World War II veteran Dick Miralles slid into the gunner’s seat of the SBD Dauntless Dive Bomber almost as easily as he did 80 years ago in the South Pacific. Miralles, 98, was reliving his wartime experience in a restored SBD operated by CAF Airbase Georgia in Peachtree City, Georgia.
Miralles flew in the rear, or gunner, seat of SBDs in Guadalcanal in 1943. He survived the war, then supported flight testing in Hawaii until he returned to civilian life, serving for 30 years with the California Department of Forestry (now known as CAL FIRE). His memoirs are recorded in his book, “War and Fire.”
He flew from his home in Sacramento, California, to enjoy a special flight at Airbase Georgia, and he says it was everything he expected it to be.
Airbase Georgia pilot Peter Hague was equally excited to help this veteran relive his flying days. Under a beautiful blue Georgia sky, Hague fired up the Wright radial engine and the SBD was off on its special mission.
Hague said Miralles enjoyed every minute. After performing a few flight maneuvers, Hague asked Miralles how he was doing, and he said “more!”
As Hague ceremonially signed Miralles’ original flight book, Miralles said the flight “was calm compared to what I was used to.”
Miralles was joined by his oldest son, Gary, who came from New Bern, N.C., to witness the special occasion.
Miralles recounted his training and combat experience, explaining that training in California was basically done with trap and skeet shooting. It was very important that the gunners were trained not to shoot off the tails of their own airplanes. His plane was hit once over Bougainville Island, but returned safely. He said it appeared to be a random Japanese rifle shot that took out one cylinder of the engine.
This heartwarming event in honor of this World War II veteran came about because Patricia O’Donnell of Havertown, Pennsylvania, bought a flight on the Airbase Georgia SBD at an airshow. She had several family members who served in World War I and World War II, and was so moved by her flight and the history of the aircraft that she offered to buy another flight for a veteran if Airbase Georgia could arrange it.
In an email to Airbase Georgia, she said, “As I grew older, I became very aware of what a good life I had and how I owed a lot of that to the men and women who served in World War II for basically saving the free world. The more I learn, the more I’m in awe of what amazing things people accomplished. My ride in the Dauntless was one of the best things I’ve ever done, and I have total respect for those who flew her in battle.”
The entire event in Peachtree City was recorded by George Retelas, director of a World War II documentary, “Eleven,” about Air Group Eleven, which included Dick and George’s grandfather. Retelas plans a short feature about Miralles’ flight at Airbase Georgia. The same aircraft will be featured in Airbase Georgia’s World War II Heritage Day Oct. 8, 2022, at the airbase headquarters, and rides will be available.
Founded in 1987, the Airbase is one of the largest units of the Commemorative Air Force (CAF). The group maintains and flies seven vintage military aircraft, including a P-51 Mustang, an FG-1D Corsair, an SBD Dauntless, and a P-63A Kingcobra. The Airbase, which has more than 450 volunteers, has hosted WWII Heritage Days since 2003. The organization is also a founding partner of the Georgia WWII Heritage Trail launched in 2021.