What's Up South Texas!: WWII vet inspires others to live life happily

By Japhanie Gray - Reporter, Jennifer Galvan - Photojournalist

SAN ANTONIO - A World War II veteran is sharing his story in hopes of encouraging others to happily live their lives to the fullest.

Donald Stinson, who is 96 years old, was with the 7th Combat Cargo Group during the war, during which he flew C-46 planes to and from soldiers, delivering supplies.

“We would fly low and slow over the whole New York state,” Stinson said. “We would send packages to troops that might need supplies. Flying over the state had the most beautiful countryside. We would fly up the seaway and would be able to fly as low as we wanted to.”

Stinson’s heart of service began when he was a boy.

“I was raised in a hotel,” Stinson said. “When I was 7 years old, my family moved to Amarillo, Texas. I had to keep quiet, so I didn’t disturb the guests in this three-story hotel. My mother’s uncle built it and owned it, but when he got sick, he got my folks to move from Oklahoma to Texas to manage it.”

He said growing up in the hotel kept him from playing like a normal kid.

“I was kind of an alley rat, though,” Stinson said. “I didn’t have a yard to play in. When the depression hit, my folks, who owned the hotel at the time, had to move out. That was a real happy day for me because we moved into this big, two-story white house.”

Stinson said that’s when his father started his ice cream business.

“My daddy started Double Dip, selling ice cream two scoops for a nickel,” Stinson said. “There, it became quite an establishment. I grew up and started working there. My older brother turned the crank to make the ice cream in a three-gallon ice cream freezer.”

He said he worked there for years with his brother until the war.

“I graduated in 1942 and the war was going pretty strong,” Stinson said. “I joined the Army Air Corps, and they sent me to San Antonio for primary training. I swore I would never come back. It was hot in the summertime and there was hardly air conditioning then.”

After traveling around Texas for training, he eventually graduated from flight school.

“Flying is so wonderful — to be able to fly and see how beautiful the country is," Stinson said. "I enjoyed every bit of it. I really loved flying. Most of our pilots felt the same way. Some of the farmers complained that their chickens quit laying eggs because we were flying so low over the countryside.”

Stinson said his first stop on orders was to go to New Guinea.

“We (ended) up in a headwind and almost had to ditch the airplane because of the winds that night,” Stinson said. “After we arrived, we island-hopped all the way down to Australia, and we went to New Guinea, where we trained for the jungle. We had to eat and drink like monkeys.”

Stinson said they always remembered to have fun during their flights.

“One of the first loads, we had was 20,000 cases of beer to take to where we were stationed,” Stinson said. “The C-46 has a compartment between the pilot and the co-pilot seat. We put six cases down there and the loading officer said we were short six cases. We told him we didn’t know anything about it. He searched everywhere but did not look in that compartment. So we had a good start with a case of beer.”

Stinson said they flew from Biak Island to the Philippine Islands before having to go to Okinawa, Japan.

“We would bring back supplies, whether it be ammunition, food, litter, patients from the war zone to big hospitals in Biak. Then, when the war was about over, we started flying into Japan.”

Stinson said his experience in Japan was amazing, despite almost losing his life on one of their flights.

“After the war was over, we had a load in Okinawa to take back to Japan,” Stinson said. “We loaded it up on a brand new airplane. I called in the weather because it was starting to get bad. Finally, I had to call over to an island off the coast of Okinawa. We had to make an instrument landing there.” 

Stinson said the plane crashed and caught on fire during its landing.

“We made it out of it, but it totaled the plane. My radio operator just had a small cut on his leg where the propeller hit the runway and a piece of it went through the airplane," Stinson said. "They came and picked us up and took us to a dispensary and gave us a shot of whiskey. We made it out fine."

When the war was over, Stinson went home and stayed in the Army Reserve. He also got married to the love of his life. Her name was Opal Stinson, whom he met through his family business, Double Dip.

“They told me about her. I called her and didn’t have a clue who she was, but she knew who I was. I got a date set up with her," Stinson said. "I remember going to the door and Opal opened the door. Her sister was sitting on the sofa and Opal looks at me, and she says, ‘She’s already taken.' We were married for 65 years.”

Stinson also enjoyed many reunions he would have with the friends he made during service.

“I enjoyed being with friends who we lived with and flew with and hugged for years. It was quite a bond that we had with each other,” Stinson said through tears. “Very few of us are still alive. Out of my squadron that I know of, I am the only one still alive, as far as I know.”

He said Uncle Sam calling him to serve never brought fear to him.

“All of us young men who were going to the war all felt the same,” Stinson said. “We needed to defeat the Japanese, and, of course, we still had Germany to take care of. I was never afraid. Some of the fellas doubted they would get back home. I planned to come back when I left. I planned to get back and I did. Afraid? Not a bit.”

After the war, and after Double Dip, Stinson worked in food service for San Antonio Independent School District, where he helped serve thousands of kids and managed hundreds of employees. He said his service to them and what he has done for his church in his lifetime are things of which he is most proud.

He said one thing he is most proud about, other than being alive, is being a pilot who rescued several nurses kept in captivity around the time of war.

“I do have a very favorite memory,” Stinson said. “I flew the nurses that had been POWs. It was during the collapse of the island of Japan. I got to fly 21 of them out of the Philippines to a big hospital in Biak. I felt what I was doing was really worthwhile. They were so bubbling over and they were so happy. After about three and a half years, I read several stories about their lives and seeing them in person and talking to them. It made me very proud.”

Throughout his lifetime, Stinson had obstacles he dealt with, such as losing 100% of his hearing from the time flying between two engines and the death of his wife. She died in 2013 to breast cancer and was buried on his birthday.

“It is quite a celebration to have a birthday party and your wife being buried,” Stinson said.

He said his main message is for people to find a passion they love and to stick with it, no matter what obstacles they go through. He said he will continue to share his story for as long as he lives to inspire others.

“Here I am 96 and not a whole lot of people are living to be 96 now days,” Stinson said. “Everybody has a story if they just dig it out and tell what their experiences are because everyone is different. Just find something you love and be happy.”

If you know someone like Cromwell who is making a difference in the South Texas community or who has a unique story, send us your tips. Contact Japhanie Gray on Facebook or @JGrayKSAT on Twitter. You can also send your tips to KSAT 12 & KSAT.com on Facebook.

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