Milton Mann Jr. has always been up for an adventure.
The Collierville native and U.S. Army Air Corps veteran has flown B-29 Superfortresses up to 40,000 feet, survived hurricanes in Hawaii and Australia and visited all 50 states.
And the 90-year-old has no intentions of slowing down. In the early 1990s, he purchased a motorcycle at the age of 70. In 1998, Mann rafted the Colorado River at the age of 78. Last November, he was hours away from taking an African Safari with his youngest daughter before suffering a late-night stroke.
And just last month, the former owner of Collierville Lumber Co. went up in a refurbished B-17 Flying Fortress to relive the years he spent training back in the 1940s.
“The motor still sounded great,” Mann said of his flight from the Olive Branch Airport. “I asked the pilot if I could fly. I told him that I probably had more hours flying in a B-17 than him. But he said his insurance would not allow that.”
Mann’s passion for flying began in 1941 when he took to the air in a Piper Cub at the age of 19 while attending Davidson College in North Carolina.
During school, Mann was a member of ROTC and eventually joined the Enlisted Reserve Corps.
While attending his girlfriend’s graduation from college one summer in Missouri, Mann received word from the United States Army.
“I got a telegram from Uncle Sam telling me to report for duty in two weeks,” he said.
So, Mann packed his bags for Camp Croft, S.C., coincidently the same base where his father, Sgt. Milton Mann Sr., had completed basic training during World War I.
While undergoing infantry training, Mann was visited by a recruiter for the Army Air Corps.
“He was looking for volunteers to be fighter pilots,” Mann said. “I told him that I had already soloed and I was ready to go.”
Mann signed up for aerial training and was told that he would be collected upon his completion of basic training.
“That last day (of training),” Mann said, “we were miserably cold. Suddenly, two Army Air Corps trucks pull up. ‘You fly boys come get in the truck.’”
From South Carolina, Mann traveled to Miami Beach, Fla., where he endured basic training for a second time.
“It was a joke,” he said. “We knew more about infantry training than the cadre.”
After more infantry training, Mann was selected among his peers to move on to aviation training.
“The rest of them became bombardiers or gunners,” he said. “I was the only one who qualified.”
So, in 1943 Mann moved to Camden, S.C. to train on the PT-17 bi-plane, nicknamed the “yellow peril.”
“That’s the only plane that I ever did an outside loop in,” Mann said smiling. “I thought my guts were going to come out of my mouth.”
After logging numerous flight hours, Mann received his Pilot Wings at Napier Field in Dothan, Ala. Later that night, he proposed to then girlfriend and current wife Martha.
“Two weeks later we were married,” Mann said. “I wanted to marry her before but I couldn’t do it on a Private’s salary. Once I made Lieutenant and started getting hazard pay (for flying), I thought we could do it.”
The newly weds soon moved to Amarillo, Texas so that Mann could begin training on larger aircraft like the B-17 bomber.
In Texas, Mann was being groomed for the position of B-29 flight engineer, although he preferred piloting.
The couple traveled three more times, with each move resulting in Mann gaining knowledge and flight experience on a different aircraft.
When they arrived in Salina, Kan. in 1946, Mann was given his Flight Engineer Wings. Mann remained in Kansas for the remainder of his military career, never seeing combat as the United States Army Air Corps was completely dissolved in 1947 to usher in the United States Air Forces.
After his release from the Army, Mann finished college at Davidson, earning a Bachelor of Science degree.
Years later, he partnered with Rivers Burks to purchase Collierville Lumber Co., which he later sold in 1980, allowing him to retire and travel the world with his wife.
In his life, Mann has flown seven kinds of planes (of which he proudly stated that he has crashed zero) and traveled to numerous continents.
“I’ve led an exciting life,” he said. “I don’t know of any dull moments I’ve had. I’ve got a lot of good memories.”