WW II veteran Dick Miralles slid into the gunner’s seat of the SBD Dauntless Dive Bomber almost as easily as he did 80 years ago in the South Pacific. Miralles, 98, was reliving his wartime experience in a restored SBD operated by CAF Airbase Georgia in Peachtree City.
Miralles flew in the rear, or gunner, seat of SBDs in Guadalcanal in 1943. He survived the war front and supported flight testing in Hawaii until he returned to civilian life, serving for 30 years with the California Department of Forestry (now known as CAL FIRE). His memoirs are recorded in his book, “War and Fire.”
He flew from his home in Sacramento, Calif., to enjoy this special flight at Airbase Georgia, and it was everything he expected it to be. Airbase Georgia pilot Peter Hague was equally excited to be helping this veteran relive his flying days. Under a beautiful blue Georgia sky, Hague fired up the Wright radial engine and the SBD was off on its special mission. Hague said Miralles enjoyed every minute. After performing a few flight maneuvers, Hague asked Miralles how he was doing, and he said “more!”
Hague ceremonially signed Miralles’ original flight book, and Miralles said about the flight, “It was calm compared to what I was used to.” Miralles was joined by his oldest son, Gary, who came from New Bern, N.C., to witness the special occasion.
Miralles recounted his training and combat experience, explaining that training in California was basically done with trap and skeet shooting. It was very important that the gunners were trained not to shoot off the tails of their own airplanes. His plane was hit once over Bougainville but returned safely. He said it appeared to be a random Japanese rifle shot that took out one cylinder of the engine.
This heartwarming event in honor of this WWII veteran came about because Patricia ODonnell of Havertown, Penn., bought a flight on the Airbase Georgia SBD at an airshow. She had several family members who served in WWI and WWII, and was so moved by her flight and the history of the aircraft that she offered to buy another flight for a veteran if Airbase Georgia could arrange it.
In an email to Airbase Georgia, she said, “As I grew older, I became very aware of what a good life I had and how I owed a lot of that to the men and women who served in WWII for basically saving the free world. The more I learn, the more I’m in awe of what amazing things people accomplished. My ride in the Dauntless was one of the best things I’ve ever done, and I have total respect for those who flew her in battle.”
The entire event in Peachtree City was recorded by George Retelas, director of a WWII documentary, “Eleven”, www.ElevenTheMovie.com, about Air Group Eleven that included Dick and George’s grandfather (also George Retelas). Retelas plans a short feature about Miralles’ flight at Airbase Georgia. The same aircraft will be featured in Airbase Georgia’s WWII Heritage Day Oct. 8, at the airbase headquarters, and rides will be available.