AHP Adds T-33 to the Park

Bonnie Mitchell Berman and daughter Betsey embrace at the dedication. Photo by John Fleck.

Aviation Heritage Park welcomed a new aircraft to their outdoor memorial on Saturday, October 22, 2011 with the dedication of a Lockheed T-33 Shooting Star.  The day was a special one for Bonnie Mitchell Berman as the plane bears the name of her father, U.S. Airforce Capt. Robert E. Mitchell, who was killed in the same type of plane during a training exercise in 1962.

Aviation Park Salutes Late Pilot
from the Sunday, October 23, 2011 edition of the
Bowling Green Daily News
by Jenna Mink

As tears ran down her face, Bonnie Mitchell Berman clasped Elaine Walker’s arm and walked toward the T-33 aircraft, where a crowd had gathered.

Berman didn’t know what was happening at Aviation Heritage Park on Saturday, but as she approached the plane, she began to figure it out: It was a ceremony in honor of a man she calls her hero.

Park officials surprised Berman, of Bowling Green, by engraving her father’s name on the cockpit canopy of the park’s newest addition, the Lockheed T-33 Shooting Star. Berman’s father, U.S. Air Force Capt. Robert E. Mitchell, was killed in 1962 while training another pilot in a T-33. Berman was one month away from her sixth birthday.

“It’s not easy growing up without a dad,” she said through tears. “But you know what? I am so proud of my dad and his accomplishments.”

Over the years, Berman paid tribute to her father by getting involved in aviation. She was a board member of the Aviation Heritage Park and has always had an interest in aircraft.

When park officials were looking for their third aircraft, they wanted to make sure it told the story of local pilots. They used the T-33 to honor Gen. Russ Dougherty, a Glasgow native who flew more than 70 types of aircraft and commanded the Strategic Air Command during the Cold War.

The T-33 was among his favorites, so his name was engraved on the cockpit during restoration, said Arnie Franklin, president of Aviation Heritage Park.

But officials wanted to add another name, and that’s when someone mentioned Berman’s father. Mitchell was killed while riding in the back of the aircraft, and his name is printed near the back seat of the cockpit, Franklin said.

“So it’s appropriate that’s where his name is,” he said. “Southcentral Kentucky has lots of aviators who have had significant contributions to aviation.”

They also engraved Mitchell’s name on a brick to place in the park’s memorial courtyard. Franklin and others decided to surprise Berman, but they were not sure how to pull it off. That’s when they called her boss – Secretary of State and former Bowling Green Mayor Elaine Walker, who Berman works for as an executive assistant.

Walker told Berman they were attending a community event Saturday, and Berman never questioned the reason for the event. When Walker suggested they stop by the park to view the new aircraft, Berman didn’t think anything was out of the ordinary – until she pulled into the park and spotted friends and family members.

“She always does things for everybody else,” Walker said, “and she never does anything for herself.”

An overwhelmed Berman made her way to the center of the crowd, gasping and crying when she spotted family members – particularly her daughter, Betsey Berman, and her aunt, Marietta Warner, who both live out of state.

Warner was Mitchell’s younger sister, and she remembers having typical sibling quarrels with her older brother. But he also talked about his dreams of being in the air, she said.

“The one thing he wanted in life was to be a pilot. That’s all he talked about,” Warner said. “He died doing what he wanted to do. He fulfilled his life.”

Even though she was young when he died, Berman remembers her father. She recalls him setting her on top of the kitchen table and playing his guitar, while young Bonnie sang and danced.

After she removed a white strip of paper from the aircraft to unveil her father’s name, Berman began to make her way down the ladder. Then she stopped, took a step up and gently touched the name.

She turned to look at a large picture of Mitchell that was put up for the ceremony.

“Is he not handsome?” she said. “My hero. Every little girl needs a hero.”

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