Columbia veteran of three wars marks 100th birthday

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Published: Mar. 28, 2022 at 9:35 AM EDT|Updated: Mar. 28, 2022 at 9:42 AM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - To celebrate 100 years on the earth, Thomas Rew took a trip above it.

The U.S. Army Air Corps and Air Force veteran spent Sunday afternoon in the sky above Kershaw County, flying the same model plane on which he trained before World War II.

“It’s been a fun day, and I have nothing but to thank the Lord for allowing me to stay on the earth this long,” Rew, who lives in Columbia, said.

Flight is familiar for the retired major general, a bomber pilot who fought in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, accumulating more than 8,000 flying hours over more than three decades of service.

“It’s a lot of fun. It’s been a long time between one touchdown and the other. I think the last airplane I flew was a B-52, so big difference,” he said.

Rew represents the second of four consecutive generations of family service, with all three of his sons serving and a granddaughter currently a captain in the Air Force.

On Sunday, one of his sons, Bill, was by his side in the air, flying in another plane.

“Flying is special and a bond that we share. He passed on that love, and to be able to go up in formation and see — I could see Dad flying, and he was actually flying a good part of that flight,” Bill Rew said. “I got some pictures and look forward to seeing those. Very special.”

More of Rew’s family gathered on the ground for the afternoon in Camden, and even South Carolina Congressman Joe Wilson, R – Springdale, stopped by with a gift: a certificate of special Congressional recognition, thanking Rew for his service.

“God bless each of you, but mainly, God bless the general,” Rep. Wilson said after presenting the recognition, which Rew said he would hang on his office wall.

Rick Mantei of Columbia, a fellow Air Force veteran who owns the planes in which the Rews flew, made the day possible.

He first took the father-son pair up in the air two years ago.

“This guy, this is the real deal,” Mantei said. “There are not many of them left in the world or any country. There’s not many guys left like that. … He’s a real war hero, a real patriot, a gentleman, a husband, a father, everything you could ever want.”

And now, Rew is a centenarian, marking his 100th birthday earlier this month.

“What’s your secret to staying around for 100 years?” Bill asked his father.

The elder Rew, who plays handball with his son as often as they can, responded he stays active.

“I have a good time, and I just hope each and every one of you enjoys life as much as I have,” Rew said. “And thank the good Lord for all of our blessings.

“I know I thank the Lord for that.”

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