Lawrence resident recalls flight with Pope John Paul II
Lawrence As Pope Benedict XVI continues his first official visit in the United States, longtime Lawrence resident Nelson Krueger recalls his own close-up view of a similar trip from the late Pope John Paul II.
"It was the most incredible experience of my life," Krueger said. "The whole trip was an odyssey that was surrounded by an abundance of good news."
Krueger, a longtime pilot for TWA, in 1979 co-piloted Shepherd One as it escorted Pope John Paul II in his first official visit to the United States.
The trip included stops in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Des Moines and Chicago. Krueger, whose passengers have included Sen. Bob Dole, thousands of U.S. troops and members of the Saudi Arabian royal family, said his experience flying the pontiff still brings him shivers.
At stops in various cities, Pope John Paul II was met with masses of people straining for a glimpse, Krueger recalled. And up close, Krueger found the religious leader both robust and personable.
"When he'd look at you, a million bits of information changed between you and him in one second," Krueger said. "You could tell he was a real genuine fella."
It wasn't like other flights. Shepherd One, a Boeing 727, was reconfigured for its special passengers.
Maynard Oliverius, a pilot and longtime friend who is chief executive at Stormont-Vail HealthCare, said it wasn't chance that put Krueger on Shepherd One.
"That was not something that just any crew would get to do," Oliverius said. "They were handpicked to represent TWA and to fly the Pope when he was in the United States. ... You've got a real star right there in Lawrence."
Krueger said during the pontiff's stops in various locations, the reaction from the public could be overwhelming.
"He carries an aura of good news," Krueger said. "Everybody feels so positive and good. The cheers - you can feel them bounce off of your skin, not just bounce off of your ears because they were so loud."
Krueger, a Methodist, still has a family rosary blessed by the Pope and a crystal obelisk the pontiff gave to him. He said he believes Pope Benedict's visit will be similarly memorable for those close to it.
"They won't know for 20 years how special it is or was," he said. "It'll be an emotion-packed, life-changing experience for certainly the flight crews and anyone who's involved in that trip in any way."