EAST GRANBY — Months of planning came to fruition when Berlin resident and Korean War veteran Robert Rawlings walked into the hangar at the New England Air Museum and found himself surrounded by neighbors and friends.
“He had mentioned to me years ago that he had lost all his medals… so I came up with the idea for his 90th birthday to have his medals replaced,” said David Lallier, Rawlings’ neighbor on Simms Road.
With the help of U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Lallier and Rawlings’ wife, Thelma, were able to get replacements from the U.S. Department of Defense.
“He’s a great guy, I think a lot of him,” Lallier said. “When you lose something like those medals, you might not think it’s significant, but it is.”
The medals arrived a few months after Rawlings turned 90. The American Legion 103rd Airlift Wing and the New England Air Museum pitched in to put together a ceremony Tuesday, complete with a visit to a hangar housing an F-86, the aircraft Rawlings’ flew for 92 combat missions as a lieutenant in the Air Force’s 80th Fighter Squadron.
A small crowd listened to Rawlings as he spoke about dive-bombing and strafing missions in one of the first jet fighters.
“It brings back old memories, that’s for sure,” Rawlings said. “I miss the flying a little bit… If you were a fighter (pilot), that was the epitome of being a pilot.”
Next to the F-86 in the hangar was a MiG-15, an early Soviet jet fighter that clashed with American aircraft above Korea. Six of Rawlings’ missions were intercepts, where they searched for North Korean or Chinese MiGs.
Among Rowlings’ medals are the Distinguished Flying Cross, awarded to soldiers “who shall have distinguished her/himself in actual combat”, according to the Air Force Personnel Center, and the Air Medal “for single acts of heroism or meritorious achievements”.