Albert Wheeler retired several years ago from his job as chief chemist at Wilson Foods; Mercedes Wheeler worked as a secretary at Tinker Field and then as food editor for The Oklahoman. They met at college in Arkansas and raised five children.
Walker, who said he has a passion for aircraft and military history, said he overheard Albert Wheeler talking about his war experiences and hatched a plan.
“Al was up in the cockpit and I heard him mention he had equipment like that in the plane he flew, and it kind of sparked my interest,” he said. “It just seemed like the right thing to do. Just hearing him talk, I think you would understand.”
Walker said three of his four grandparents served in World War II, and his sister currently works as a U.S. Air Force nurse in Omaha, Neb.
He pulled Wheeler's daughter, Susie Eubanks, to the side and told her he was going to buy the veteran a ticket.
“Dad practically started crying when we told him,” Eubanks said. “He said, ‘I've dreamed about someday flying in that plane and I never thought I would.' It meant a lot for him to feel that way, and it meant a lot to me, too.”
Wheeler, who suffers from a degenerative eye disease, said the men who joined him for the flight Saturday — some of them fellow veterans — made the trip more memorable than he expected. One man took photos for him, while others assisted him on and off the airplane.
“The camaraderie of being there with the guys beside me made it very well worth it,” he said. “I was just overwhelmed by how these guys were so solicitous of my behalf.”
Especially Walker, he said. It touched him that a stranger, a “kid” who might normally be bored from his stories, gave him attention and respect. He said it's been a long time since he's been on the receiving end of that kind of generosity.
“He has a lovely wife, and deservedly so because he seems to be a really nice kid,” Wheeler said of Walker.
“I'm just amazed there are people running around like that with empathy for us old ducks.”