Bernie Regan didn’t think too much of his 100th birthday earlier this month.
“Now, I’m just working on the next 100 years,” he said with a big smile.
But the World War II bomber pilot was celebrated in great fashion with a party on his birthday (Nov. 8) at American House Senior Living Community where Regan lives with his wife of nearly 76 years, Kay. And last week, he was honored with a proclamation recognizing his military service and his work as a mediator for Okaloosa County courts.
In a video of the Nov. 19 proclamation, Regan was asked if he wanted to say a few words. He only had two.
“I’m speechless,” he said.
Regan said he wasn’t too surprised at making it to 100. He credits “good genes” (his great-grandfather lived to be 99) and his wife Kay, who is 96.
“She keeps me under control,” he quipped.
Regan enlisted in the Army in 1942. He was a recent graduate of Central Michigan College with his heart set on becoming a lawyer.
“I figured if I became a teacher I could afford to go to law school on the side,” he said. “That theory would’ve worked out, but the war broke out.”
Regan trained at the Santa Ana Army Air Base in California and went overseas in 1944, piloting a B-26 bomber. Having no aviation experience before, Regan remembers the training planes looked like they were made with “canvas and sticks.”
“I thought, ‘It’s a good thing they provide parachutes,’” he said. “I had my white scarf flying … it looked just like it does in the movies.”
A photo of him and his crew in front of the plane is framed in his office. He kept in touch with some of those crew members over the years, but they’ve all since passed away.
“I’m the only one left,” he said. “I think the last one died at the age of 95.”
As part of the 391st Bombardment Group, Regan, in his plane, “Little Gal,” bombed roads and infrastructure in France in the run-up to D-Day to slow German troops. D-Day was the largest seaborne invasion in history. But Regan said he’s never dwelled too much on that.
“When you’ve got a job to do, you just do it,” he said.
World War II veterans are often referred to as “the greatest generation,” a title Regan said should include the people at home who were making “unbelievable sacrifices” for the war effort.
“I think we often ate better than they did,” he joked.
After the war, Regan pursued business opportunities, but chose to go back into service. This time, the Korean War was being fought and there were two young sons at home, Mike and Bob. Regan stayed in the military, serving 30 years and 150 missions. He retired as a colonel with a long list of accolades and awards. During his service, he saw the change from the Army Air Corps to the Air Force. Regan joked the change was simply “changing from the brown shoe air force to the black shoe air force.”
Regan ended up pursuing his dream of law school, studying part-time while he was stationed in California. He also became a teacher, with the ROTC at Michigan State University.
As a birthday gift, Regan’s daughter-in-law put together a scrapbook of photos and newspaper clippings of his military career and family life. As he thumbs through the glossy pages, his story comes to life.
He said might plan a special party for next Nov. 19 to remember the proclamation.
“It’s been overwhelming, really breath-taking,” he said.