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See a flyover for World War II vet, Art Kahley with his son Dave in the lead, on his 98th birthday with vintage photos.

York Daily Record

YORK, Pa. — The old anti-aircraft gunner looked up into a cloudless, late-morning sky. The growl of engines in the distance grew louder.

Moments later, four authentic World War II planes soared just a thousand feet above in perfect alignment, trailing smoke for all to see.

Arlington “Art” Kahley saluted with a wave of his hickory walking stick.

The planes made four passes over their Regents Glen neighborhood on the southwest side of York.

A show of honor, son to father.

A life of service validated, once again.

It meant even more than that for Art Kahley. His wit is as quick and his heart as kind as ever, but age and ailments have weighed heavy. He just turned 98 last week. Parkinson’s disease has made doing most anything difficult, including standing and walking a few steps.

He needed a date on the calendar to look forward to, to keep going, so to speak.

It finally arrived Wednesday in the form of the flyover led by his pilot son, David.

World War II vet Art Kahley waves his walking stick at a formation of vintage planes led by his son Dave over his house in Spring Garden Township. A group of friends and family gather on the lawn to share the moment with the 98-year-old September 23, 2020 (Photo: Paul Kuehnel,York Daily Record, York Daily Record)

“It was my objective for months, to live this long and see this happen …,” Art Kahley said.  

“When you’re as old as I am, I need objectives and dates to try and be. I didn’t know if I would make it,” he said, a smile forming. 

David Kahley will participate in a much larger flyover in Washington, D.C. Friday to commemorate the 75th anniversary of V-E Day, when Nazi Germany officially surrendered to the Allies in 1945.

The event, organized by the Arsenal of Democracy group, will include more than 60 planes. Kahley will lead the final “missing man formation,” which honors dead or missing service members. 

Though scheduled for May 8, it was postponed by the pandemic. It would have been too difficult for Art Kahley to attend now.

“OK,” his son figured, “I’ll take the airshow to him.”

A formation of vintage planes fly in formation leaving smoke trails above Art Kahley’s Spring Garden Township home. Kahley’s son Dave is in the lead plane on September 23, 2020. (Photo: Paul Kuehnel,York Daily Record, York Daily Record)

From WWII to beloved band director 

Art Kahley grew up near York City’s Farquhar Park during the Great Depression.

His mother raised him and his three siblings. His father died when he was 4.

His great gift was learning to play the violin.

After graduating from York High he was drafted into the Army and eventually shipped to the South Pacific. There, his ships zigzagged through hostile waters, always leery of torpedo attacks, moving from one island station to the next.

He said he lived on Fiji for 13 months, then New Guinea and finally the Philippines. His job was to guard air strips and shoot enemy planes out of the sky.

Fortunately, he said, he never had to engage in full combat.

Meanwhile, his brother Edward made it safely through Europe building Army bridges for the Allies.

“It’s still a part of my life even though it’s been a long time ago,” Art Kahley said of his service. “It’s still a part of my life.”

Moved by his father to fly

He wasn’t sure what he would do when he returned from the war.

But Art Kahley’s skill as a violinist opened doors. A high school in Yorkneeded a music teacher and a band director, and he figured he’d give it a try.

He grew to love it and tried to help every group who needed him. He would go on to teach thousands of students at York Suburban through more than 30 years. Later, he and his wife, Mildred, helped lead student groups on ambassador band trips, making 21 tours through Europe and Asia.

Along the way their son, David, learned to play the French horn and to fly.

Lessons at the Lancaster Airport grew into a passion with a particular interest in World War II craft. The war still influenced him growing up in the 1960s, from movies and TV to books and stories from friends and relatives — just not from his father. 

“They didn’t talk about it. It was just something they did,” David Kahley said of WWII veterans. “But it was around. It took over the country for four years. We’ve had COVID for, what, seven months?

“I was just enthralled (by their service).”

David Kahley eventually bought his own World War II plane and began running in air shows. It eventually led him to the 75th anniversary celebration in Washington — and a way to honor his father.

The postponement, in a well-timed twist, now coincided closely with his father’s birthday. It kept that motivational date on his calendar a few months longer.

The stage was set.

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