Rowland Ball shares a moment with 1st Lt. Dillen Stuhlsatz
After visiting a few more areas on the airfield and seeing what had changed with his own two eyes, Ball had the chance to share a few more of his stories with present-day aviators.
Joy, turmoil, courage, sorrow, team and loss. Those words, though not explicitly said, echoed throughout a room filled with aviators, who were so fixated on Ball’s stories, they barely moved an inch.
“He shared many combat stories with us, but also talked about the ingenuity and creativity his crew displayed during a trying time,” Kippie said. “What our generation of Airmen can learn from someone who has been to war is courage. His message, that he reiterated multiple times, was how it took a team working together to get to a target. Sometimes sorties didn’t go as planned, but they stuck together to accomplish the task at hand as a team.”
His message spoke to more than just aviators, but to maintainers, engineers, cooks and other support staff. Ball showed appreciation to each organization, as he knew just how important they were to the war effort.
“Even though someone he knew died every day, after every sortie, these men still found the courage to takeoff,” Kippie said. “What we take for granted these days is their sacrifice. I’ve flown around 60 combat sorties and I don’t know anyone who has been shot down. This is something we train for, but it’s not in the forefront of our minds when we are flying combat sorties. We have not had that type of experience, so it was jaw-dropping listening to him talk about it.”
Despite long days, hectic missions, the loss and turmoil his crew faced, there were some lighter moments he shared.
“The cooks would give us three sandwiches for an 18-hour mission. I had to decide how I would eat them. Should I eat two before a bomb run or after? Would I even be alive to eat the sandwich I saved,” Ball said as he took a brief pause to let the audience laugh.
“One time, ice cream was included in our meal. Now why would they give us ice cream of all things? So, during that mission, we decided to fly at a higher altitude than normal, to keep it frozen. Unfortunately, by the time we completed our mission, the ice cream was unsalvageable.”
After Ball finished sharing his experiences, he received a standing ovation as deafening as a roaring flightline. As he bid farewell to the Airmen, they all lined up to shake his hand. The sound of velcro soon followed, as he was presented multiple squadron patches in appreciation of everything he stood for and accomplished.
“It was remarkable speaking to these young Airmen,” Ball said. “These planes have become so technologically advanced throughout the years. It is astonishing what they have to learn and the amount of studying that needs to take place to fly these behemoths. They will lead America into the future.”
As his visit ended, Ball, who was never at a loss for words, was speechless. Emotional and grateful, the only word he could muster was “Thanks.”
“Thank you people for allowing my family and I to have the opportunity to see this place. You have all been so nice and wonderful. I thought I might be able to see a plane, but this was something else. This visit has made my life and I will remember this forever.”