Veteran Pilots Visit Barnes

  • Published
  • By Capt. Mary Harrington, Public Affairs Officer
  • 104FW
Throughout the summer, the 104th Fighter Wing hosted many visitors and tours. The groups included Boy Scouts, Check Writers Company, deployed family members, Employers in Support of the Guard and Reserve...and a very special pair of notable veteran fighter pilots. 

On July 31, Col. Don Ryan (ret.) and Ken Rowe visited the 104th, for a VIP tour of Barnes and close-up view of the F-15 by our own Ops Group Commander, Lt. Col. Ken Lambrich. 

Col. Ryan is a veteran Air Force pilot, with over 15,000 flight hours. After World War II, he flew F-51 Mustang fighters in the Minnesota Air National Guard for six years until his unit was activated for Korea and then he flew B-29's during the Korean War. He was the B-52 Wing Commander at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina from 1970 to 1971, and the B-52 Wing Commander at Westover Air Force Base in Chicopee, MA from 1972-1973. In his career, Col. Ryan piloted twelve aircraft including the C-45, C-46, C-47, C-123, P-51, B-17 (WW II), B-25, B-26, B-29 (Korea), B-36, B-52 (Cuban Missile Crisis) and F-51. 

Over the years, Col. Ryan has become good friends with former North Korean MiG-15 fighter pilot, Lt. No Kum-Sok, a.k.a. Kenneth Rowe. 

Ken Rowe defected from North Korea to South Korea on September 21, 1953, landing his enemy aircraft at Kimpo Air Base. He wrote the book "Mig-15 to Freedom" which details his pro-American childhood, military training in South Korea and defection from communism. 

"If Ken and I had met in the sky 55 years ago...we would have tried to kill each other. Today, we are good friends," said Ryan. 

Col. Ryan flew the last B-20 mission in the Korean War. His plane is on display in the U.S. Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio. Across the room, is Ken Rowe's MiG-15. "It's incredible to share our stories and friendship," said Rowe. 

After he defected, Rowe moved to the United States. He was delighted to find out that his mother had also defected and was reunited with her in the United States. 

Ken earned his U.S. citizenship and graduated from the University of Delaware with an engineering degree. He worked as aeronautical engineer for Grumman, Boeing, General Dynamics, General Motors, General Electric, Lockheed, DuPont, and Westinghouse. After working 17 years as an aeronautical professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, he retired. He married and had three children, two sons and a daughter. He lives in Daytona Beach, Florida. 

Ryan also married (57 years) and had two daughters. The love of his life and wife Marge, passed away in 2003. He resides in Blandford during the warm months and in Florida during the winter. Ken Rowe visited Ryan in Blanford to attend Ryan's 88th birthday party. "Part of our celebration was our visit to Barnes," said Ryan. "Thanks so much for your time and dedication."