World War II Bombardier Still Flying a Hang Glider at Age 89
Anything about a WWII veteran gets my attention and today's piece (10-21-09) about Lieutenant Neal Goss is no exception, although I rarely post daily news items on my blog.
After flying 50 combat missions over two tours of duty in World War II, Neal Goss returned home a reluctant American hero. Sixty-four years later, he has done it again.
World War II veterans are said to be dying at a rate of 900 a day. So time has taken most of our heroes from, what has been said the most devastating and significant war in world history. Time has not robbed the zest from Goss. "I figure that they probably have hang gliders and sail boats up in heaven somewhere,'' he said after one recent flight. "I don't plan on being there anytime soon, but I want to be ready when I get there.''
Goss, a First Lieutenant in the Army Air Corp until 1945, served as a bombardier/navigator as part of the Flying Fortress squadron that dropped more than 9,000 tons of bombs and shot down 200 enemy planes during the war. Today, he flies only for the thrill of the sport, soaring in his light, unmotorized aircraft that takes him as high as 6,000 feet above the ground, using body control and thermal drafts to navigate his way across the countryside, providing a view and a freedom that few have enjoyed.
"I'm not a hero (from the war). I didn't think I was brave. I was just doing a job
for my country,'' he said. "This flying now is fun. It makes you feel like one of the birds. I never had this view from inside the bomber.''When he returned home from the War, Goss promised his aging mother that she would be proud, not so much for what he had done for his country, but for the way he would live the rest of his life, so grateful for coming home alive, making sure his time here was well spent. He certainly has gotten his money's worth.At a time when most of his peers have either died or turned to a sedentary lifestyle, Goss keeps pressing the accelerator.
Like many of us, Neal Goss's concessions to age still rankle him, yet he knows how far he can push. He no longer jumps off cliffs and mountains in other parts of the country with his hang glider, preferring the more controlled starts he gets with a tow. He gave up racing motorcycles almost 10 years ago. He no longer sky dives or goes deep sea diving with friends.
Goss stopped wind surfing shortly after he closed his dental practice at age 82, leaving behind patients of 50 years. He stopped making his annual week-long trip to Guatemala, where he provided free dental care to Indians in the poor parts of the country. He has cut back on his sailing, too, although he made a 200-mile voyage just last year down the West Coast of Florida, from his home to the home of his daughters who live in the Tampa area. His biggest regret is being bypassed by NASA several years ago when they were looking for a senior citizen to join a space shuttle flight."They wanted someone with a bigger name, but I've been very fortunate. I wanted to fly since I was a young boy,'' he said. "And I'll do this for as long as they let me, hopefully another 10 years. I would just tell anyone my age to go for it. You have nothing to lose.''Goss is amazingly healthy for 89.
Goss's body remains taut and strong, even though he suffers from a frustrating neurological disorder that affects his speech, making him difficult to understand. His walk is slower now because both his knee joints need replacing. None of that matters, though, when he is soaring close to the clouds, guiding his craft with a veteran's experience, surveying all that is below and above him. He calls it a peek of what to expect in heaven.
He will be part of a flying extravaganza at the nearby Fantasy of Flight attraction Nov. 7-8, when he makes his usual trip to the area during the week of Veterans Day