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A Flight to Remember for 95-year-old Goochland Resident

A sailplane flight in Virginia in June carried a special meaning for the people aboard, 69-year-old Ben Johnson and 95-year-old Clelia Johnson, who went into the air together as a memorial to the World War II sacrifice of Warren Johnson Sr.—Ben’s cousin and Clelia’s brother—who made Ben a model plane in 1944 with a pledge to build it after he returned from the war that he tragically never did return from.

Warren Johnson Sr. crashed over Tokyo in March 1945 while serving as a pilot in the 29th Bomb Group, but Clelia and Ben, who grew up in Goochland County, Va., never forgot their relationship with the World War II pilot in the family. The two flew in the engineless aircraft on June 21, after which Clelia said, "It was like roaming around in heaven." According to Clelia, "You can see forever and almost touch the sky. If it weren’t for that canopy, I think I could’ve touched the clouds."

Warren’s death 61 years ago profoundly affected both Ben and Clelia, including inspiring Ben to pursue his own path in aviation, gaining his pilot’s license in the 1960s and moving to flying gliders in 2001. "All my life, I’ve felt this was sort of a part of Warren," says Ben, who is a member of the Shenandoah Valley Soaring club. Ben refers to Warren as "this really impressive figure," and says, "I read every book that I could get from the library on flying in World War II as a boy. I wanted to make the Air Force a career, but my eyes didn’t support that endeavor." Describing the decision to fly with Clelia in Warren’s honor, Ben says, "We were having dinner about four months ago and I was showing Clelia some pictures I’d taken in the air, and she said, ’Oh, that’s so beautiful. I want to do that.’"

Clelia was placed in the glider by a hoist operated by a group of about 10 Soaring club members, after which a tow plane pulled the glider into the air, releasing it about 6,000 feet above Waynesboro, Va. "I was surprised that I was as calm as I was. I didn’t get at all nervous or concerned," says Clelia, adding, "It was fun. Now I know what buzzards see when they fly around. I’ll never stop talking about it."

July 13, 2009

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