- Associated Press - Monday, November 20, 2017

MINOT, N.D. (AP) - Minot native Eric Trueblood is helping tell the stories and preserve the memories of World War II veterans.

Trueblood is co-owner with three other partners in AirCorps Aviation, a company specializing in the restoration, maintenance and rebuilding of World War II aircraft for clients around the globe, the Minot Daily News reported .

On Oct. 4, Trueblood, now of Bemidji, Minn., was one of seven recipients of the Sioux Award, the highest honor given by the University of North Dakota Alumni Association and Foundation for achievement, service and loyalty.

Trueblood said their primary work at AirCorps Aviation is the restoration of warbirds. “Because of our incredibly talented people, technologies, and range of capabilities we have been sought after for broader aircraft fabrication and maintenance services. That niche fabrication work pales in comparison to the time dedicated to these restorations,” he said.

When Trueblood received the Sioux Award, his special guests included Hod Huston, a World War II B-25 Mitchell bomber pilot, who grew up in Hayward, Wis., and lives in Grafton, Huston’s grandson, Jimmy Evers of Grand Forks, and Hans Wronka, grandson of 1st Lt. Loren Hintz who flew a P-47 Thunderbolt World War II fighter.

Trueblood said listening to stories like from Hod Huston and other service members is what gets him excited about Air Corps Aviation’s work.

Born and raised in Minot, Trueblood graduated from Minot High School in 2001 and from UND in 2006.

He said his inspiration for his World War II-themed career wasn’t conventional. “It came post college when I had the opportunity to get to know the Beck family in Wahpeton and work with them at Tri-State Aviation after the death of Gerry Beck. “Gerry was a mentor, teacher and example for me and my partners,” Trueblood said. Beck was a pilot and famed World War II aircraft restorer as well.

“Over the five years in Wahpeton, myself and my business partners were blessed to have other mentors who were and are the giants of our industry and were here in North Dakota and Minnesota - Warren Pietsch from Minot, Bob Odegaard from Kindred, Ron and Diane Fagen from Granite Falls (Minn.) and Gerry Beck from Wahpeton as well as Bruce Eames of Houston. In hindsight, we didn’t know it then, but they were always sharing with us by transferring their knowledge and talents but also showing us by example how they became so beloved industry wide by treating people the right way,” Trueblood said.

AirCorps Aviation was started with a desire to honor those who serve and served, and to do restoration work at an elite and historic level, Trueblood said. He said Erik Hokuf, general manager and one of the business partners at AirCorps Aviation, started the business working on his own. The other three - Dan Matejcek, Mark Tisler and Trueblood - joined as partners in 2011.

The business has grown from four people to 34 people working on some of the most historic and accurate restorations in the world.

Trueblood said AirCorps Aviation is a growing small business so each juggles many random tasks. As a core responsibility, Trueblood handles their sales, marketing and deals a lot with developing new areas of their business, working with customers and assisting clients worldwide engaged in this kind of work.

“I worked on developing a unique tool for our business, AirCorps Library, as well,” he said. He said through www.aircorpslibrary.com they have users in 140 countries using the subscription that provides online technical drawings and manuals critical to keeping these aircraft operating safely and engaging enthusiasts passionate about aircraft.

A highlight of Trueblood’s career was assisting in Italy during the “Finding Loren” excavation when 1st Lt. Loren Hintz’s plane and Hintz’s remains were found in July 2016.

“Watching the euphoric moment the volunteer archaeologist team found the dog tags is a moment I will cherish the rest of my life,” Trueblood said. “We found the airplane site but more importantly the remains and dog tags of 1st Lt. Loren Hintz.” He said Hintz will be interred in Florence, Italy, in the American Cemetery next summer.

“As I mentioned in my speech (at UND), if he had made it through that final mission the day they liberated Northern Italy he almost certainly would have returned home to his wife, daughter Gert and unborn child Martin,” Trueblood said.

Trueblood and AirCorps Aviation have close ties with Minot’s Dakota Territory Air Museum and the Texas Flying Legends Museum.

“Having grown up in Minot and knowing about the airplanes scattered in collections throughout the U.S., the residents of Minot don’t fully understand what a gem they have in the Dakota Territory Air Museum. You can, at times throughout the year, go up there and see a world class collection of the finest and rarest airplanes in the world. When the airplanes are based in Minot, it boasts a better collection of airplanes than cities like Minneapolis, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia and more,” Trueblood said.

He said the Minot air museum just received the P-51C Mustang that AirCorps restored for Bruce Eames of Houston, one of the founders of the Texas Flying Legends Museum.

“In order to bring a world class restoration of this scale happen we require a couple critical things throughout the project. One is the team of people we have working with us whose dedication and effort needs to be world class as well. The second, and more important element is the opportunity and responsibility we are entrusted with from the aircraft owner. In the case of the P-51C Lope’s Hope 3rd, that owner is Bruce Eames who has been an avid supporter of the Dakota Territory Air Museum in Minot,” Trueblood said.

He said Eames has been an adviser, mentor and believer of AirCorps Aviation’s capabilities, people and business from day one.

“Beyond the restoration work Bruce is an example to our industry because beyond the airplane, guns, horsepower or airspeed he believes the story of the individuals who served and sacrificed for our freedoms needs to be told,” Trueblood said. “It was never more evident than when our historian Chuck Cravens, brought Bruce and the family of Don Lopez Sr., the World War II ace and pilot of Lope’s Hope 3rd, together as the airplane was being finished. The restoration comes full circle in that the airplane sitting in front of you is really just an extension of the true mission to honor those men and women dedicated to the service of our country.”

Named by Lopez, Trueblood said Lope’s Hope 3rd is an incredible representation of a period authentic World War II fighter that honors Lopez, the former deputy director of the National Air and Space Museum. Lopez has spent time in Minot through the Pietsch family and their work at the Dakota Territory Museum.

Lopez dedicated the Oswin “Moose” Elker Hangar at the Minot air museum. Lopez flew with Elker, of Surrey, in the “Flying Tigers” 75th Fighter Group of the 14th Air Force, better known as the successors to the American Volunteer Group, Trueblood said.

AirCorps Aviation exists to honor the service and sacrifice of veterans young and old, according to Trueblood.

“At AirCorps Aviation we are fortunate to restore and return some of the most historic World War II aircraft in the world to the skies,” said Trueblood, in his speech when receiving the UND honor. “Our restoration work though pales in comparison to the opportunity to honor the service and sacrifice of veterans young and old. What guides us is the understanding that our work is about more than airplanes, engines, or horsepower and our true job is to carry forth their legacy to future generations.”

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