By Steve Plunkett
A holiday visit to his daughter in Phoenix included a surprise Gulf Stream Mayor William F. Koch Jr. will never forget.
Plus, he’ll rarely have to pay for drinks with military friends from now on.
Koch, who in World War II was the bombardier-pilot on a B-17 Flying Fortress, was treated to a red-carpet tour of Luke Air Force Base as a special guest of recently retired Lt. Gen. John Regni, the former superintendent of the U.S. Air Force Academy.
Koch, who turns 90 this month, also spent about an hour dogfighting with his grandson in the base’s F-16 flight simulators.
“I was doing pretty good until I came in for a landing. It all went red,’’ Koch said.
“He was keeping the plane level with the horizon and they were just amazed,’’ said his daughter, Claudia Burns. “My son was crashing and burning every two seconds.’’
Burns, who is friends with Regni, let the general know her father was coming for a visit. Regni thinks it’s important not to forget the World War II experiences of Air Force veterans, she said.
“He walked in and shook my dad’s hand and saluted him,’’ Burns said. “He kept on calling him by his rank, major.’’
Koch left Rollins College early to join the war effort and was part of the 8th Air Force’s 493rd Bomb Group, his daughter said. He flew over the beaches on D-Day and still remembers the empty chairs left in the briefing room by comrades killed in action, she said.
Before the day was over, Regni gave Koch a coin stamped “Presented by the Superintendent of the U.S. Air Force Academy’’ along with three stars for Regni’s rank.
“It was a nice little memento to get,’’ Koch said.
Burns said Air Force personnel use the coins to decide, among other things, who picks up the bar tab, with the highest-ranking coin drinking for free.
“It’s a fun but a very prestigious thing,’’ Burns said. “It’s tremendous bragging rights.’’
Town Clerk Rita Taylor said Koch was very proud of the coin when asked about his Christmas trip at Town Hall.
“He said he had a wonderful time. ‘Just look here at what I got,’ ’’ she said. Gulf Stream Mayor William F. Koch Jr. (third from the left) in this historic photo of the 8th Air Force’s 493 Bomb Group