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Mel Ackley of La Grande, right, and Florina Preszler of Klamath Falls watch the flyover Monday at Grandview Cemetery. The flyover of an F-15 Eagle fighter jet took place after the annual Avenue of Flags ceremony. DICK MASON / The Observer
Almost three years of hard work yielded a major dividend for members of the Lone Pine Tree chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution and American Legion Post 43 of La Grande on Monday.
The highly anticipated military flyover by an F-15 Eagle fighter jet for the Avenue of Flags ceremony at Grandview Cemetery went off as planned. The jet was on schedule, passing over at noon.
“It was wonderful,” said Joan Smith, president of the Lone Pine Tree chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, which conducts its meetings in La Grande and Baker City.
The F-15 Eagle fighter jet then made a scheduled flyover for Baker City.
The Lone Pine Tree DAR chapter and American Legion Post 43 began trying to get a flyover for the Avenue of Flags ceremony almost three years ago.
They were close to getting a flyover a year ago from the Oregon Air National Guard base in Portland but a last minute scheduling problem cancelled the flyover.
Undaunted, the local DAR and American Legion groups began the application process a second time.
“We started from scratch. We had to go through all the steps again,” Smith said.
Representatives of the 173rd Fighter Wing of Oregon Air National Guard in Klamath Falls notified Smith in March that a jet from their base would conduct the flyover.
Smith then gave this news to officials at the Idaho Air National Guard base in Boise.
An F-15 Eagle, from the 173rd Fighter Wing of Oregon Air National Guard in Klamath Falls, flies over Grandview Cemetery Monday. CHRIS BAXTER / The Observer
Officials at the Boise base had indicated they were willing to provide a flyover for La Grande but had not made a firm commitment. Smith told them her group would go with the offer from the Klamath Falls base.
Two weeks ago, an official from the Oregon Air National Guard base in Portland called Lynne Zwanziger of Baker City, a member of the Lone Pine Tree chapter of the DAR.
The official said the Portland air base might be able to provide a flyover for Baker City. Zwanziger told the official that the Klamath Falls air base was already set to provide flyovers for Baker City and La Grande, Smith said.
Had the Air National Guard base from Portland provided a flyover for Baker City it likely would have provided one for La Grande, Smith said.
The pilot of the F-15 Eagle fighter jet that flew over La Grande and Baker City was Lt. Col. Robert Mitchell. The pilot called Smith four times prior to the flyover.
Mitchell told her that he was concerned about the mountains encircling the Grande Ronde Valley. He spent a considerable amount of time studying the topography of this area before making his flight.
Mitchell asked Smith if La Grande had ever had a military flyover before and was told it had not. Mitchell then said that La Grande should receive one.
“He said ‘When anybody fills out all those forms they deserve a flyover,” Smith said.
Mitchell also told Smith “We really like doing it (providing flyovers).”
Mitchell was one of two pilots of F-15 Eagle fighter jets from the Klamath Falls base who made flyovers Monday.
Together the pilots, flying together or solo, made Memorial Day flyovers over nine towns and cities, including La Grande and Baker City.
The jets flew together over Klamath Falls and Eagle Point and solo over the other seven communities, said Tech. Sgt. Jennifer Shirar of the Oregon Air National Guard in Klamath Falls.