MYRTLE BEACH — Alvin Strasburger, an 89-year-old World War II veteran from Columbia, is just as comfortable using an iPhone as he is flying a vintage World War II aircraft.
Strasburger, one of five Columbia veterans selected to ride in the 4th annual Salute from the Shore on Thursday, was texting his family while he flew along the Grand Strand. He also took many pictures with his smartphone.
Strasburger entered the Army in 1943 and piloted a B-25. He flew 60 missions during World War II, starting at age 19, and earned the Distinguished Service Cross. Thursday was his first time back in the cockpit of an old plane since he was a young man, and Strasburger said it was fantastic.
Salute from the Shore honors those who served in the military by flying some veterans along the Grand Strand while those celebrating the Fourth of July on South Carolina’s beaches wave and show their patriotism. The event is recorded from the shore and air during the flyover, and the final video is posted on the website for veterans and those overseas to view.
Salute from the Shore went on despite not having F-16s from Shaw Air Force Base, as the event did last year. Pilot Barry Avant, helped recruit other pilots so the flight could continue. Avant flew his C-47, which hauled paratroopers over the English Channel in World War II.
Most of the veterans on the plane got to try the co-pilot seat. They took pictures of each other while taking turns flying. When Jim Cantey was helping steer, he fishtailed – causing the plane to shake some. But the plane was never in danger, and Cantey, who worked in military intelligence for the Army during Vietnam, had fun. It was wonderful to see South Carolina from such a great vantage point, he said, adding the enthusiasm of the pilots, passengers and people on the shore was very inspirational to see.
Alex Miller, also in the Army during Vietnam, agreed. Some of Miller’s grandchildren held signs at DeBordieu Beach and he was able to pick them out of the crowd, he said.
“It was a genuine blast to be in the company of veterans and also see the participation on the shore,” Miller said.
The trip was patriotic said Dick Johnston who served in the Coast Guard. “I feel like I’m riding in a parade,” Johnston said.
Dr. Alden Sweatman, a former battalion surgeon in Vietnam, recently tore his Achilles tendon playing tennis. He climbed into the cockpit even with a large cast on his foot. Viewing the patriotism from the plane ride was “reassuring and invigorating,” he said.
The veterans documented the experience with their cameras and smartphones and by the end of the flight, Strasburger’s battery was dying.
“It got to the danger zone,” he said.
He was referring to his cellphone’s battery, not the flight.