May 28—BEMIDJI — Bruce Ware was airborne for much of his 29 years in the United States Air Force, and led an incredible rescue of famed aviator Charles Lindbergh in the Philippines. These days the 83-year-old retired colonel stays mostly close to the ground.
Ware and his wife, Janie, are visiting Bemidji this week at the end of a month-long motorhome trip that started in New Orleans and made its way up the Great River Road, along the Mississippi River to its source at Itasca State Park. Fourteen rolling homes pulled into Royal Oaks RV Park on Bemidji's south side on Wednesday, May 17, their 10th stop on the tour. It's an excursion led by Yankee RV Tours of Florida, which ends on Saturday, May 29, when the motorhomes head back to their respective homes. The Wares, who live in Nashville, Tenn., are completing their seventh trip with Yankee.
The group did some sightseeing in the Bemidji area and made two trips to Itasca State Park. On Friday, they walked across the Mississippi at its source.
Earlier this week the tour went through Little Falls, home of Charles Lindbergh. Memories of an April 12, 1972 rescue mission are never far from Bruce Ware's mind, and he was planning to visit Lindbergh's boyhood home, which is now a museum. Unfortunately, it has been closed during the pandemic and won't reopen until July 2.
Ware still refers to the famous aviator as "Mr. Lindbergh." It was Easter Sunday in 1970 when Ware, then an Air Force major, was summoned from Clark Air Base in the Philippines to fly his Jolly Green Giant helicopter 600 miles south to a spot where Lindbergh and an entourage of 46 people were stranded. Lindbergh, then a 70-year-old retired Air Force Reserve Brigadier General, was with a television news team investigating reports of a lost tribe in the Tasaday mountains of Mindanao, but their helicopter was damaged and could not be flown.
"I had my Easter Sunrise Service en route," Ware said.
When Ware got to the ridgeline where the group was stranded, there was no place to land, "but I did have a place to hover. The first five we picked up were little female interpreters. Then we went back and got Mr. Lindbergh. We ended up making eight trips off the ridgeline. We took everybody back to their little province, . . . about a three-day walk up and down mountains. Mr. Lindbergh said he wouldn't have made it."
The rescue is detailed on the "This Day in Aviation" website and includes a photo of Lindbergh next to a young Maj. Ware, who six days later was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his heroics.
"That happened in less than a week," Ware said. "Normally that takes several months. But when you've got an international hero, it kind of gains some momentum."
The Wares purchased their first motorhome in 1988, a year before Bruce retired from military service. Their first trip was a 10-month tour around the United States. He later worked for American Eagle airlines and did some charter flying part-time.
"Then I quit flying altogether," he said, "and now I play golf a little more often and take trips in the motorhome."
He will spend Memorial Day with an Air Force colleague in Woodbury, Minn., before heading home to Nashville, with memories of his Mississippi River trip, Lindbergh's hometown, Itasca State Park and Bemidji.