David Cochran has experienced different things in life, including being involved in the Vietnam War.
His laid back approach to life is evident when meeting and talking to him. It is all about others. That is why he resisted going on the Central Heights/Lyndon Honor Flight, where veterans have the opportunity to visit Washington D.C. and experience the historic memorials.
“I have known about it for years,” Cochran said. “I felt other people deserved it more than I did to go.”
His reasoning he had the opportunity to visit Washington D.C. several times and experienced the history.
This time was different. Cochran received a nudge from his granddaughter, Madison Bridges, who was selected as a guardian on the 2019 Honor Flight. A guardian is paired with each of the veterans who spent Monday and Tuesday in the nation’s capital.
“This is a wonderful experience,” Bridges said. “It is better than I expected.”
Bridges begged her grandfather to go on this trip because he had not received recognition for his service in the Navy.
“I remember my mom telling me that my grandpa never talks about his days in the Navy,” Bridges said. “[He] should be getting recognition. This would be a perfect way to do it.”
Cochran put in his Honor Flight application only after being prodded Bridges.
“I would not have come otherwise,” he said. “I have known other people that have done it. It is a great program. It is pretty amazing.”
Experiencing the trip together meant a lot to both of them.
“I really like traveling with my grandfather,” Bridges, who was Cochran’s guardian for the trip, said. “He is a lot like me. It has been really interesting.”
Cochran said this trip was as much about being a mentor than reliving the past.
“I told her a lot of things,” he said after visiting the National Museum of the U.S. Navy Monday afternoon. “She was in tears about six times. It was emotional.”
Cochran said it was great to meet and talk to the other veterans on the trip, whom he had never met prior to the Honor Flight.
“There is a common bond, but the guys you served with are your brothers,” Cochran said. “This is different. You meet them and it is neat to meet them, but it is not the same connection. When you are in the service, you put your life in their hands and theirs in yours. It is a different world.”
Cochran’s life passion is in aviation. He has spent the past 50 years being a pilot and an airplane mechanic. He was recently honored with two lifetime achievement awards from the Federal Aviation Administration [FAA}. He received the Wright Brothers and Charles Taylor awards.
“Wright Brothers Award is an FFA award they give out for 50 years of flying,” Cochran said. “There are other things [involved] like promotion of aviation and accident-free operations. The Charles Taylor maintenance award is 50-plus years of maintenance free and no violations. I am not a person [out for recognition], but it was neat. Not too many make it to 50 years.”
Cochran said the younger generation is not choosing the aviation field today. He said there are about 2,500 mechanics and 5,000 pilots.
“It has been a good career,” he said. “Technology, we have advanced. We are digital on all the electronics stuff. It is fun and challenging.”
He began flying while in the Navy.
“There was a shortage of pilots,” he said. “I have always been interested in aviation. I loved airplanes. There is always room to learn. I like to the troubleshooting part of it now.”
Many people only know of him as the guy with a helicopter in his backyard. For Bridges, that only enhanced the Honor Flight trip.
“It was like any day at my house because my grandpa has a helicopter in his backyard,” she said. “It was just another learning experience for me.”
This has been a banner year for Cochran. He received the lifetime awards, went on an Honor Flight with his granddaughter, and in a few weeks will celebrate his 50th wedding anniversary with his wife, Carol.
“It is definitely a year [for] grandpa,” Bridges said.