CASCO – Gerry Beaudry was sitting in a New Jersey diner having breakfast when a man noticed his World War II cap and struck up a conversation.

Gerry Beaudry of New Jersey, a 90-year-old World War II bomber pilot, stands Monday at The Heath on the southern end of Thompson Lake in Casco where he enjoyed fishing. A chance meeting at a New Jersey diner three years ago launched a friendship with a couple who drove him to Maine to see his only living relatives this past weekend. Matt Daigle/Sun Journal

Fast-forward three years and the former B-17 bomber pilot who worked on his grandfather’s farm in Hebron as a youth, was driven to Maine this past weekend to visit his niece in Turner, go the graves of his mother and sister in Hebron and to fish Thompson Lake in Casco.

Beaudry said the trip wouldn’t have been possible without Jerry and Kristen Oleske, the New Jersey couple he met at the diner.

Kristen said she and her husband saw Beaudry sitting at a table by himself. His World War II hat drew Jerry’s attention and the two struck up a conversation about Beaudry’s time in the Army Air Force. After the couple paid for his meal, they gave him their phone number and told him to call anytime he needed help.

Two weeks later, Beaudry asked for a ride to a medical appointment.

“Since those days, he has become a close family friend, attending our son’s baseball games and joining us for movies and meals,” Kristen said. “He has brought so much joy into our lives and our children have learned so much from their new nonagenarian friend.”

The sentiment was shared by Beaudry. “As far as I’m concerned, (the Oleske family) is my family.”

Beaudry talked to them about visiting Maine again to see his only living relatives, niece Kathy Kuroly and her husband, Michael, in Turner, and visiting the graves of his mother and sister in Hebron.

“The stars aligned and we were able to make the visit work,” Kristen said.

They arrived Saturday and spent the weekend visiting his family.

On Monday, Beaudry, the Kurolys and the Oleskes fished Thompson Lake, boarding a boat at The Heath in Casco.

Beaudry said he didn’t catch anything but enjoyed being surrounded by the woods in the state where many of his happy memories reside.

Born in Massachussetts, he spent most of his adult life in New York and New Jersey.

“(Maine) is his happy place,” Kathy said. “He hasn’t been here for awhile, but he loves it when he visits.”

Among those happy memories are the times at his grandfather’s farm.

“My grandfather grew up in New Hampshire, but he later bought a farm in Hebron, with apple orchards and cows,” Beaudry said. “I spent a lot of time at the farm helping him out.”

When he wasn’t in Hebron, he was living on Long Island, New York, where he worked as a golf caddy in his early teens.

“I’d carry around people’s bags for 18 holes and get paid 50 cents,” Beaudry said.

He’d save $5 at a time to pay for a half-hour flying class at Zahn’s Airport in Long Island, a private airfield frequently used by aspiring pilots.

“After hours of flying, I was able to get my student pilot’s license,” Beaudry said.

He received his license in 1944 at age 14.

As combat was ramping up near the end of World War II, the Army Air Force was “desperate for pilots,” he said.

“My mom gave me permission, so I lied about my age, enlisted and was able to get into pilot school, where I trained to be a bomber pilot,” he said. “I ended up in the 8th Army Air Force.”

He flew 13 missions in a B-17 bomber, widely considered among historians to be one of the more dangerous jobs in the Army Air Force.

On his final mission, his plane malfunctioned, forcing him to crash-land in France. He was rescued by French soldiers, who brought him by boat to the English Channel to be handed over to British troops.

“I’m one of the lucky guys who made it out,” Beaudry said. “If it were Germans who found me, I probably would’ve been executed.”

Beaudry returned to the United States and continued helping his grandfather in Hebron. But 10 years later, he was called into action for the Korean War, piloting C-46 Commando Transports.

“I’d fly from Tokyo to Seoul, South Korea, bringing fresh troops ammunition and food,” he said. “Then, we’d take the wounded out and bring them to Japan.”

After the war, he worked construction and occasionally volunteered with the Civilian Air Corps on Long Island.

Since retiring, trips to Maine have been few and far between, the last being in 2011.

He said another trip to the Pine Tree State isn’t out of the question, but rather than driving he’d like a more familiar mode of travel.

“I’d love to fly again,” Beaudry said. “Maybe next time I come up to Maine, I’ll fly myself up and land in Portland.”

Gerry Beaudry’s family put a sign on the back of his wheelchair after he arrived in Maine on Saturday. The 90-year-old World War II bomber pilot from New Jersey spent many of his formative years working on his grandfather’s farm in Hebron. Matthew Daigle/Sun Journal


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: