The motorcade pulling into the Raeford Municipal Airport consisted of a long line of black motorcycles, massive black military transports and even a huge black monster truck.
By the sound of the crowd’s cheers and camera shutters, you would have thought the president had arrived.
“Are you good?” one U.S. Veterans Corps member asked as he, along with several others, gingerly helped North Caroliona World War II hero Col, Hal Shook USAF (Ret.) out of the final vehicle.
“I’m OK,” Shook replied, his voice garbled following his bout with pneumonia a month earlier.
Despite this, he never faltered as he grasped his walker and then smiled at the crowd of dozens happily cheering him on.
Shook’s grand entrance was a fitting welcome by the U.S. Veterans Corps and All Veteran Group.
As a combat pilot, he flew on D-Day and was shot down during the invasion.
He then went on to serve in both the Korean and Vietnam wars.
On this day, friends and family have traveled from across the country to wish Shook a happy 95th birthday.
“It’s always good to see you, sir,” Sgt. Mike Elliott (Ret.) said once inside the All Veteran Group clubhouse and Shook had taken a seat.
“Same to you, Mike,” Shook replied, reaching across the table to shake his hand. “You’re the best.”
Chief among those gathered in celebration for the former combat pilot is Elliott.
You’re automatically friends when you’ve fallen out of an airplane, strapped together. That’s how they met three years ago when Elliott – a former Army Gold Knight – tandem jumped with Shook for his 92nd birthday.
“[Now] he wants to go up and jump out of an airplane on his 95th birthday,” Elliott said beaming. “Man, words can’t even describe what that’s like.”
Elliott is the founder and president of the All Veteran Group.
He has more than 10,000 jumps under his belt. He’s been a tandem partner with a veritable list of Who’s Who of celebrity names, including former President George H.W. Bush for his 90th birthday.
But Elliott is in awe of Shook. He knows the retired colonel’s list of wartime accomplishments, not to mention his receiving the French Foreign Legion.
“I always got my bird back,” Shook recalled. “I crash landed and been shot at, but never had to bail.”
When he bails now – it’s for fun.
“It’s a joy,” Shook said wistfully. “You’re sitting there, and you can see everything below you. It’s beautiful.”
Elliott, along with a couple of his fellow All Veteran Group brothers and one of Shook’s sons, help the nonagenarian into his flight suit and parachute pack.
As the group waits for the plane to arrive on the runway, sounds of gunfire ring out, except unlike Shook’s past wartime experience, this is from a gun range located alongside the airport.
It’s fitting though, as today also marks the Colonel’s very first jump in World War II.
On the plane, Elliott fixes the final adjustments and they bail at around 12,000 feet.
Back on the ground, Shook is ecstatic.
“It was super,” he said as Elliott laughed and helped him up. “Super, super.”
“You’re never too old to do anything,” Elliott said. “If I live to be 95, I hope to still be jumping.”
It’s not a birthday without gifts, and after the jump, the crowd coalesces around Shook.
He receives a folded flag from Fort Bragg, a U.S. flag made from a bourbon barrel from a local artisan group and letters of congratulations from Gov. Pat McCrory, both North Carolina senators and Angelina Jolie.
Learn more about the All Veteran Group on its website.
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