WWII Veteran Returns To Yorktown So He Can Complete His Bucket List
Edgar Haley remembers a special aircraft like it was his first car.
"I love the airplane. It was so rugged. So dependable," he said as he refers to a fighter plane parked on the hangar deck of the U.S.S. Yorktown.
"I waxed mine and it got five miles more speed out of it. Automobile wax. I went over the whole airplane," he said.
Haley was an F6F Hellcat pilot during World War II. In the early 1940's, a mission to Okinawa required a brief visit to the Yorktown.
"When I got to the Yorktown, I checked in. They knew I was coming. They said I'm clear to land. And I, a wise ass, I called them and says which runway do I use?,” he joked.
For the first time since then, Haley returned to the Fighting Lady.
"Seriously, Dad. You wanna go for it?,” asked Scott Haley, the second oldest son of the naval aviator. “Yeah," replied the father.
Scott Haley helped his father standup from a wheelchair so he could carefully walk to a ladder where he climbed it. Then, the elder Haley stepped onto the wing of a retired fighter plane.
Patriots Point officials welcomed the war veteran and his family to see and sit in an airplane similar to the one he flew more than 7 decades ago.
"Man, there's a lot of work you guys are putting in for this,” Haley said. “That's alright, sir. It’s for you," replied a Patriots Point staff member. Several employees helped Haley climb into the cockpit where the young naval aviator was instructed to fly to the Yorktown before returning to combat.
The naval pilot says he only spent the night on the U.S.S. Yorktown. “But they treated me very well. I ate a lot of ice cream,” he laughed.
It’s not uncommon for veterans to visit to the USS Yorktown. What makes Edgar Haley's trip unique is that he's one of a shrinking number of World War II survivors who can share facts about an important part of American history.
"He was hit by an anti-aircraft shell. And I just waived at him. And he disappeared with a big flash," he recalled with a serious tone in his voice.
His friend, ensign Donald Rough, was killed in action.
"I haven't forgotten that yet. I never will. I'm gonna see him soon. I'm 96 now," Haley said.
Family members say seeing the Yorktown was on Edgar Haley's bucket list.
"Given the welcome we’ve had from everybody on board, as well as the display. The plane is just remarkable. And to see Dad light up when he saw the plane was really special," said Glenn Haley, the youngest son of Edgar Haley.
"I'm very happy just to be here. Believe me. And lots of it is thankful to this airplane," Edgar Haley said as he patted the steel panel of the aircraft.
Haley was discharged from the Navy in December 1945 after completing two active tours of duty. He’s retired after a career with AT&T. He lives in Mount Dora, Florida.