WORTHINGTON, Ky. — A man born before Charles Lindbergh’s historic trans-Atlantic flight made some history of his own Thursday when he flew for the first time.
Owen Meenach, 89, clambered easily into the cockpit of a three-seat Cessna 172 at the Ashland Regional Airport, donned a set of headphones and waved at bystanders as pilot John Stines taxied the plane to the runway.
Accompanied by his grandson, Steven, he enjoyed a half-hour aloft, flying over his rural Grayson home and returning to handshakes and a celebratory cake.
The flight was remarkable not for its excitement — Meenach said he’d hoped for a bit of turbulence to liven things up —?but because over the years Meenach traveled extensively across the United States and criss-crossed the Pacific during his Navy service, but never by plane.
In fact, he joked, when the Navy sent him home after World War II, he had expected to board a flight, but instead made the entire 21-day trip by ship, train and bus.
It was in honor of his Navy service that airport manager Judy Lewis arranged the flight.
Her sister, Freda Williams, who works for Meenach’s son, Danny, called her recently and asked whether flights were available for veterans.
Meenach’s navy service was in the crew of a landing craft, carrying soldiers to the beach under heavy gunfire. Among other high-profile landings, Meenach was at Iwo Jima, where, Danny Meenach said, the flag from his craft was one of those photographed flying over the island after Americans took control.
Lewis found an airplane and called a pilot. There was never any question of a fee, she said. “He’s a veteran. He rides for free.”
Boarding the Cessna involves stepping up on a strut-mounted foothold and then climbing into a cramped cabin.
Meenach, a retired boilermaker who regularly mows his own lawn in Grayson, accomplished the feat without assistance.
The flight took him over his home and other familiar landmarks. “You could tell what it was, but it didn’t look natural,”?he said.
He was unflappable and understated after the flight. “It was a pretty good ride, but I?thought it would shake around more than it did,” he said. “I?liked the ride, but I would have liked to hit some air pockets.”