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Vietnam War Veteran Gets Flight Of His Dreams


Friends helped organize Vietnam War veteran Simon Rowland's flight in an old P-Model Cessna plane.

It was a special day for a Vietnam War veteran in Vancouver, Washington. Simon Rowland, 66, has always wanted to fly in an old P-Model Cessna plane. And this weekend, he got his wish.

A crowd of friends who helped organize the flight met him at the runway Saturday morning. One of them is Meredith McMackin, an art therapist who met Simon while teaching a class at the VA Portland Community Living Center on the Vancouver campus.

“We were outside because it was a beautiful day and I had art supplies out there,” remembers McMackin. “And this fellow, Simon, looks up and sees a small plane and says, ‘I want to fly in one of those before I die.’”

That planted a seed for McMackin and she started making calls to the nearby Pearson Field. She got in contact with a local pilot, Bill Rollin, who was happy to help. When McMackin told Rowland she had secured a plane, he broke down in tears.

“I was so happy I couldn’t contain myself,” said Rowland.

Veteran Simon Rowland peering out the window of the Cessna plane as it flies across parts of southwest Washington.

Veteran Simon Rowland peering out the window of the Cessna plane as it flies across parts of southwest Washington.

Molly Solomon/OPB

Rowland was diagnosed with lymphocytic cancer in January. Doctors told him he only had a pint of blood left in his body. After trips to four different hospitals and two stints in rehab, Rowland was finally healthy enough to get on the plane.

By late-morning Saturday, the clouds broke and Rowland stepped inside the Cessna 182. Pilot Bill Roller took off from Pearson Field and steered along the Columbia River. He glided past Battle Ground, before veering east, toward Mount St. Helens.

“There you go, we’re starting to see some crater action,” said Roller through his intercom.

“It’s always nice above the clouds,” Rowland replied.

As the plane hit its cruising altitude of 9,500 feet, other Pacific Northwest peaks came into view. 

“Mount Rainer, Mount Adams, Mount Hood,” Roller listed off.

The plane got a good view of Mount St. Helens peeking through the clouds with Mount Hood in the background.

The plane got a good view of Mount St. Helens peeking through the clouds with Mount Hood in the background.

Molly Solomon/OPB

Sitting on the edge of his seat, Rowland peered down at the mountains and trees below. He said he didn’t think he was going to make it a month ago.

“It’s all about your attitude,” he said. “And how precious daily life is. You have to truly live one day at a time.”

Back on the ground, he snapped a photo in front of the plane.

“Fantastic. I couldn’t be happier,” he said. “This is a memory that will just last the rest of my life.”

Making the moment more special was sharing the flight with Meredith McMackin’s 94-year old father, Guy, a fellow veteran and World War II Army Air Corps pilot.

The two men shook hands after the flight and walked back to the parking lot together.

“It was a pleasure riding with you,” Rowland said to McMackin. “God’s not done with me yet.”

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