Douglas Ward, area aviation legend, dead at 94

When I first passed along the story of Douglas Ward, of Mondovi, Wis., in 2014, I noted that this is the kind of picture I could look at for hours.

It still is.

Ward was a tail-gunner in a B-17 during the war, before coming home and starting a little airport south of Eau Claire — the Log Cabin Airport.

A few years ago, he was awarded the French Legion of Honor, the highest medal of honor from the French government, for his service during the war.

A congressman finally got him his medals from the U.S. government — the Distinguished Flying Cross and several others — that he had earned but never received.

Ward died last week at 94.

For aviation enthusiasts, he was a legend in these parts, thanks, too, to his fly-in that he’d host at his airport, where he also built a saloon and a barber shop, the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram says in its remembrance. He traded airplane rides for some of the material he needed to build the place.

Ward joined the war a few months after graduating from high school. He said he enlisted rather than wait to be drafted because, “I’m the type of person who doesn’t like to to be told what to do.”

He flew new B-24s from the factory to St. Paul’s Holman Field, where bomb sights were installed, then tested them by dropping “bombs” into Lake Superior.

After gunnery school, he volunteered to be a ball-turret gunner because he wanted to stay with the friends he’d made. “I didn’t know what a ball-turret was,” he said. “I just wanted to stay with them.”

He ended up in North Africa where, he lamented, “they took away our new B-24 and gave us this old B-17.”

He flew 18 missions over Romania and Yugoslavia with the 8th Air Force and then was sent to England in time for D-Day to fly 25 more over Europe.

A celebration of his life will be held next Sunday at his airport, of course, where the ski-plane fly-in originally scheduled on that date will go on.

Video: Timeless Voices: Douglas Ward (EAA)