When the opportunity was offered, David L. Thompson didn't hesitate.
In a flash, the 85-year-old was scrambling into the cockpit of a P-51 Mustang fighter, just like the ones he flew in China during Word War II.
Did the seat seem familiar?
"Absolutely," Thompson beamed.
Thompson, of New York City, is one of a handful of fliers from the Army Air Force 528th Fighter Squadron, known in the war as the "Dragonflies," who are visiting Lexington for a reunion.
They took a Kentucky River boat ride and thrilled Air Force ROTC cadets at the University of Kentucky on Thursday with wartime stories.
Friday afternoon they were honored at Keene land Race Course and named Kentucky Colonels. On Friday morning, they visited the Aviation Museum of Kentucky at Blue Grass Airport and admired an actual P-51 from WWII.
If any group of pilots ever had the "right stuff," surely these fellows did.
Take Hank Snow, from upstate New York. Now 86, he flew, not only in WWII but also in Korea and Vietnam, racking up 666 combat missions.
"I tell people that 666 rhymes with the devil, and that the devil made me do it," Snow laughs.
Bill Creech, 86, of El Paso, Texas, flew 302 missions in WWII, and was shot down twice.
"I got knocked down over Burma and walked home," he said. "Spent five days by myself in the jungle. If you haven't done that, don't try it.
The fighting was hard, but the living accommodations weren't much better, according to David Thompson.
"I arrived in China as a replacement pilot in the winter, and we were reduced to tents, Chinese quilts and going to the coal pile to get our own coal for the stove," he said.
Thompson also was shot down but was unhurt, and the war ended a few days later.
Jesse Townsend, 87, of Stuttgart, Ark., said the pilots adjusted.
"It was more or less an everyday job that we had to do," he said. "And we did it."
Only four 528th members were able to make the trip to Lexington. A fifth flier, William Young, 86, of California, came along as an "adopted member." He flew B-29 bombers in WWII.
The fliers are holding their reunion here mainly because of one squadron member who never made it home: John Disney of Bailey's Switch in Knox County. He was shot down and killed in China on his 165th mission.
The pilots had wanted to come to Kentucky for some time to honor Disney, and this year, they did, with help from Karl Bennett.
Bennett, 57, also is from Bailey's Switch. John Disney was his second cousin. Bennett said Disney's story inspired him to become a Air Force fighter pilot himself. Bennett acted as host for the Lexington trip.
Bennett visited the area of China where Disney went down and recovered bits of metal from his plane, along with a sample of Chinese soil. He buried those items at a memorial to Disney that his family erected in Knox County.
Bennett said that Snow, despite his years, struggled up a steep Knox County hillside to visit the memorial himself.
"To see him standing beside the monument," Bennett said, "it choked me up. I'll tell you that."