He will fly again.
He will feel the rattle of the old C-53 engine and the thrill of those propellers cutting through the air. His memory will drift to days that weren’t so sweet.
He said he’s flown dozens of times since the war, but this time will have special meaning.
At 96 years old, who knows how many more times Pat Hofferbert will be airborne?
On Wednesday, Sept. 2, Hofferbert will be a passenger on the “Victory Flight” to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Japanese surrender which ended World War II. The C-53 plane, which also participated in the 75th D-Day anniversary in Normandy in 2019, will take off from Long Beach and pass over sites that had connections to the United States war effort – Los Alamitos, the Santa Ana Naval Air Station, the Marine Corps Air Station (El Toro), the WWII Submarine Memorial, the Queen Mary, the USS Iowa, the Santa Monica Airport, the Museum of Tolerance and the Bracket and Ontario Airfields.
Onboard with Hofferbert will be people representing Rosie the Riveter, concentration camp liberators and Holocaust survivors.
“For these people, it’s going to be a flashback of 75 years,” said Bill Prosser, who will be flying the plane. Prosser is a business officer in the Riverside-based Commemorative Air Force, which performs ceremonies with vintage airplanes all over the world.
Pew Research released a report earlier this year revealing that of the 16 million Americans who served in WWII, about 300,000 veterans are still alive.
“Sept. 2 was one of the happiest days of my life,” said Hofferbert, who lives in Santa Ana. “It was over. We didn’t have to face that anymore. Here’s what I remember … we had beers and beers and more beers.”
Seventy-five years later, it is likely Pat Hofferbert will shed a tear.
“I am an emotional man,” he said.
Harry Hofferbert was born in 1924 in Indianapolis. His uncle said Harry didn’t sound like an Irish enough name so he started calling the boy “Pat.”
His father left the family when he was 8, and Pat, his mother and two brothers moved in with his grandparents. They were sharecroppers, farming corn and wheat.
“Things were tough during the Depression,” Hofferbert said.
He didn’t want to be a farmer. Hofferbert wanted to go to school. Specifically, he wanted to study history at Butler University. But opportunity intervened. His mother got a job in the accounting department at the Los Angeles Times. She moved her boys west to Alhambra.
Hofferbert enrolled at Pasadena Junior College in 1942.
Then he made a strategic decision. He was sure his draft number was going to come up, so he left school and enlisted in the Army Air Corps.
“I didn’t want to be in the infantry, and that’s where I would go if I was drafted,” Hofferbert said. “They were pushing pilots through so fast.”
‘Lost a lot of guys’
His dreams of being a pilot never worked out.
In a training flight, his eardrum popped. His equilibrium, centered in the ears, would always be in question. He was a disabled veteran before he finished his duties.
“I was disappointed as all get out,” he said.
He still worked in the air, just not in the cockpit. Hofferbert worked in the cabin of a C-54. Sometimes, he carried briefcases with encrypted messages. Most of the time, his job was grimmer.
For 15 months, he organized the transport of wounded (and sometimes dying) soldiers. Their route was from the Philippines to Australia, from Honolulu to Saipan. The cabin could fit as many as 36 troops at a time, and they were comforted by two nurses.
Hofferbert cries when he talks about his memories.
“We would evacuate badly wounded troops,” he said. “Sometimes, I dream about the sound of 50-millimeter shells.”
On those flights, there were heroes. “We lost a lot of guys,” he said. “And those nurses were our angels.”
On Sept. 2, 1945, Hofferbert was in the air between Saipan and Guam. The news spilled out of the radio.
“The war was over,” he said. “It would be awful good to see my family again.”
Ready to fly again
Pat Hofferbert eventually got his degree in history.
He has been married twice; both wives died long ago. He built a career in education, working as a teacher, coach, administrator and principal.
When it came to teaching about World War II, he always had the same message for students.
“I wanted to become a teacher to let the kids know how terrible it was,” he said.
He was the principal at McFadden Middle School for 17 years, until taking a job at a photo company called Portrait World that took pictures of students for school yearbooks.
He retired in 1979.
As he prepares to fly again, Hofferbert finds himself tearful a lot.
“Thank God I’m still here,” he said. “The ones who gave their lives … they are the real heroes.”
He is not the least bit scared about being inside a vintage aircraft.
He’s looking forward to it.
“I have full confidence in that plane,” he said.
Source: Orange County Register