Wartime navigator Bert visits warplane museum on his 90th birthday
The Hamilton Spectator
The memories flooded back as Bert Sparrock slowly shuffled his way up toward the front of a massive DC-3 airplane Thursday on his 90th birthday.
The Hamilton veteran and his family visited the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum for lunch and a tour of the plane, nearly identical to the one Sparrock flew in almost 70 years agoas a Second World War air force navigator in Burma almost 70 years ago.
“It’s exciting,” he said quietly, his eyes darting around the cockpit. “It certainly brings back all the memories.”
Bittersweet memories, of course, from a brutal war — but for the most part, Sparrock smiled and recalled stories of his friends and their time up in the air.
“I remember all my crew. There was Pete … and Bruce and a fellow named Jim Davis. I remember them clearly as though they were here with me today. Pete was a great pilot, had perfect landings.”
He listed off countless missions where he would sit as navigator just behind the cockpit on a green leather fold-down seat, checking maps and instructing the pilots which direction to take to and from targets.
Some 10,000 of these planes — massive transporters used to move paratroopers and supplies — were sent off to war.
“I always wanted to be a pilot, but my mathematics scores were too high,” Sparrock said with a sly smile as his grandson pushed his wheelchair through the hangar.
“They thought better not lose my high math skills, so they decided I would remain as a navigator.”
His wife, Theresa, chimed in with anecdotes and other stories from the war. The couple — married 59 years — didn’t meet until years after Bert’s time in the air force, but she knows his stories by heart as though she’d been with him throughout every campaign.
His children, too — two daughters and three sons — could rhyme off Dad’s old war stories. The family has visited come out tothe museum several times over the years for Remembrance Day and veterans’ celebrations.
Sparrock’s son, David, was the OPP officer injured on Hwy 407 Wednesday when a transport truck slammed into his car during a vehicle stop. He was sore from the crash, but couldn’t bear to miss the celebration.
Leon Evans, the museum’s pilot for the DC-3, promised to take Sparrock out for a flight in the old plane sometime this spring.
“Hey, I value my freedom,” Evans said. “Freedom isn’t free, and these people, these veterans, made it possible for us. We didn’t know how the war was going to end. Neither did they. That was just their job.”