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EAA AirVenture Oshkosh RSS FeedHumanitarian aviation making a difference
By Timothy R. Gaffney, EAA AirVenture Today

Photo by Laurie Goossens
Miles O'Brien interviews Gracia Burnham, Steve Saint, Peter Vanden Bosch, and Walt Fricke Monday night at Theater in the Woods.

July 28, 2009 - Oshkosh, Wisconsin - Four volunteer pilots recounted their life-changing experiences in the field of humanitarian aviation Monday night in a "hangar talk" program at the Theater in the Woods.

Former CNN Science Editor Miles O'Brien, an active pilot himself, moderated a forum that included Peter J. Vanden Bosch, 2007 winner of the Outstanding Achievement in Advancement of Public Benefit Flying Award; Walt Fricke, a decorated U.S. Army Vietnam aviator and Veterans Airlift Command founder and chairman; Steve Saint, aviation missionary, social entrepreneur, and author of End of The Spear; and Gracia Burnham, aviation missionary, a 2001 hostage of Filipino militants, and author of In the Presence of My Enemies and To Fly Again.

The four came to AirVenture in support of EAA's Fly for Life display at AeroShell Square, a section spotlighting mission aviation and public-benefit flying.

Saint talked about using airplanes to reduce days-long treks through the dense rainforest of Ecuador into brief hops. He returned to live with the same Waodani people who had killed his father when he was a child.

Burnham recounted being a missionary pilot in the Philippines with her husband, Martin, until terrorists kidnapped them and held them for more than a year; ultimately they killed Martin when the Philippine military attempted a rescue-but they failed to dampen Gracia's passion for missionary work.

Fricke, an Army helicopter pilot who was wounded in Vietnam, told of creating the all-volunteer Veterans Airlift Command to provide air transportation to wounded warriors and their families. He spent six months recovering in hospitals with no family support.

Vanden Bosch recounted a life of ease in retirement until a voice told him to do something with purpose-a voice that guided him, he's convinced, to organize the Michigan-based Wings of Mercy volunteer airlift program.

O'Brien asked the speakers what can be done to make the public more aware of the good works done with airplanes, and Burnham said Fly for Life is doing a lot toward that end.

"This has been a chance to let the world know what we're doing," she said.

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