For more than 25 years, World War II veteran Walter Hushak has been more than happy to share his memories and knowledge about the war to anyone interested in listening.
The 95-year-old Southington resident has become a well-known veteran in the community through decades of informational talks at local schools and as a coordinator of the Wings of Freedom Tour’s annual stop at the Waterbury-Oxford Airport, scheduled for this weekend.
After 25 years as coordinator, Hushak has stepped down from the position for this year’s event, but plans to continue to volunteer.
When he hasn’t helped coordinate the event, Hushak has had speaking appearances at Southington schools. He shares stories from the war, including information about planes, other equipment and training.
Sometimes Hushak would bring along a rescue mirror he carried on missions. It would be a helpful tool if he ever had to eject from a plane under attack and needed to signal his location in water for a rescue.
For decades, Hushak has also marched in local Memorial Day parades and was one of three parade marshals in the 17th annual Connecticut Veterans Parade in downtown Hartford.
He enlisted in the Army Air Corps after the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
“I wanted to fly,” Hushak told the Record-Journal in 2011. “Before I enlisted I would build airplane models and wished I could one day fly. I wasn’t ever scared flying.”
For this year’s Wings of Freedom Tour’s annual stop, Hushak helped transition military veteran and Cheshire resident Jim Ketcher into the position.
Hushak will continue to volunteer at the event as one of the handful of World War II veterans still sharing their stories but is stepping back from the helm.
Ketcher served for four years during the Vietnam War, and later earned his pilot’s license and had a long career in the aerospace industry before retiring. He said he’s been serving on the Army Air Force Roundtable of Connecticut, which is where he met Hushak.
When Hushak reached out to the roundtable for help with the aircraft tour, Ketcher volunteered. He had been to the Wings of Freedom tour in the past and got to ride on one of the bombers, but was never part of the organizing side of the event.
“I’ve always been interested in these kinds of airplanes and World War II in general, so I volunteered to get involved in it,” Ketcher said. “(Hushak) has shown me the ropes.”
Ketcher said the Wings of Freedom tour is something good for young people to see.
“These aircrafts are pieces of living history. These were the aircraft that were flown from the guys that stopped Nazism and Imperial Japan,” he said.
Along with the B-24 Liberator — the plane Hushak flew — a P-51 Mustang, B-25 Mitchell, and B-17 Flying Fortress will be at the airport this Friday through Sunday.
Visitors can take a short flight or a walk-through tour of the planes for a fee that’s used to keep them in working condition.
The tour has been traveling the country for almost 30 years, providing a “living history” that allows visitors from 110 cities every year to see their heritage and history firsthand. It is sponsored by the Collings Foundation, which owns the aircraft.