More than a hundred people gathering at the Gaylord Regional Airport to give thanks and support to an American hero.
Donald Hinkel, a World War II Veteran, made his way across the tarmac Wednesday afternoon greeted by the sounds of applause.
It was a well-deserved hero’s welcome for the 92 year-old.
“He received a purple heart, he was a prisoner of war and that all happened at the age of 19,” Donald’s Granddaughter Kelly Cumberworth, said.
“Skip” as he is widely known, fought in the U.S. Army during World War II.
He lost his leg to a grenade, and was captured by the Nazis as a teenager fighting on the battlegrounds in Germany.
‘He went through a lot in the war, the stories he told, never complained about it, it was just part of him,” Kelly, explained.
That was close to eight decades ago, most of his life he spent raising his family and taking to the skies for his passion.
“It was a big part of our childhood, memories of grandpa flying,”
Flying helicopters, specifically.
At the age of 86, Skip broke the Guinness World Record as the oldest solo helicopter pilot.
His flying often took him to his home in Comins, and included frequent stops here at the Gaylord Airport.
“He’d fly in here to go shopping to get you know clothes or what he needed, Gaylord is a special place for him for sure,” Kelly, added.
And that’s why Skip and his family came to Gaylord on Wednesday.
As it does, time, catches up to even the fiercest of competitors.
“He went down to Florida in the fall like he normally does and he just kind of took a turn for the worst. He’s 92 years old and he’s probably not going to be around much longer,” Kelly, explained.
This was his final flight.
Northern Michigan is where Skip wants to finish his incredible life-story.
“He wants to be here when he passes, so it was really important to get him here,” Kelly, added.
Though that story may end soon, it’s not one that will soon be forgotten.
“You can learn a lot from people like him and the strength, humility and courage and bravery and it definitely gives you a different perspective on life.”