U.S. Navy veteran George Bickford, a resident of urban unincorporated Clackamas, left Oct. 21 with several other local veterans and their families for Washington, D.C., to visit the memorials erected in their honor.
Wish of a Lifetime and Vital Life Foundation teamed up to form Journey of Heroes to buy plane tickets and all-inclusive trips for about 100 veterans who have never had the chance to visit the war memorials created in their honor.
In this eighth annual trip, veterans laid a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Solder and visited the Vietnam War Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, WWII Memorial and Korean War Memorial, among others.
As reported by Pamplin Media Group in a special Veterans Day section last year, Bickford's fascination with aircraft and navigation started long before he enlisted in 1942 and became a WWII Navy pilot. As a 5-year-old Portlander, Bickford witnessed the dedication of the Swan Island Municipal Airport in 1927.
He sat with his dad on the bluff to witness a demonstration by Charles Lindbergh, famous for making the first solo nonstop flight across the Atlantic Ocean that same year. As a WWII Navy pilot, Lt. Cmdr. Bickford worked in a naval air station in Atlanta, running a training school for pilots and aircraft instrument technicians.
Bickford's naturally excellent eyesight and good engineering skills were critical to U.S. war efforts. His work helped expedite the development of technologies that created artificial horizons for pilots and indicated the altitude of their planes.
During the Korean War, Bickford served as the senior instructor for what became the U.S. Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor program, which was made famous in the 1986 film "Top Gun" starring Tom Cruise.
A member of the American Legion Post 180 in Milwaukie, Bickford became active with the Oregon Military Museum at Camp Withycombe in Clackamas after his retirement in 1965. He uses frequent opportunities to speak at local events to promote military museums.
"It's unfortunate that these museums are not being used to the degree that they should be," he said.
Bickford has six children, along with dozens of grandchildren, great-grandchildren and foster children.
At 97, he said he's in excellent health, having recently passed his driver's test (without glasses), qualifying him to drive until 2026, when he will turn 104.
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