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Senior's wish fulfillment: Former air crew member reunites with PBY Catalina

Harold "Bert" Shepperd waited 70 years to see the aircraft he flew on during World War II. (KATU)

A touching reunion recently unfolded at the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum in McMinnville.

A World War II veteran got to see, once again, an iconic war plane that he once flew, in a battle that changed the world.

At 91 years old, Bert Shepperd recently had a chance to feel young again. He was honored with a special visit with a PBY Catalina, basically a flying boat that saw serious action in the Pacific during World War II as a patrol bomber.

It was a PBY crew that helped the U.S. defeat the Japanese Navy in the historic Battle of Midway.

“Bert was a radio operator, and he's the one who would have sent signals back to the American fleet that they had located the Japanese fleet,” said museum curator, Terry Juran.

Shepperd is a resident of the Brookdale River Valley senior living facility in Tualatin.

Brookdale's Tara Fitzgerald submitted Shepperd's wish to revisit a PBY to the Wish of Lifetime Foundation, which fulfills wishes for seniors. Last week that wish came true.

“He's just a pillar of the community at Brookdale,” Fitzgerald said. “He was in the service, he's an artist, I can’t think of anyone who’s more deserving.”

Fitzgerald said fulfilling the wishes of seniors “helps them to be able to close doors and open doors at the same time.

“They connect with their past so that they can move forward in their future,” she said.

While mostly confined to a wheelchair now, Shepperd was able to admire the plane from the outside and at the rear door.

The memories from the inside, he said, are still vivid in his mind.

“You've got a duty to do and that's about all you think about,” Shepperd said of his flying days. You think about the excitement of the trip. The tears are basically, I don't know, your friendships and the excitement of the whole thing.”

Shepperd’s daughter-in-law, Susan Shepperd, says getting a close-up look at the PBY became crucial for Shepperd.

“And he's not been sleeping very well for the last couple of weeks -- he was like a kid getting ready for Christmas,” she said.

Officials at Brookdale say after his service, Shepperd earned a degree in art at Lewis & Clark and worked as an art professor at two universities.

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