- Associated Press - Monday, May 11, 2015

SUGAR LAND, Texas (AP) - Jack Dorshaw would like to make it to 100 years old. When he dies, he would like it to be because of a jealous husband. If he’s having dessert, he’d like it to be ice cream. Mostly, though, he would just like to fly again, which he does as often as he can.

Dorshaw is 96. He’s flown in three wars. His life spans continents. But when he gets to telling his story at his birthday party in his Sugar Land retirement community, a table of family around him, he skips around, waving away years at a time with humorous impatience.

About finishing high school, he told the Houston Chronicle (https://bit.ly/1zbr6ZF), “There was some talk about graduating me, I was somewhere in the top 90 percent of my class. But they needed the classroom space.” So he graduated.

And finding work in a factory: “It’s the best I could do.”

On serving two years with the Marine Corps Forces Reserve before being discharged to care for his ill father: “They gave me a bus ticket back to Philadelphia.”

And getting married to Donna Singer after he signed up to become a pilot shortly after Pearl Harbor: “I didn’t choose to get married, I was chosen. I was too stupid to know otherwise.”

“I took the path of least resistance,” he said with a shrug.

But little could be less true about his life.

The two were wed by an Orthodox Jewish rabbi. Most of it was in Yiddish, which Dorshaw didn’t know a word of. His wife’s family was from the “old country” but his father came from England at a young age.

He went on to serve in World War I and taught himself to be an architect. “We had a nice little life,” said Dorshaw. Even after the Depression, when he had to live with his grandmother because his parents couldn’t care for him and his little sister, he said, “I didn’t have to worry about food.”

Eventually the family got back together and he lived with them before getting married. But there was now a war on and the honeymoon didn’t last long. He got his orders to report for duty and “a free train ride to Florida.” He did a month of training in Miami Beach and when it came time to pick what he would do - pilot, navigator, flight engineer - he said, “Gee, I’d love to be a pilot.”

On wanting to be a pilot: “Who doesn’t? Go off into the wild blue yonder? I bought that, baby.”

He can remember singing that, “Off we go into the wild blue yonder, climbing high into the sun,” as they marched around the streets of Miami. He completed his flying school in Texas. By the spring of 1944, he had graduated as a lieutenant. He hopped around the country, learning to fly a C-47 aircraft. From Indiana, he flew the plane down to West Palm Beach, where it was outfitted for a long-range, overwater flight but Dorshaw didn’t know where. When he flew the crew to Puerto Rico, they opened the envelope with their mission inside it: Naples, Italy. It was only his second time out of the country.

He spent most of the war there before a 21-day voyage back to the States. Did he miss home? Not so much, he shrugged. Discharged in 1945, he received a reserved officer commission, which he happily took. Life went back to normal in Philadelphia. Then in 1951, he was called back to service for the Korean War and, years later, the Vietnam War.

“All these different times I came and went, I always went back to my job at Frankford Arsenal,” he said.

But there was always a lot of moving involved. His family, now with three kids, Steven, Carole and Samuel, followed him to Washington after he was called to duty in 1951. At that base, one of Dorshaw’s duties included being in charge of the mess hall. “You learn in the service, you go where you’re told to go and do what you’re told to do,” he said. With that in mind, he hopped around again, returning to Texas to learn to fly new planes while his family made their way back to Philadelphia. He went on to fly 50 missions over North Korea in just six months.

Then it was back to the arsenal, back to punching the clock and eating brown bag lunches.

Eventually he was able to retire from both the arsenal and the Air Force, around 1968. When his wife said to him one day, “Jack, I don’t care for these cold winters and I see you shovel snows and at your age I’m afraid one day you’ll get a heart attack and leave me a widow,” he decided to move them down to Texas, where one of his sons was living in Sugar Land.

It was here that his wife developed Alzheimer’s and had to be put in a nursing home. She passed away six years ago. Now Dorshaw lives in a red-brick complex, eating birthday cake in the activities room. He bowls, too. He has the lowest average of his group. “Nobody could put that ball in the gutter like I can,” said Dorshaw. He goes to Shabbat services every Friday.

But he still has his greatest pleasure: flying. Whenever he can, he goes to the Sugar Land Airport and flies with a buddy.

On flying: “My buddy and I used to get bikes and ride downtown, cross the river and go out to the Camden, New Jersey, airport. The planes I flew in WWII were the big airplanes in those days. They were very popular, the airlines loved them, and we used to go and see these big airplanes come and go. I looked at those guys sitting up there in that cockpit - they’re like kings.

“If you can understand it, it’s the last pleasure that’s left to me. All I got left, really. I’m fortunate that at my age, I can pass my physical and still fly.”

At this point of the story, he goes to his room and comes back with a framed black-and-white photo of him at 24 years old in his pilot’s gear. When he looks at this photo, he asks himself, “Jack, what happened?”

“I got old,” he responds.

But then someone offers him ice cream and he’s up out of his seat and across the room with a speed that belies his age.

“Ice cream, cheese and flying,” said his son Samuel Dorshaw, “you have covered that man right there.”

It’s a full party. Family has flown from all over the world, including Switzerland where his granddaughter Jenny Swan is working as a nanny. Photos of the two of them in the cockpit together circulate the crowd.

When she was in school in Austin, she would drive to meet her grandfather - Pop, as she calls him - at his retirement home in Sugar Land. Together, they’d go to the airport and rent a plane for a couple hours. “Just Pop and me and a Cessna SJ19 single-engine plane,” she said. He was right there, sure, but he’d let her fly the plane for the 45-minute trip to Southern Flyer Diner in Brenham, where he ordered a grilled cheese and chocolate milkshake without looking at the menu.

At the party, some of Dorshaw’s friends nudge Swan to come fly again. “It would mean so much to him,” they tell her. She knows. It means so much to her, too.

And to Josh Rudolph, a grandson, who remembers flying with a phone book and couch pillow beneath him so he could see over the dashboard. “The thing you quickly learned about flying with Pop is that whatever time he said we were leaving, you had better be ready 15-20 minutes early,” said Rudolph.

Standing beside his birthday cake complete with little plastic airplanes he tells the crowd of family of friends, thanks for coming. “I’ll never be 96 again,” he jokes, “I’m still going to hope to make 100,” and with a nod to his daughter, “I’ll do the best I can, Carole.”


Information from: Houston Chronicle, https://www.houstonchronicle.com

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