BOULDER, Colo. — Roger Smith's love of flying began at an early age. During high school, he would sneak off to the airfield, without telling his parents, and get some flying time in.
Smith's dream began to feel real when he enlisted in the U.S. Army to become a pilot during World War II and later again when the glider program started in the U.S. Army Air Corp.
"I raised my right hand and enlisted in the service," he told Denver7.
The glider program began via an idea from the German Army to land low-tech gliders loaded with paratroopers, artillery, vehicles and other wartime necessities behind enemy lines. Materials to build planes were dedicated to that effort, so the gliders were constructed of cheaper materials, including steel, plywood and canvas.
Smith said that sometimes, the pilots would sit on their flack suits to better shield from bullets coming from below because the gliders weren't as armored as other aircraft.
"They had to have heavy equipment, Jeeps, ammunition, or logistic equipment necessary for the paratroopers to use. That's the only way they could get it in gliders," Smith said.
The gliders and their cargo were critical to the Allied war effort and the ability to confront Germany in western Europe, said Zach Cromley, Smith's neighbor and documentarian of Smith's wartime photography and records.
Cromley, a pilot himself, has worked with the National World War II Glider Pilot Association to ensure Smith's collection of photos of his fellow airmen and other documents from his time in the war live on. He is also working to help fill out the story of other soldiers Smith worked with on his flight missions.
"They had to have this stuff, and they didn't have docks, and there was no helicopters back then. So yeah, it was an important element to the success of the Allied invasion of mainland Europe," said Cromley.
Glider pilots were an all-volunteer service during WWII. The Army gave the pilots a roughly 50% casualty rate at the time. Cromley thinks about six American glider pilots are still alive today.
"It's a story that not a lot of people know about, which really surprised me because of how important the mission was to the success of the Allied campaign in Europe," Cromley said.
Roger Smith will be honored on Memorial Day at BOLDERBoulder. He will be celebrated as a representative of the glider pilots, continuing to share their legacy and honoring those that flew alongside him.
"There wasn't anything about flying that I didn't enjoy," Smith said.
You can sign up to walk, jog or run the race at BOLDERBoulder.com. Denver7 will have coverage of the community and elite runs throughout the morning on Memorial Day and will carry the post-race tribute at Folsom Field live beginning at noon.