ELYRIA — The Discover Aviation Air Show was billed as one where youngsters could come within touching distance of fighter jets and war planes while turning their eyes to the skies as aerial acrobats performed death-defying stunts.
But the real wonder took place on the ground.
There, James Kapucinski, of Amherst, wheeled his elderly but spry father toward a silver airplane with the words “Yankee Warrior” written on the side and told the 91-year-old man the time was now or never.
From his wheelchair, John Kapucinski, also of Amherst, eyed the plane — the same kind that provided aerial support to ground troops in every theater of World War II.
The plane was the elder Kapucinski’s connection to a time about 70 years ago that he knew he would never forget. To strap into one and take to the skies — just one time — would complete a chapter in his life that began decades ago.
“I was just a 21-year-old kid working for the Nordson Corp. in Amherst when I was drafted into the military,” he said.
He enlisted through the Great Lakes Training Center in northern Illinois, and before he knew it he was a sailior in the Navy. He can still remember his service number — 8578945 — which was etched onto a pair of dog tags along with his name should be need to be identified.
“I thought it was the end,” said Kapucinski. “Everyone felt that way. You didn’t know what you were getting into.”
From 1943 to 1945, the Amherst Township man was a sailor aboard the USS Parker DD-604 destroyer. He was there when the ship bombarded the Mediterranean shores of Rome and took part in the D-Day invasion of France.
Kapucinski summed up his time overseas as “just being at the tail end of everything.” But it was enough action to leave him thankful to be alive.
“I thank God every day I came back,” he said. “I saw a lot.”
Besides the occasional conversation with his family, Kapucinski said he doesn’t talk much about his service. He did his time, came back to the States, married a beautiful woman named Marion and had five children. The couple had a good life together running a farm stand in the fall and selling pumpkins, bittersweet and other farm vegetables and homemade crafts.
“He didn’t tell us much, just that he was in the Navy,” said James Kapucinski. “I know us kids lost his Navy bayonet in the creek cleaning fish.”
But Saturday when the younger Kapucinski eyed the bomber and the sign that promised passengers they could “experience a flight on a WWII warbird with a combat history,” he could not let his father pass up that opportunity. The father typically liked to tell the son he would take a rain check on adventurous ideas.
It wasn’t raining Saturday.
With the help of crew members, Kapucinski boarded the B52. Spectators cheered as the plane taxied down the runway and disappeared into the sky. When it returned more than an hour later, it did so to an applauding crowd.
Once back on the ground, Kapucinski said the ride was nothing short of “unbelievable.”
“I never thought it would be like this. I thought it would be a short flight, but we went to Cleveland and back,” he said. “I never had anything like this happen to me. It really made my day.”
To commemorate his flight, the Yankee Air Museum, based at Willow Run Airport in Ypsilanti, Mich., which brought the plane to the show, held a short ceremony on the tarmac thanking Kapucinski for his service. He was given a medallion.
“You are the reason why we can do what we do,” a crewman said.
James Kapucinski, a veteran of the Vietnam War, wheeled his father from the plane with a new idea.
“I would love to get him to go on an honor flight to Washington, D.C., to see the World War II memorial,” he said. “He thinks it would be nothing, but I know what that would mean for him to see that his time there was never forgotten.”