Pilot killed in Fredericksburg plane crash dedicated life to honoring veterans

Cowden Ward Jr. founded Freedom Flyers to pay homage to vets

Courtesy: Freedom Flyers.
Courtesy: Freedom Flyers.

FREDERICKSBURG, Texas – Cowden Ward Jr. died Saturday doing what he loved most: honoring veterans.

Ward was participating in an event hosted by the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, offering veterans rides in his beloved P-51 Mustang aircraft, when his plane went down in a parking lot of an apartment complex.

Ward and his passenger, only identified as a World War II veteran, both died in the crash. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating what led to the crash, as friends of Ward said he was a highly experienced pilot who started flying when he was in high school.

Ward owned and piloted his P-51 Mustang, dubbing the aircraft "Pecos Bill."

Courtesy: Freedom Flyers.
Courtesy: Freedom Flyers.

While Ward was a civilian, he was passionate about honoring veterans.

As a semi-retired pilot, he founded Freedom Flyers, which offers complimentary leisure flights to "WWII Veterans and Purple Heart Recipients to thank them for their service to our country, along with fly-over tributes at WWII Veterans' funerals and events," according to the group's website.

Kevin Lacey, a fellow pilot and friend, told KSAT that Ward funded that venture and similar ventures with his own money.

"Although he wasn't a vet himself, he did spend quite a bit of time trying to find ways to honor them," he said. "(Putting) a lot of his own time and expense in doing so."

Lacey said his longtime friend can only be described as selfless.

"We lost a really good man yesterday," Lacey said. "He was really passionate about thanking our World War II vets for their efforts, and (through) Freedom Flyers, offering any WWII vet he could find a ride in his P-51 Mustang."

Ward was well-known in the military community, giving more than 130 veterans a ride in his P-51.

"We would also like the family and friends of the veteran who took this final flight with Cowden to know our thoughts and prayers are with them, and we will never forget the great man who flew with Cowden on his final flight," a spokesperson for Freedom Flyers said.

It's unclear what fueled his passion for paying homage to veterans. However, Lacey said Ward partook in all things aviation-related, adding that Ward enjoyed sharing his love for aviation with others.

While the cause of the crash remains under investigation, Lacey said Ward never mentioned any mechanical issues with the plane and that Ward was a longtime pilot.