Seventy-two years after they last saw each other, U.S. Navy Commander Robert Turnell, 93, and Lt. Ray Owen, 95, greeted one another with a salute as simple as it was powerful.
The reunion for these two men happened a few weeks ago at the Flying Heritage & Combat Armor Museum (FHCAM) in Everett, Wash. with a restored version of the World War II plane they flew behind them.
“I’ve never forgotten the squadron, it’s been in my mind forever,” said Owen. “As the years went by, I never thought I would see anyone again.”
First meeting in 1944, Turnell and Owen went on to fly as part of Navy Fighter Squadron VF-81, stationed aboard the aircraft carrier USS Wasp. While their ship may have been where it all began, it was behind the controls of a F6F Hellcat where their lifelong bond was forged.
“You look great. You look like you’re ready to go climb into a plane and get going again,” said Owen.
“Well, I’m still alive,” replied Turnell, checking his pulse.
Reunions like this are increasingly rare these days and happened because Owen’s son, Ray Jr., saw Turnell in footage from Chronicles of Courage, an oral history archive project developed by Paul Allen’s Vulcan Productions in partnership with his museum, the FHCAM and NBC Learn.
The project has been more than 15 years in the making and highlights the heroes from WWII—both the aircraft and the men and women who flew them.
“I started collecting these unique aircraft not only to preserve the planes, but even more important, to preserve the human stories they really represent,” Allen said.
With the help of the museum, Turnell of Bothell, Wash. and Owen of Detroit, Mich. were reunited in a special moment not only for the two men, but their families as well.
“Growing up we heard a lot of war stories from dad,” said Ray H. Owen. “To see these guys come together as 95 and 93-year-old men has been an extremely heartwarming and emotional experience for both our families.”
Seeing FHCAM’s original F6F Hellcat brought back the memories of a former life for the two pilots—the dogfights, the narrow escapes they survived and the men who never returned.
“I figure this is our squadron reunion—just the two of us—but here we are. Everybody showed up so far,” Owen said.