EAA honors WWII pilot with restored plane

CREATED Aug. 1, 2013

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  • The Warbirds at EAA are honoring pilots. Video by wtmj.com

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OSHKOSH - The EAA AirVenture is great fun for kids and families. But for others, it's a journey.

One of the most historic and interesting parts of the EAA is the Warbird area. They have a plane from the Tuskegee Airmen as well as other military planes. They also do historic re-enactments including singing.

The crowds were waiting for World War II veterans to tell their story. Mert Hansen is one of them. He and his family, minus a daughter who has cerebral palsy, came from Des Moines, Iowa.

Hansen, who is 92, flew in Iwo Jima.

“It's awfully hard to figure out why I'm the only pilot left to be so honored in our squadron, a lot of things in life are hard to explain,” he said.

A vintage airplane enthusiast found Hansen's original plane and restored it meticulously to how it was right after the war, right down to the bullet holes.

“That has meant an awful lot to me, that my family understands what I had, and what I had the privilege of doing,” he said.

"It's really been fun to see him light up and tear up the first time he saw the plane. He was back about 70 years," said Steve Hansen, Mert's son. “He had three observers hit while he was flying. There's not much in the way of protection."

Hansen and two other veterans were brought from the stands to the stage.

“He would talk about the fun stories but this has gotten him to open up and talk about the more traumatic things that went on,” Hansen’s son said.

Afterwards, Hansen was like a rock star, signing autographs. The EAA has given veterans respect they never had post-war, much like an honor flight he also took where cheering crowds made him cry.

“He felt like a real schmuck because he said he started tearing up,” Hansen’s son said. “He said it was the parade he never had. But then he saw half the bus was crying. This has been an extension of that. It's given him the opportunity to really feel appreciated for the job they did.”

Long overdue and very, very meaningful.

This was Hansen's second trip to the EAA, but it's the first time he was honored.