Oakdale resident and former city council member Dan Donnelly was a noted pilot during World War II, flying combat aircraft in the South Pacific. He also flew classified missions as part of a top secret Navy program, according to his family.
But one of his most important flights occurred a few years after the end of World War II, when Donnelly returned home to Oakdale.
According to family members, Donnelly was flying a plane above Oakdale when he and co-pilot Vernon Rodden noticed that the barley field below them would make a nice landing strip.
They landed the plane in the field, walked off enough distance to measure out a runway, and the Oakdale Airport was born.
Donnelly, 94, was at the airport on Sept. 8 with numerous family members and friends to take a flight from the airport, which was named Donnelly Field in his honor.
Kevin Benziger, president of the Oakdale Chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association, which has a hanger at the airport, helped make it happen.
“We knew he wanted to go up … and we wanted to find the right plane for him. I thought James’s (Oakdale pilot James Davis) plane would be perfect, as Mr. Donnelly used to own one that was similar.”
Davis, who was introduced to Donnelly at the airfield, owns a 1946 Aeronca Champ.
With a boost from grandson Jeff Donnelly of Jamestown, Donnelly was placed into the backseat of the plane. Sitting in the co-pilot’s seat, Donnelly’s hand seemed to naturally find the stick in front of him.
Although Davis was at the controls for this flight, Donnelly was able to have a look at the old barley field and what it has become in the past 60 years.