MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C. --
Tradition runs deep in Paul Ringheiser III's family.
Like his father Paul Ringheiser Jr. and his grandfather Paul Ringheiser Sr., he has served his country and his community in the military and as a firefighter.
Paul III's strong sense of tradition helped him win the theme contest for the 2012 Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point Air Show.
"This is a heritage if you really look at it," he said about the anniversaries of Marine aviation and Cherry Point, both of which the theme was supposed to reflect.
With their rich family heritage woven in their service to their community and their country, the theme for the air show came easily to Paul III.
"Celebrate the heritage just made sense," he said. "Our heritage runs deep in military aviation. Not just from my father's service but from grandfather."
Thousands of people from all over the world gathered at MCAS Cherry Point to help "Celebrate the Heritage," May 4-6, 2012.
To most, this meant celebrating 100 years of Marine Aviation heritage but to Paul III, it was more than a clever idea – it was a way to commemorate his family's service to the country, specifically his dad and grandfather.
"My dad enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1944," said Paul III's father Paul Jr., a 61-year-old fire chief in Tobyhanna, Pa. "He joined before he graduated from high school. His mom had to pick up his diploma because he had already reported to (Marine Corps Recruit Depot) Parris Island.
"After he graduated from boot camp he went to flight school and became a flight engineer on the B-25."
For Paul III winning the contest, both Paul Jr. and Paul III flew in a B-25J Mitchell bomber, hosted by Disabled American Veterans flight team, Friday before the Air Show – a unique opportunity to fly aboard the same type of aircraft Paul Sr. worked on in the Marine Corps.
Also on the flight, hosted by Disabled American Veterans flight team, were five Marines with Wounded Warriors Battalion-East out of Camp Lejeune, N.C.
When Paul III heard he would fly on the aircraft he knew it was important his father also get a chance to sit in the World War II era bomber.
My father was obviously closer to my grandfather so he had a closer tie to the B-25 and what it means to our family, said Paul III, who is a firefighter and paramedic at the Cherry Point Fire Department.
Paul Jr. looked up to his father and was inspired, as a child, to understand what it meant to be a Marine.
"When I was a kid we had the Leatherneck Magazines in the house," said Paul Jr. as he thought back to his childhood and how he became fond of the Marine Corps. "I had the 33 RPM record called 'The Making of Marines' which talked about getting off the bus, getting on the yellow footprints.
"(As I got older) I wound up in Civil Air Patrol military school and Army ROTC." Paul Jr. then enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserves as an Air Traffic Controller and retired from the Air Force Reserves after 26 years of service.
"I retired as an E-8 which was four (ranks higher) than I thought I would ever be after getting out of the Marine Corps as an E-4," laughed Paul Jr. Paul Jr. said he loved the experience of flying on the aircraft and was grateful to his son for sharing it.
Because of spacing issues, there was a chance they both would not get to ride on the aircraft. Paul III decided at that point that his father would take his place.
"I told him 'wait a minute, this is your flight, you named the air show and you should be doing this,'" Paul Jr. said about the possibility of both of them not being able to fly. "So, when they told me we would both be able to fly I thought it was great."
"It is very neat that he gets to see what his grandfather went through," said Paul Jr. "His grandfather probably told him more war stories then he told me."
"I have never flown over Cherry Point," said Paul III who served in the Air Force for seven years and is now an Air Force reservist. "I mean, we come out here for flight emergencies all the time but I never got to see the airfield from above."
Paul III was the oldest of the grandchildren. As a child, he was always asking about his "grandpop's" service as a Marine.
"I can just imagine being on a gun in there and thinking about the Japanese plane coming in and how tense that could be," he said. Paul Jr. also thought about what it would have been like for his father.
"I was in the seat where (my father) would have sat, right below the cockpit gunner," Paul Jr. said. "That’s where the flight engineer would have sat so it was really interesting and really emotional to think 'this is what he would have gone through.'"
Up to until that point Paul Jr.'s only experience of what his dad might have gone through was when he used to run around in his father's World War II Marine dungarees as a child, so the experience was an emotional one for him.
"My father had a volunteer, 'can do' spirit which he nourished and passed on to me," Paul Jr. said. "I know I got that later in life and that’s been passed on to Paul (III), and now he's here at the Cherry Point Fire Department."
"I feel extremely honored," Paul Jr. said, holding back tears. "I feel like my son hooked me up."