98-year-old World War II veteran from Florida enjoys vintage biplane flight

MARTIN COUNTY, Fla. — A 98-year-old World War II veteran took to the air on Saturday, flying in a biplane that was used to train pilots 80 years ago.

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Walter Alesi, an Ohio native who retired to Florida 48 years ago, flew in the front seat of a Boeing Stearman biplane, an aircraft used to train pilots during World War II, TCPalm.com reported.

The flight was sponsored by Dream Flights, a Nevada-based nonprofit group, the website reported.

“I’m glad that this program is put on to let the world know that our nation has not given up on veterans,” Alesi, of Palm City, said after his 20-minute flight along Florida’s east coast.

Alesi, who is from Salem, Ohio, and was born Dec. 22, 1922, was working at the Hayden Grocery store in his hometown when Pearl Harbor was attacked, according to online military records. Hayden joined the Marines and was stationed in Hawaii to help oversee ammunition stockpiles, according to TCPalm.com.

Alesi, along with brothers John, William and Everett, served during the war, according to online vital records.

Walter Alesi was discharged in November 1945 and returned to the grocery business as a meat cutter, according to TCPalm.com.

Moving to Florida, Alesi married Barbara Mae Hershberger in Martin County on April 24, 1972, according to online Florida marriage records. He became a widower when his wife died on Oct. 17, 2020.

In December, Alesi tested positive for COVID-19, but his daughter, Debbie Orsatti, of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, said it was not a severe case, TCPalm.com reported.

After his wife died, Alesi moved into an assisted living facility in Palm City.

Heather Morris, the facility’s activities director, heard about Dream Flights and applied for Alesi to get a seat in the cockpit.

“He hasn’t stopped smiling since he got the news a month ago” about flying, Morris told TCPalm.com.

On Saturday, Alesi was helped into the biplane at Witham Field in Stuart, cheered on by four of his grandchildren and some of his great-grandchildren.

Pilot Tom Gardner took Alesi on a 20-minute flight, and the ex-Marine was thrilled.

“It was outstanding,” Alesi told TCPalm.com. “It was something I never thought I would see. A trip over the ocean to see those homes. It was wonderful.”