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'I don’t feel a day older than I did last night': WWII bomber pilot turns 100

Richard Nelms' 100th birthday celebration included a flag ceremony, special guest speakers and a personal flight for Nelms in a World War II Stinson AT-19.

AUBURN, Wash. — Richard Nelms has been entertaining visitors at The Museum of Flight since 2016.  

Nelms volunteers at the museum and shares stories from when he was a World War II bomber pilot.

Nelms has some serious historical perspective to share as he flew 35 missions into Germany, France and other Nazi-occupied territories. He faced battle damage on 25 of those missions.

He enlisted in the Army Air Forces in 1942. This was the direct predecessor of the U.S. Air Force and by 1943, Nelms was assigned to the 447th Bomb Group, 8th Air Force in Rattlesden, England.  

Nelms said after his fourth mission he needed a new plane. He returned from a mission to Berlin with more than 300 holes in his plane, the Rowdy Rebel II.

His next plane, Pandora's Box, completed 31 missions and Nelms earned numerous valor awards for his service. The Distinguished Flying Cross, five Air Medals, a Presidential Unit Citation and the Legion of Honor from France are all a part of Nelms' decorated military history.

This week, Nelms joined another elite club known as the centenarians. Nelms turned 100 years old on Friday. 

There was a special celebration at the museum where Nelms shares his personal stories next to a retired B-17, a plane built by Boeing starting in the 1930s.  

“I’m close to being overwhelmed," Nelms said. "This is something I’ve never experienced before.”

 A crowded museum filled with military uniforms and smiling faces welcomed him.

“I don’t feel a day older than I did last night!” he joked. 

The birthday celebration included a Joint Base Lewis-McChord Honor Guard flag ceremony, special guest speakers and a personal flight for Nelms in a World War II Stinson AT-19.  

The vintage Stinson AT-19 is the military version of the the Stinson Reliant, a popular luxury plane of its day. 

This particular plane flew for England’s Royal Navy in the East Indies during the war and is now based in Auburn as a part of the Rainier Squadron of the Commemorative Air Force.  

Nelms is currently involved with the Living History and Speakers Bureau programs at the Museum of Flight. He has spoken to schools, professional athletes and at many special events.

You can hear Nelms' stories for yourself as continues to volunteer at the Museum of Flight every Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. near the massive 5-17 bomber. 

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