VIENNA, Va. (WUSA) -- Each Veterans' Day leaves us fewer World War IIheroes to tell the amazing stories of the greatest generation.
But in Vienna, one of the most vibrant vets is still telling remarkable tales.
"It's been a great Veterans Day," says Richard C Kirkland, 89. His life sounds more like a movie.
He flew with some of World War Two's greatest aces... He knew Charles Lindberg and Howard Hughes... he met Eisenhower and MacArthur.
He shot down a handful of Japanese Zeroes. "As I banked up, I kind of glanced down, with flames going all down the airplane," says Kirkland, describing a dogfight near New Guinea. "He looked up at me and I was looking down at him, and for just a second we had eye contact."
In the Korean War, Kirkland choppered patients to the surgeon memorialized in MASH the movie and tv show. "The infamous Hawkeye," he says, pulling out a photo. His name was Sam Gilfand. Here's a picture of him, with his buddy Trapper, and me."
And Kirkland ferried scientists to the atomic bomb tests in the Pacific. He pulls out a charred piece of wood with the words "Greenhouse" and " '51" in relief. "It seared the board, and left that," he says pointing to black residue. "That's atomic bomb blast."
Kirkland's painted and collected mementoes of the wars and his life in the basement of his Vienna home -- and in four non-fiction books.
He's just finished his first novel -- he calls a "Wide Place in the Road" a "greatest generation" love story, and the heroine is modeled on his wife Maria. "She's the barefooted California girl, running up the mountainside."
Kirkland's heart goes out to today's vets. "Those poor guys coming out all beat up and it just goes on and on."
He says World War Two was a very different war. "When I fought, you're fighting to win, and you hit the other guy period."
He'll always remember, but hopes the world never relives it.
Written and Reported by Bruce Leshan
9News Now &wusa9.com