*Editor’s Note: This story is Part 2 of 2 about longtime Creswell resident, Richard Heyman, who was a fighter pilot during three wars. In case you missed it, read Part 1 online at Chronicle1909.com
CRESWELL – Richard Heyman is no kid anymore – but he found it easy to kid around Thursday as he celebrated his 99th birthday.
“Today being my 99th birthday, it’s kind of difficult for me to get into the swing of things,” said Heyman, who retired as an Air Force lieutenant colonel after being a fighter pilot for his entire 32-year military career. “God, am I really that old?
“I consider myself in my 100th year, so that makes it easy (to remember).”
Heyman and his wife, Barbara, went to TJ’s to celebrate the occasion. Richard got a complimentary mocha, as about 30-40 people joined in to toast his birthday.
They also received congratulatory calls from many of their four children, five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren – and also from one of Barbara’s old high school friends from England.
“I’ve been very fortunate,” Heyman said. “I’m Jewish, I believe in my God, I believe in what I’m doing and I believe in my fellow man. There’s good in all of us, sometimes you have to hunt for it. I’m just grateful for my life and my friends, and I feel like I’ve accomplished a few things.”
That was the understatement of the day.
He shot down his first enemy aircraft at age 19, and he would go on to complete more than 100 missions during World War II. Later, he fought in Korea and Vietnam, piloting just about every U.S. airplane ever designed for battle.
Still, that’s a chapter in his life that he’s glad to leave in the past.
“I had my fun. Do I miss it? Sure, I miss it, but it’s a part of my life that’s gone,” Heyman said. “I flew a lot of good airplanes. I was one of the first jet pilots. It was terribly underpowered, the P-59, it was the worst plane I ever flew. Thank God we didn’t have to go to war with it.”
Heyman said he has flown a few times with local pilots at the Hobby Field airport in Creswell, and he also flew for a while for the district attorney’s office, searching for marijuana. He last sat in a cockpit during a local air show.
“He got into a Stearman down at a show in Cottage Grove, and he had a hard time getting into it,” Barbara said, referring to Richard’s weak legs – the result of getting frozen feet while flying in Korea.
After taking a trip around the world four years ago, the Heymans said there’s nothing major left on their bucket list. Richard wrote a guest column nearly every week for The Chronicle during that four-month excursion.
They also made a memorable trip to Australia, where Richard climbed the legendary Gloucester Tree, which stands 190 feet tall.
“That was one tall tree,” Heyman said. “I don’t know how I got talked into that.”
Barbara said the trip Down Under was something she’ll always cherish.
“We saw Charles and Diana in Adelaide, and when we took a bus tour in Southwest Australia, our Coach Captain, as they called him, was from a town I lived right next to in England.”
“Richard has been to about 52 countries, and I’ve been to about 45,” said Barbara, who will also celebrate a double-digit birthday when she turns 88 in February. “And we’ve both been to all 50 states; I was at 49 in 1968 when I had been here for eight years. The last one was Arkansas.
“I’m just so thankful that we have our memories and our minds are still good.”
Richard said he has always stayed active, and plans to keep it that way.
“I just want to stay active as long as I can,” he said. “I had to give up golf this past year, it was too difficult on my legs. Even when you take a cart, you still have to do a fair amount of walking.
“We go places and do things. I have an electric wheelchair and I terrorize the natives sometimes with that. We try to stay active. We go out to eat, we have friends over. We’ve stayed close with Dr. Singer – he was my flight surgeon in Vietnam and we’ve remained good friends. We go to the local coffee shop just about every other day. It seems like the same old life, it just takes a little longer to do things.”
Heyman fondly recalled his first meeting with Dr. Kenneth Singer, who has made a name for himself with his revolutionary work with knee-replacement surgery as an orthopedic surgeon at the Slocum Center in Eugene.
“Ken Singer came to my outfit in Thailand while we were flying during Vietnam,” Heyman said. “He was a captain, but had only been in the Air Force for six weeks. He reported in and said he had been attached to my squadron. I said, ‘Fine, I want you to do something for me. I have this fellow who has a fear of flying combat and he always has something wrong with his airplane and doesn’t make the mission.
“I’d like you to take him to Wiesbaden and put him in a rubber room and get him psychonalyzed, and see what’s wrong with him.”
Heyman didn’t get the kind of answer he was anticipating.
“He comes back and walks in and slams the desk. Now, a captain doesn’t come into a Lieutenant Colonel’s office and slam the desk. So I said, ‘What’s the matter?’
“You sent me over there to find out if this guy has a fear of flying and he won’t complete a mission,” Singer said. “Well, I took him over there and told them he had a fear of flying. They took him in a back room and did a bunch of psychoanalyzing and all of this.
“They came back and told me there’s nothing wrong with him, but you guys are nuts. He doesn’t want to kill himself. You don’t mind going out there and getting shot at, but he does.”