Honoring Our Veterans : Retired Fighter Pilot

Published: Nov. 8, 2023 at 5:39 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 8, 2023 at 6:34 PM EST
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - This year marks 70 years since the Korean cease fire. They’re some of the oldest veterans that walk among us and some of the most unsung heroes.

In a small machine shop in West Savannah a larger than life 96-year-old veteran humbly continues to run a business he’s owned for forty years.

“I have a little background in welding and machining and this looked like it could make me a little money and not cause a lot of trouble,” Lt. Col. Charlie Stumpf said.

Retired Lieutenant Colonel Charlie Stumpf had been in enough let’s say trouble in the Air Force. He was a fighter pilot with 60 missions under his belt between the Korean and Vietnam Wars.

“Went to Korea, and there I flew 30 missions and should have died.”

“26 thousand feet, we got hit in the bottom of one wing and the top of the other wing; it was not a nice day. I was not glad I went to Pyongyang.”

Charlie spent six months flying from Okinawa to Korea. He laughs about it now, but the fear of going down and being captured was always in the back of his mind.

“A six shot revolver! I knew I was in big trouble; there wasn’t any sense going against a hand held machine gun, so that was not an option; I didn’t want to have to go through that.”

The war ended before he could do another tour in Korea, and he continued to train and stand guard during the Bay of Pigs. He went from Aviation Cadet prior to Korean to Lieutenant Colonel before his next assignment - Vietnam.

“And they asked me what kind of airplane I wanted to fly. I always liked two engines, so I asked to fly the B57 Canberra, which is what this model is right here. It had nice thick wings and you could do violent maneuvers.”

Still,it was a daunting task.

“Flying the B-57 in the southern half of Laos at night, always at night was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life.”

“The whole idea of dive bombing, is to get it up to here and then as hard, violently as you can to rotate it back this way so you’ve got time to get lined up before you have to let it go.”

It was on one of those dive bombing missions he lost his good friend.

“Colonel Donald E Paxton; he’s my buddy. We both went up the same night; and I came back and he didn’t.”

And even through all of that the 96 year old reflects and shares some advice for those currently serving.

“Stay in. I have people come in this machine shop regularly and I ask them, ‘Gee, you look like you were in the military, and they say yeah.’ And I ask the same question are you sorry you got out? And everyone of them says yes.”