Webster and Kann visit Offutt Air Show near Omaha

Neil Webster, Fred Kann, and thousands of others watch a Lucas Oil plane at the 2014 Defenders of Freedom Open House and Air Show July 19 at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. (U.S. Air Force photo by Jeff W. Gates)

By Molly Moser

Guttenberg resident Neil Webster got an up-close view of some exceptionally dangerous flights at the Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha, Neb., late last month. He and Fred Kann, a Navy vet who served in Vietnam, attended the 2014 air show with Webster on July 19 and 20. 

In one such flight, said Webster, “The pilot flew his plane upside down just off the runway to pick off a pennant hanging between two 15-foot poles, using the plane’s vertical tail.” Another pilot flew along the runway with wings perpendicular to the pavement, and yet another flew straight up into the sky for several thousand feet before continuing further upward with acrobatics. 

The show began with Navy Seals dropping in via parasails directly in front of the VIP tent where Webster and Kann were seated. “A short time ago I received an invitation from the Commander Colonel Guillot of the 55th Wing Offutt Air Force Base to attend the air show,” Webster said, explaining how he and Kann were placed in the Commander’s Tent. “I had served with the 97th support group to the 55th in England during WWII and had previously been invited to special activities from the 55th wing.”

Now 93 years old, Webster has been involved in radio and electronics since high school. He grew up in Waucoma and attended radio school in New Orleans. After receiving his license to operate a radio station, he began working at WGRM in Greenwood, Miss. In 1939, he was making only $12 a week – so he quit and joined the military. This decision brought him to Hawaii, where he was serving at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. 

Webster assisted with radios, telephone wires and switchboards, and supplies for the 55th. “We were a firing squadron, but now the 55th is a reconnaissance squadron. They’re our ears all over.”

After seeing a P51 Gunfighter chase a Japanese Zero through the sky, the air show audience of thousands was treated to one of Webster’s favorite parts of the afternoon. “A twin engine jet, at low altitude, flew by with enough noise to shake our bodies and require us to place noise stoppers in our ears,” said Webster.  “They don’t need to shoot at you – they just fly over and scare you to death.”

All the while, Webster, Kann, and several hundred others in the Commander’s Tent were fed lunch, given drinks, and transported via golf cart. “I must say we were treated royally while we were there, being asked many times if there was anything more we needed. It was a great show and well worth the time it took to get there,” Webster told The Press.

Kann and Webster’s 340-mile drive across Iowa got interesting when they pulled over at a rest stop 50 miles from Des Moines and discovered that Webster’s van was completely out of oil. “Another vehicle at the rest stop had a container of cooking oil. We used a quart of it until we could get to the next filling station,” Webster chuckled. “We were very lucky.” 

Ten years ago, while visiting Offutt, Webster was taken to a now private portion of the base. “They took us three stories below ground to a room leftover from the Cold War. There were great big screens showing what was going on all over the word,” he recalled. 

This year, said Webster, “The grounds were loaded with thousands of visitors taking in the numerous static exhibits from a P51 Mustang, Mikoyan-Gurevich 17, A10, Civil Air Patrol, Army, and Air Force planes. It was obvious our Air Force and other military units have our country’s safety well in hand.”

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