Twelve-year-old Ryan from Centereach came to the “Bouquet of Wishes” Spring Dinner Fundraiser on May 9th under the impression that he was having dinner with his family and may be asked a few questions about his wish. He could never have anticipated the magic that the evening would bring him, nor could the evening’s guests.
Ryan, who has acute lymphoblastic leukemia, is a World War II enthusiast. His one true wish was to have the chance to fly in a WWII fighter plane; particularly the P51 Mustang. During the dinner, President and CEO of the chapter, Karine Hollander, called Ryan to the stage and asked him to tell the audience his wish.
“To fly in a World War II plane…the P-51 Mustang,” Ryan declared. Karine then implored the audience to please help if they can, as Ryan has “challenged us!” To the surprise of Ryan and the evening’s over 700 attendees, three uniformed Air Force men marched out to the stage to the tune of “Into the Wild Blue Yonder,” the Air Force anthem, and presented Ryan with his very own “call to duty.”
While standing at attention, Lt. Col. Scott Stenger and two of his lieutenants from the Francis S. Gabreski Air National Guard Base in Westhampton Beach explained to Ryan that he will report to Reading, Pennsylvania on June 7th to attend the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum’s World War II weekend.
“You will participate in three days of training including flying in a WWII P-51D ‘Mustang’, a B-17G ‘Yankee Lady’ and Douglas SBD-5 ‘Dauntless,’ thank you for this service to your country,” Stenger read. Karine then presented Ryan with his own bomber jacket, authentic WWII aviation cap and a pair of sterling silver aerial gunner wings. Lt. Col. Stenger also gave Ryan the Air Force squadron patch and a very special unit coin. The stunned joy on Ryan’s face was apparent to the whole room.
Over the second weekend in June, Ryan’s wish came true as he flew in three fighter planes in Reading; including the P51 Mustang! While in flight, Ryan kept the unit coin from Lt. Col. Stenger in his pocket for good luck. He also led the Military Convoy as the Grand Marshall! Ryan had a blast on his wish. His mom, Karen, said his wish was “above and beyond what he expected!” We salute you, Ryan!!