“I wanted to learn how to fly,” Rooke said.
Well into his pilot training at Williams Field near Mesa, Ariz., the war took a pivotal turn. The Allied forces invaded Normandy and the countdown to victory began. The rush to train student pilots was over.
“I’ve never been up in a plane, courtesy of Uncle Sam,” he said.
Before he earned his wings, Germany fell and Japan surrendered. At the end of October 1945, he was released from the Army Air Corps.
“I continued with private lessons and learned to fly in Lubbock,” Rooke said.
He purchased a small plane and his affection for aviation continued. As a descendant of the pioneer Driscoll family, Rooke is a lifelong supporter of the local airport on property owned by his family and aviation in general.
Yet, a deeper yearning, born as a teen in the service, lay unfulfilled. Rooke wanted to fly what the Senate War Investigating Committee set up by Harry Truman called “the most aerodynamically perfect pursuit plane in existence” – the P51 Mustang.
Last Monday, the rancher and business owner got his wish. After reading in the newspaper that a Mustang would be on tour in Rockport, he jumped at the opportunity.
“There was not a cloud in the sky and I couldn’t have picked a better day to fly,” he said.
The pilot turned the controls over to Rooke and a hankering that took root 66 years ago was fulfilled.
But the lifelong resident is not alone in his respect for the WWII war plane. Aviation experts around the globe continue to revere the success of the North American Rockwell plane that played a large role in bringing Germany to its knees and the end of the war. An estimated 140 planes of the 280 in existence are still airworthy.
Few people could have dreamed back in 1944 that the P51 Mustang would still be flying in 2010. Designed more for high performance than for longevity, warbird enthusiasts around the globe continue to boast the P-51’s astounding success rate. More than any other Allied fighter plane, its pilots tallied 19 kills for every one Mustang lost and are credited with the destruction of 4,950 German planes.
Last Monday, the pilot made a few roll-overs with Rooke in the co-pilot’s seat. They looked out over the runway at the local airport.
Rooke took the controls of the P-51 Mustang and circled the skies over Refugio County with the exuberance of an 18-year-old who wanted to learn to fly 66 years ago and serve his country.