BURNET — Retired Air Force Capt. Arnold Cook’s eyes were glued to an aircraft used during World War II as crews checked the engine for takeoff.
Standing in the open airfield, Cook, 91, listened to the buzzing of the propellers, waiting for the moment when he would feel at home again inside the C-47 Skytrain.
“I lived in those old airplanes,” said Cook, a World War II pilot who logged about 10,000 hours flying the plane throughout his 20-year military career. “I’ve flown it across the ocean. I love that old machine.”
As the Killeen resident boarded the plane Saturday, Cook joked he could pilot the “old bird” and smiled from the passenger seat as he flew from Highland Lakes Squadron’s Commemorative Air Force hangar in Burnet to Austin.
“I reckon this is one of the most emotional times I’ve ever had in my life,” Cook said. “I’ve had some major disappointments, I’ve had some major heartbreaks, but this is one of the most dramatic moments I’ve had.”
When he pulled up to the hangar Saturday morning, his eyes watered as he held a note from his grandson, Cody Pelton.
“He didn’t know a thing about this until we were right down the street,” said Billie Cook, his wife of 63 years.
Raised in a tight-knit family, Pelton wanted to do something to remind his grandfather he was in his “heart, mind and soul” despite being miles away in California where he works. Cook and his grandson’s birthdays are June 3 and 4, and this is the first time in Pelton’s 24 years that the two have not been together.
“After years of war stories and reminiscing of being up in the air doing what you love, I had an epiphany,” Pelton wrote. “I wanted you to have the opportunity to get back in the air where you belong; where most of the time your stories take you.”
Cook enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps when he was 18. At 22, the second lieutenant in the Army flew a C-47 that dropped paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne near Sainte-Mere-Eglise, Normandy, during Operation Overlord on D-Day, June 6, 1944.
Within the next few days, Cook flew many missions, including carrying 55 gallons of blood and evacuating wounded from behind the Normandy beaches during the battle.
“When we started on D-Day, it was just another operation,” he said. “I stayed over there until the war was over.”
Cook served in the Army from 1940 to 1947 and re-enlisted in the Air Force in 1947 before retiring in 1960. He also served in the Korean War, where he received a Bronze Star.
“My entire lifetime I have tried to follow your footsteps and try to fill the big shoes you have set out before me,” Pelton wrote to his grandfather. “One day, I hope I can become half the man you are.”
Cook said his grandson’s surprise is an expression that goes beyond the realm of love.
“I have a family that I would do anything for and this shows that they would do anything for me,” Cook said. “I can’t believe that it’s happening. I don’t know what to say. It’s been a good life.”