COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - A World War II veteran from Columbia is celebrating his 100th birthday.
Maynard Cusworth’s Air Force career spanned three decades, and he spent more than 40 years as a volunteer mercy pilot.
Now, Maynard suffers from advanced dementia, but his family says he’s always looked forward to turning 100.
“He started echoing that as he got to the age of 90, or late 80s, and it became kind of a broken record,” said Maynard’s son, Robert Cusworth.
His father’s aviation career began in the early 1940s, training as a bomber pilot during the end of WWII.
“He had to choose between a fighter aircraft or a bomber pilot, and he thought his chances of survival were better as a bomber pilot,” laughed Cusworth.
Maynard never saw combat in WWII or the Korean War, but during Vietnam, he flew war supplies in and out of Vietnamese airstrips.
In 1972, after serving at Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter, Maynard retired, but that couldn’t keep him out of a plane.
“I liked him, he liked me, and I liked his experience,” said veteran pilot Jim Hamilton. “He wanted to share his experience with the aviators. So, we were a perfect match.”
Hamilton hired him to train young pilots. Over his 20 years as a flight instructor, he taught hundreds of students, including Emerson Smith.
“He made flying and learning how to fly so enjoyable,” Smith explained. “He could fly almost any airplane.”
According to the FAA, 100% of his students passed their aviation exams.
“He was a safe pilot, and he was going to make you a safe pilot,” said Smith.
While Maynard taught flight lessons, he also started volunteer charter work, flying over the national forest in South Carolina after Hurricane Hugo devastated much of the area.
But the most rewarding part of his career came in the early 1970s when he helped organize the Jamil Flying Fezzes, a charitable group that transports children to Shriners Hospitals for treatment.
“Maynard particularly is a humanitarian,” said Hamilton. “He loved children, and he wants to help and has that talent to do that. It’s a unique way to help people, and that’s his heartbeat.”
He even bought a plane for the trips as he told the South Carolina Aviation Association during a 2014 interview.
“I decided to get it, and I gave them an offer they couldn’t refuse,” Maynard to the SCAA. “So, I said we can continue on with the mission.”
In 1992, his hard work was recognized as he was inducted into the South Carolina Aviation Association Hall of Fame.
“In my view, Maynard is the best you can get,” Hamilton explained.
He continued flying until he turned 89 years old in 2011. While this beloved pilot can’t spend his 100th birthday in a plane, his family says they’ll be reminding him of his century of achievements in the air and on the ground.
Maynard’s family held a Zoom celebration for him on Monday afternoon, and members of First Presbyterian Church in Columbia held a drive-thru parade at NHC Healthcare to celebrate his big day.
Now that he’s made it to 100, Maynard’s family says he’s aiming for 104.