HILL AIR FORCE BASE -- The nature of flight has changed in the more than six decades since Ben Fowler flew in history's biggest conflict, but he still could probably teach the pilots of today a thing or two.
On Friday, Fowler, a 91-year-old Riverdale resident and former World War II pilot, was given a tour at Hill Air Force Base that included an up-close-and-personal visit with some 388th Fighter Wing pilots, one of the base's F-16s and its munitions in an aircraft hangar along the flightline.
Fowler, who founded and still owns the Burger Bar restaurant in Roy, was joined by 16 members of his family for the tour.
"I didn't know we were going to have a party here," Fowler said. "But I guess we are."
Fowler joined the Navy shortly before World War II started.
Fowler's time in the war wasn't short on drama -- or history.
While flying a Douglas Dauntless during the Guadalcanal campaign, Fowler was shot down by anti-aircraft guns but survived because one of his wingmen saw him go down.
He also was the first pilot to be catapulted off an aircraft carrier, the USS Independence.
At the end of the war, Fowler piloted his F-6 Hellcat as one of about 1,200 planes that flew over the USS Missouri in a "show of force" while Japanese officials signed a peace treaty on the deck to end the war.
During his tour, Fowler chatted with fellow pilots Capt. John Loveman and Lt. Col. Paul Schulze, commander of the 421st Fighter Squadron at Hill.
"Any time we can talk to these World War II guys, we jump at the opportunity," Loveman said.
Loveman and Fowler compared pilots from the World War II era and those from today, noting that modern technology has made the job of today's pilots a lot easier.
"When (Fowler) flew, it was all about who was the better pilot," he said. "Back then, it was the sport of kings."
When asked what it would be like to sit in the cockpit of an F-16, Fowler responded simply, "I can't even imagine."