PEPIN, Wis. -- The St. Cloud VA Hospital helped grant a final wish for a former Navy pilot dying of ALS.
Larry Mullaly, 64, made it home, to Pepin, Wisconsin Sunday afternoon alongside his wife, Carol, and a care team from the VA. Six years ago, the disease took his ability to fly, but in Pepin, he came home to a skyward salute from a warplane he once flew.
"At the VA, if you are terminally ill, which I am, they give you one day to go wherever you want to. I asked for Paris and they said no," Mullaly laughed. "I said okay, how about Pepin?"
Mullaly flew 135 planes in his aviation career, clocking 25,000 air miles. He served as a top Navy pilot assigned to the RA-5C Vigilante supersonic reconnaissance aircraft. He flew for Northwest Airlines, was a captain for Delta Airlines, part of the Navy reserves, and took a volunteer mission in the Commemorative Air Force flying military aircraft, specifically the B-25 World War Two plane.
"Flying was my heart and soul. I gave it everything I could while I was able to. Now I can't do much of anything. My hands are curling up," Mullaly said.
Mullaly was welcomed home with an emotional reception at the Pepin Sportsman Club, tearfully saying goodbye to family and friends. But he smiles as the B-25 plane Mullaly flew roared over the building, tipping its wings in tribute.
"Memories," he said. "That used to be me."
Mullaly proposed to his wife in the B-25. They met aboard a plane when she was a Northwest flight attendant.
"I told her if she could keep the wings level, I had a present for her, well the present was an engagement ring," he remembered.
The two married on top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, and next week will renew their wedding vows.
"Larry has faced this disease head on. He knew he only had a certain amount of time. But in life, Larry said many times we had choices, even when he proposed to me we said, we choose each other," she said.
His time in the air inspired his son to become a pilot too.
"We would go to air shows all the time and it was always him he could be doing fly bys and stuff, so it was hard knowing it was the last time he would see it fly," said Sean Mullaly, who works for a cargo airline in Michigan. "His mind is 100 percent, if his body was able, he could jump in that plane and fly as good as these guys were doing today."
The B-25 made one final pass, tipping its wings back and forth as it flew into the horizon.
"There is the goodbye," said Mullaly, with a wave of his weak hand.
It was a final goodbye for the gentleman on the ground, who long ago earned his wings.
(Copyright 2012 by KARE. All Rights Reserved Reserved.)