break from training was an added bonus to being away from their home base of Camp Pendleton, Calif. Capt. Scott Hambley said.

“We are very lucky that the stars aligned that these planes can be on the strip at the same time,” he said. “To be able to talk to and spend time with World War II veterans, who are the greatest generation of war fighters, is very fortuitous.”

For Machen being able to see the planes that he loaded bombs into is extra special because of the company he shared the experience with.

Fellow WWII veteran James Mefford, 95, was a B-24 pilot during the war, first in North Africa and then in the European Theatre in Italy, where he was shot down and rescued by partisans.

Mefford received a Purple Heart for his experience.

“We were in the same unit,” Machen said. “He was a pilot of the 460 Bomb Group and I took care of the turrets and was a nose gunner. He was in 760 squadron and I was in 761. We had no idea who each other was until we moved into Brookdale. I was fortunate enough to never get a Purple Heart. He wasn’t so lucky.”

The pair became fast friends and enjoy swapping war stories, Machen said.

Seeing the planes that he used to fly into enemy fire for more than 12 hours a day, safe and restored on the ground, was only improved by the presence of the Marines for Mefford.

“It is so fascinating to see the Marines over there,” he said. “Their planes are so different. It is neat to see the new ones.”

Machen and Mefford spent time under the shade of the nose of the B-25 talking to Osprey pilots about their time in the cockpit of the older planes and asking questions about piloting the modern aircraft.

Minden-Tahoe Airport hosted the Collings Foundation ‘s Wngs of Freedom display for several years. And it is not the first time the Marines have used the airport as a training facility.

“Minden-Tahoe offers a great opportunity for them (11th MEU) to operate in unfamiliar territory,” Hambley said. “While we are here we are trying to simulate what they can find when they are deployed in different countries all over the world. On the MEU they may be forced to operate out of different airports and that requires them to be able to communicate with airport staff and make their operations work out of an unfamiliar area.”

During the weekend, 1st EOTG will push the 11th MEU units to collect intelligence on the enemy base that is Reno.

The end task will be to ultimately coordinate a raid on Reno.

“Doing these exercises here out of Minden, supports those tasks,” Hambley said. “Plus the nice benefit of the area is that this is a beautiful area with Lake Tahoe just up the way and being here along the Sierra Nevada.”

Looking at the tarmac of the airport might seem like chaos, but airport manager Bobbi Thompson said it is just a normal day.

Minden-Tahoe is busy every day with normal glider, jump planes and personal plane traffic from more than 400 aircraft and having the Marines and Wings of Freedom on board at the same time was exciting as opposed to stressful, she said.

“Comparing of the World War II planes with the modern day military aircraft is just a remarkable sight to see,” she said. “We are so pleased to have the Wings of Freedom back as well as being able to support the Marines in their training.”-

Thompson pointed out a glider being towed off of one of the airport’s runways behind the line up of restored planes that includes a B24 Liberator, B-25 Mitchell, B-17 Flying Fortress and P-51 Mustang.

Watching the activity at the airport on Thursday was something Thompson would never tire of, after turning the airport around since 2004, especially Wings of Freedom returning almost annually.

“As I pilot, I love seeing the old planes is just wonderful,” she said. “I have a passion for the war birds, but my real passion is the veterans.”

Wings of Freedom will be at the airport 9 a.m.-5 p.m. today.

Tours are $12 for adults, $6 for children 12 and under.

For more information visit http://www.mindentahoeairport.com.

Minden-Tahoe Airport is also a World War II veteran, having been built in 1942.