Boise fighter pilot recounts historic air battles for future generations

Credit: KTVB

Retired Air National Guard pilot Bill Coburn previously flew a B-17 bomber, like the one pictured here.


by Andrea Lutz and KTVB.COM

Bio | Email | Follow: @KTVBandrealutz


Posted on September 9, 2013 at 4:58 PM

BOISE -- Standing in front of a sleek, silver and yellow fighter jet, retired Air National Guard pilot Bill Coburn can’t help but talk about the years he spent flying the F-86 Sabre during the Korean War.

“I didn’t make a whole lot of money, but I had a very exciting life,” laughs Coburn.

Coburn stood at Boise’s Gowen Field, along with other retired World War Two and Korea War veterans, as a part of Retiree Appreciation Day on Sunday.

The event is a first for the Idaho Air National Guard, while just two months ago, a similar event was held for retired Army National Guard soldiers.

“It’s great therapy,” said Idaho National Guard spokesman Colonel Tim Marsano.

Marsano said Sunday was a chance for war heroes past and present to come together and learn from each other. He says many talk about what has changed in the National Guard and what has improved since they served.

“These are extremely valuable stories that they are giving to us," Marsano told KTVB "It helps us to learn about what things were like during a different time,” he said.

For example, Coburn flew for 34 years as a career military pilot. Starting out in the 1940’s, he flew overseas missions in World War II. His aircraft included the F-86, B-51 bomber and the now very-rare B-17 bomber.

“I had a great time in it,” recalled Coburn. “It was the 51 and the 86 probably was the two airplanes that I enjoyed, and there wasn’t anything that I haven’t done with them.”

Coburn said he also watched as friends and comrades died in air battles.

At the time, he was just 23-years-old.

“We got shot up pretty bad, and I recognized that to do 25 missions was going to be tough,” said Coburn. However Coburn came out untouched after 30 missions. “I am very fortunate,” he said.

Coburn finally retired from in 1966 as Chief of Staff for the Idaho Air National Guard. He continued his career in Boise working with the Boise Cascade Company for 15 years afterward.

Seeing his F-86 for yet another time helped bring Coburn's memories of past fighting experiences to a younger generation of military members, said Colonel Marsano.

“I have the urge to fly it,” Coburn admitted, as he looked at the shiny silver and yellow fighter jet.

He is also grateful to have the chance to share his war stories with other veterans and hear theirs, as well.

“I feel the lord was good to me," Coburn said. "I come through without a scratch. I had some narrow misses, but that was about the size of it.”