Veteran celebrates Memorial Day weekend with his eyes on the sky

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COLUMBIA – After serving eight years in the United States Air Force, the passion of this veteran for sky travel hasn't faded.

"If you are bit by that flying bug, it never goes away," Ron Sharek said.

It was that passion for flying that encouraged him to join the USAF.

"I've always wanted to fly, and the Air Force was the greatest way to do it," he said. "I entered flight school at Sheppard Air Force Base, which is in northern Texas, that was in 1968."

During his time in the USAF, Sharek spent a year in Vietnam where he flew 233 combat missions in an F-100.

He said family goals made him reconsider the Air Force.

"Kids were little and we wanted to provide them a little more stable life, so I selected to get out," he said. "But I really, really enjoyed the Air Force and it's always a big soft spot in my heart for our military."

After retiring from service, he became a commercial pilot for two and a half years.

Although he doesn't fly anymore, Sharek gets to enjoy his passion for airplanes every year during Memorial Day weekend.

Sharek has been one of the honor guests in the Annual Memorial Day Weekend Salute to Veterans Airshow for more than five years in a row. 

"I feel like I represent all the guys that I was flying with who didn't come home," he said. "I was in some missions where I was the only one that came back, of course they were killed in action."

The airshow reaches its 30th edition this year. The media chair for "Salute to Veterans," Jessica Houston, said their goal is to honor veterans in the U.S.

"It's an all-military show, we don't have any civilian-type aircrafts," she said. "It goes with our mission, you know, we want to honor the military members for what they've done, and so we want to do that through military aircraft."

Sharek said very year he comes to the airshow he gets jealous about the pilots flying for the crowd. As a matter of fact, he said he wishes he had performed in an airshow.

"Every time I see them go zooming by I say, well I wish I was in there with them,” he said.

He added seeing pilots perform brings to him "a collision on emotions."

"When I was over in Vietnam, it brings back a lot of sad memories, I am getting goose bumps right now," Sharek said. "You know, flying is some of a dangerous situation, especially when they are shooting at you."

Houston said throughout her years working with the organization of the airshow she has seen the meaning it has for veterans.

"I've heard so many different stories, you'll have a veteran you maybe they haven't seen the plane that they flew since they flew it. And they'll come to the tarmac, and they'll see one of those planes, and just you just seem their memories flowing through their mind,” she said. "Some of them start crying, and usually they're there with families, and they'd be able to tell those stories."

Sharek said although he didn't come from a big military family, he decided to give his service to the country.

"I love this country, and I just felt that I had to do something to do my part," he said. "I am very proud to have done my part, as small as it is."

He said the camaraderie and the fellowship of the Air Force is what he misses the most from his days in service.  

"You get a tight bond in the military," he said.

While none of his two children decided to join the Air Force, Sharek has a special hope for his grandchildren.

"I would hope that they have a recognition of the service, I would hope that more than serving that they had a greater respect for the people who gave them all the benefits that we have," he said.

As for the airshow, Sharek said as long as Mary Posner, founder of “Salute to Veterans,” continues to invite him he will continue to be part of this celebration of the service of veterans.

"I think it's the greatest event that I attend of this magnitude," he said. "This is really, really an honor to be a part of this organization."

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