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For South Jersey veteran, 93, flying never gets old

Charles Osborne flew combat missions over Belgium, Holland, and Germany. Earlier this month, at the Millville Army Air Field where he had trained long ago, he received a 'Quilt of Honor.'

Charles Osborne, 93,  a veteran of the Army Air Force in World War II,  with his daughter Patricia “Patt” at his Laurel Springs home. He is wrapped in a Quilt of Valor, an honor he recently received for his wartime service.
Charles Osborne, 93, a veteran of the Army Air Force in World War II, with his daughter Patricia “Patt” at his Laurel Springs home. He is wrapped in a Quilt of Valor, an honor he recently received for his wartime service.Read moreTOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer

The first time Charles Osborne flew was in the late 1920s.

He was a Laurel Springs 5-year-old on a family vacation, and an open cockpit biplane carried him thrillingly aloft from a beach in Stone Harbor.

The next time Osborne flew, he was 19 and training with the U.S. Army Air Corps near Buffalo, N.Y.; he would later fly his P-47 single-engine fighter plane on 26 combat missions over Belgium, Holland, and Germany.

"And the last time I flew," Osborne, now 93, grins, "was probably nine months ago."

I didn't see that coming.

Turns out "Oz," as friends and family like to call him, not only still flies on occasion, but still works. He has a security job at the Pine Valley Golf Club — he still golfs, too.

And last year, a friend of a member took him up in a four-seater.

"He said, 'It's yours, take over,'" Osborne recalls. "I flew over Atlantic City and Wildwood. It was wonderful."

I'm listening to the story at Osborne's home in Laurel Springs, where I've come to hear about his having been awarded a Quilt of Valor from the organization of the same name.

The "wrapping" ceremony was held May 11 at the Millville Army Air Field Museum in Millville, Cumberland County, where Osborne underwent combat training.

Volunteers nationwide have made nearly 160,000 quilts since the nonprofit was established in 2002  to wrap service members and veterans touched by war in comfort and healing, says Nancy Thomson, coordinator for the Quilts of Valor program in New Jersey.

Collectively, one unofficial and five official groups in the state have made, by hand and with sewing machines, about 2,000 quilts. A pair of publicity-shy Atlantic County sisters are responsible for nearly half of those, Thomson says.

The honor for Osborne came about due to a Quilts of Valor volunteer named Patsy Tallman, of Egg Harbor Township. She's friends with Osborne's daughter Patt, of Haddon Township, and helped facilitate the quilt application on his behalf.

"I've known Patt for seven or eight years through her [outdoor activities company] Boomer Chick Adventures, and she has talked about her dad since I've known her," says Tallman, 72, a retired bed-and-breakfast operator.

"He's a gentleman whom I feel I know through her."

Osborne has had a rich life: He married Barbara (who died 2010), raised two daughters, worked as a printer in Philadelphia, and later became a successful teacher and girls' bowling coach at Camden County's vocational-technical high school in Sicklerville. He also served for many years on the Laurel Springs Board of Education.

In the late 1980s, Osborne got involved with the Millville museum project. It became a passion, because "they were [presenting] the history of the P-47," he says. "I love that plane [for] the fun of flying it, and the real sense of security it gave you —  that you were always going to come back.

"We were offering close support, bombing and strafing [German positions] to help our guys on the ground," he continues. "That's what I liked about it. I felt I was doing some good."

He certainly did.

Although Patt says her father rarely talked in detail about his wartime experiences, he was especially pleased by the quilt. It was presented to him in front of a display of his own uniform, which he had earlier donated to the Millville museum.

"I was very touched by the fact that someone did this for me and gave this to me, 70 years after I served," says Osborne.

Well, it's never too late to express gratitude.

So it's my turn.

First Lt. Osborne, thank you for your service.