This is the third installment of a trilogy. See author’s note at end of story.
SALT LAKE CITY — There is little to suggest that in another life, long ago and far away, Bob Sharp was a World War II fighter pilot.
He is soft-spoken, white-haired and physically diminished by age. He lives a quiet life in Arleta, California, where he dotes on his wife of 71 years, plays piano in his Mormon ward and surrounds himself with his large extended family. The walls of his home office hint at that other life. They are covered with photos of the men who flew with him in the war and shared an experience that, in many ways, defined their lives.
Sharp flew the P-47 Thunderbolt in the skies over Europe in the last months of the war, and then kept flying for another decade, right up until he saw great balls of fire, mayhem and death flying toward him. He landed the plane and never flew again.
He is 94 years old. He was still driving a car until he just recently handed in his driver’s license. The man who once executed tree-top dives and rolled his plane through the sky with precision can no longer even drive a car to the store. His eyes — which made him so skilled at aerial gunnery that the military tried to keep him from the war to train pilots at home — are fading, hampered by the triple crown of vision troubles: glaucoma, cataracts, macular degeneration. The knees are going, too, which is why he had to give up his daily 5-mile walks. Otherwise, his name describes his mind, still sharp and agile.
“My body is failing me,” he says. “That’s the way it goes when you get to be 94.”
When Veterans Day rolls around each year, the news stories appear like clockwork about a dwindling natural resource. At the outset of the year it was estimated there were about 558,000 American WWII veterans who remain alive out of the original 16 million…