93 Year Old Fighter Pilot Publishes ‘Flight of a Hell Hawk’
“The greatest generation”
By Terry Miller
It’s only fitting that we focus our attention this week on Veterans, as tomorrow (Friday) is Veteran’s Day …
The Arcadia City Council last week honored WWII Veteran and Purple Heart recipient Edward J. Lopez, 93, a resident of the city since 1962, on the occasion of the publication of his memoir, “Flight of a Hell Hawk.”
Ed started life as a Latino scamp running around Los Angeles, sneaking into movies and throwing newspapers. He then spent a year in New Mexico learning the cowboy life. He graduated from high school the year after Pearl Harbor was bombed, and joined the Army Air Corps (alongside Clark Gable). Suddenly, he became a fighter pilot and flew in key bombing raids of German emplacements and dogfights against the Luftwaffe! And just a few years after climbing through windows of Hollywood theaters to see films, he was advising General Patton’s command staff on how to cross a river!
Originally, Veterans Day was called “Armistice Day,” and the date was chosen to commemorate the signing of the armistice with Germany that ended hostilities during World War I. The armistice, signed on Nov. 11, 1918, did not officially end that war, however. That came on June 28, 1919, with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. On the other hand, since the U.S. never signed the Treaty of Versailles like the other Allies, one could say that for the U.S. at least, the Nov. 11 armistice really did end the war.
At first, the focus of Armistice Day was on the veterans of World War I, though it was always meant to honor all veterans of foreign wars, who risked their lives on the battle field to secure the freedoms of all Americans. Over time, with the passing away of the World War I generation and the coming of new conflicts during World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, the focus on the 1918 Armistice was lost and the name of the holiday was changed. Additionally, today, Veterans Day is generally regarded as honoring all those who ever served in the U.S. Armed Force rather than only those who actually fought in a war
When Arcadia Police Chief Robert Guthrie saw Edward J. Lopez signing his book in front of City Hall last week, he had to pose for his portrait with the longtime resident and highly decorated veteran pilot.”It’s not every day you get to have your picture taken with a World War II fighter pilot,” Guthrie said. “I’ll bet you could tell me some stories.”
Indeed. That’s why Lopez wrote his memoir, “Flight of a Hell Hawk” – to tell those stories. And they are fascinating, funny, terrifying – sometimes all at once. Guthrie ran to his office to grab some cash so he could buy a copy. Lopez, 93, received a commendation from the Arcadia City Council for his service as an airman in World War II and Korea.
Those attending the Nov. 1 presentation, including his son Gabe, a pilot out of San Gabriel Airport and about a dozen friends from a local gym, agreed that Lopez is truly a city treasure. He’s lived in Arcadia since 1962 with his wife Maria and raised five children.We asked what keeps this 93 year old going so strong. “I work out every day,” Lopez senior said.“I still fly, not solo, but with my son Gabe,” Lopez said.
Gabe Lopez is the only one of his children who took up Lopez’ Sr.’s passion for flying. One of (Gabe’s) planes is a beautifully restored Stearman, or Boeing Stearman. Stearman officially ceased to operate as a brand then, but about the same time the Stearman plant created it’s most successful and enduring product, the Model 75 “Kaydet”. The Kaydet would become the primary trainer aircraft for the United States military during WWII. This was the very plane aboard which Ed Lopez learned to fly.
In fact he was such a natural flyer, he says that they very quickly promoted him from trainee to flight trainer.”We all really respect Ed,” said Kathy Echauri, who rounded up the gym crew to buy signed copies of Ed’s book and see him honored by the council. And just a few years after climbing through windows of Hollywood theaters to see films, he was advising General George S. Patton’s command staff on how to cross a river as they pushed back the enemy in the Battle of the Bulge.
Realtor Sylvia Ramos was impressed to learn of Lopez’s exploits, his Purple Heart – he was hit in the face with flack on one mission, but kept flying anyway – and his many other honors. She felt a surge of Latino pride.”It’s so important to know this history, and especially from a Latino,” she said, agreeing that Lopez was truly “living history.”
The book details Lopez’s vivid memories of growing up in Los Angeles in the 20s and 30s, then learning how to be a cowboy during his year in New Mexico. But above all, it chronicles his time in World War II. Lopez and his fellow pilots in the Hell Hawks group fought in a historic dogfight, knocking German planes out of the sky like no one had ever before. They also blasted an entire Panzer division into the proverbial smithereens, helping clear the way for Patton’s army to push back the last Nazi offensive, the Battle of the Bulge.
“It’s a story of life and love and war,” said Steve Silkin, who edited the book for his Los Angeles publishing company, Conquistador. “And how anyone who made it through that war had to have good instincts, as Ed did, and a guardian angel watching over him, as Ed did, too.” Ed and Victor Lopez, a TV production lighting designer, wrote the memoir together as a father-son project.
Ed Lopez said he was humbled by the attention the book received from his fellow gym rats – they work out together most every day – and the recognition of the council. He accepted the city certificate on behalf of all the pilots and crew in the Hell Hawks fighter group, most now have passed.”This is for all of us,” he said. “I’m only the custodian.” The ebook is available via Amazon’s Kindle store or for the iPad via iTunes. The paperback is available here. It will also be available at Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena next month.