Veteran takes flight
Norma Mitschelen recently discovered the excitement and thrill of once again being airborne, just as she had done during World War II while serving as a Seaman First Class with the United States Navy. She both repaired and refueled naval airplanes at Grissom Air Force Base in Kokomo —formerly known as “Bunker Hill.”
“Back then they made us go up in the first flight with the pilot after we were done fixing things you know,” said Mitschelen.
“Boy, that really made us pay close attention to what we were doing because we sure didn’t want that thing to crash when we were in it,” she added with a chuckle.
The lifelong Nappanee resident recently shared her wartime stories with her new neighbors at Lakeland Rehab Healthcare Center in Milford. She talked about the thrill of helping men in uniform serve this country, and the excitement of flying. Mitschelen even shared how she longed to again take flight in a traditional open-cockpit airplane.
Staff members wasted no time in contacting the “Never Too Late” program from Indianapolis. The group, which regularly grants special wishes to seniors, arranged for Mitschelen to realize her dream of flying again. On Oct. 17, Chuck Marshall piloted the 85-year-old woman for flight over the Elkhart. They went in a Stearman open-cockpit biplane manufactured by Boeing .
A smile never left Mitschelen’s face throughout the process of boarding, takeoff, flight, landing or unloading. Excitement to match could be seen in her eyes on the ground, and happy waves were sent from above to the family and friends witnessing her flight from below.
Throughout the experience, Mitschelen shared stories of her time in the Navy. The shared memories brought excitement, smiles, and at times there were tears shed over fond memories.
The World War II veteran recalled how, for the first time, women were summoned to the workforce — both military and civilian — as the men were called to serve in battle. Women were allowed for the first time to wear pants, roll up their sleeves and join in “men’s work.”
“I was studying to be a metal smith working on them,” Mitschelen said of her work on the naval airplanes. “I studied for that and worked hard at it. And I was just getting ready to take my test so I could be a metal smith when the war ended. Then we ladies had to go back home, you know. We couldn’t keep working and things.”
When the plane finished its taxi back to the hangar, and the excited veteran was unloaded, a family member called out, “How was it?”
“Fantastic!” replied a very pleased, and still smiling, Norma Mitschelen.