Nearly 70 years after his service with the U.S. Army Air Corps began, a McAlester man is taking a flight to Washington D.C. to see the World War II Memorial in-person.
Ralph Perona, who served in the U.S. military from 1943-48, is set to make the trip later this month through Oklahoma Honor Flights, a program to honor the state’s veterans.
Clem Peppers, of Alderson, plans to join Perona on the trip to Washington. Peppers will serve as Perona’s guardian, a designation which refers to those who officially accompany veterans on the Honor Flights.
This will be the first time Perona and Peppers will get to visit the memorial site. Perona had been discharged from the military in 1948 in Alexandria, Va., which is adjacent to Washington D.C. — years before the memorial’s construction.
Plans call for Peppers and Perona to leave from Tulsa. A send-off event will be held at the SpiritBank Event Center in Bixby.
Perona said he enlisted in 1943, in the midst of World War II, hooking up with the U.S. Army Air Corps in England. He served at Burtonwood, a Royal Air Force station until its transferal in June 1942 to the U.S. to serve as a servicing center for the Eighth Ninth, Twelfth and Fifteenth Branches of the U.S. Army Air Corps. Perona said he served with the Eighth.
While Perona served at the base during World War II, it often had a natural protection from German bombers, he said.
“They couldn’t see the air base, the fog hung over it so much,” he said. “The Germans couldn’t find it; there was a low mist.”
Perona served on a ground crew at the base. He had hoped to serve as an aerial gunner, but had been reassigned.
When he first arrived at the base, there wasn’t much of a U.S. Army Air Corps presence, according to Perona.
“There were only two B-17s and a couple of B-24s,” he said.
By the time Perona’s enlistment was up, the war in Europe had ended and he had been deployed to Germany. Anyone who would re-enlist would get a bonus and a promise to be “home for Christmas,” Perona recalled.
“I hadn’t been home for three years,” he said. Perona said he re-enlisted, but this time he sought an assignment with the Army Corps of Engineers.
Once he got back to McAlester for a three-month furlough though, he found all of his friends were gone, still in the service. He and another soldier reported back for duty long before their leave ended.
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