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Las Cruces World War II veteran honored with flight in a restored biplane

Las Cruces Sun-News - 9/14/2021

LAS CRUCES - World War II Veteran John Bloom, 96, took to the skies Tuesday in a restored Boeing Stearman biplane as a salute to his military service.

He easily climbed into the open cockpit and waved to viewers as pilot Molly Littlefield taxied the plane to the runway for takeoff.

Dream Flights is a non-profit organization dedicated to honoring veterans through free flights. Their effort in 2021, Operation September Freedom, has the goal of honoring 1,000 or more WWII veterans who are all now at least in their 90s.

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Bloom, originally from Albuquerque, served in the United States Army Air Forces. He retired to Las Cruces and now resides at the Good Samaritan Society - Las Cruces Village. It was through the senior residence that he found out about the flight program and turned out to be the only resident to respond to the inquiry.

The planes are the same as those used in WWII to train aviators. Many later became dusters or sprayers used in agriculture.

The biplane took off from the Las Cruces International Airport for a flight around the area that lasted about 20 minutes. Bloom said he spotted Picacho Peak, Organ Mountain High School and the home he and his wife built in the 1990s when they moved to the city.

"Oh boy," Bloom said once the flight ended. A round of applause met him as his feet returned to the ground, and he was all smiles while talking about what he had seen.

Molly and Keith Littlefield were the flight crew Tuesday — both retired pilots. They volunteered with Dream Flights and have flown more than 30 WWII veterans so far with about 30 more to go by the end of the month.

"Now is the time to honor them," Molly said of the veterans. "We're really enjoying this privilege of being able to — my husband and I — fly along, state to state, city to city looking for WWII veterans."

Molly's father was a WWII flight instructor and she first learned how to fly in a similar plane to the one flown Tuesday. She spent Both she and Keith said it is rewarding to experience the veterans' excitement.

From a mirror, Molly can see the passenger from the pilot seat. She said Bloom was looking all around and would point out places he recognized.

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After the flight, Bloom was presented with an Operation September Freedom hat signed by Molly. He then got to sign the tail of the plane - something all who take part in the flights get to do. By the end of the month, Molly said the six planes part of the WWII veteran effort will consist of the largest collection of WWII veterans' names and signatures. The signed tails will be removed and displayed.

Now, the Littlefields will venture on to Albuquerque, Colorado, northern Arizona, Utah and will finish in southern California by the end of September.

But it's not too late to submit a name for recognition. People can sign up for Operation September Freedom online at Dream Flights is fully funded by donations, so those interested in supporting the honor flights can do so online as well.

Leah Romero is the trending reporter at the Las Cruces Sun-News and can be reached at 575-418-3442, or @rromero_leah on Twitter.

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