‘Pilot for Day’ honor lifts spirits of East Liverpool boy
By danny restivo
After 11-year-old Leon Daugherty took his oath with the U.S. Air Force on Friday, Brig. Gen. Brian Dominguez, Youngstown Air Reserve Station base commander, complimented the youngster’s resolve.
“You’re one of the bravest and most courageous young men I’ve met in my life,” said Dominguez.
Leon’s response to the general’s praise was less than common for a newly commissioned officer.
“But I’ve only known you for like five seconds,” the boy said.
His remark drew laughter from the general, who had met the ailing child just minutes before being commissioned. Leon is undergoing chemotherapy at Akron Children’s Hospital of Mahoning Valley for a rare form of brain cancer. Based on his up-beat persona and witty responses, it would be hard to recognize any stress.
On Friday, he was invited to the Youngstown Air Reserve Station where his dream of becoming an Air Force pilot came true. The East Liverpool youngster was given an honorary commission in the U.S. Air Force reserve, along with a flight suit and a gold bar on each lapel, signifying the rank of a second lieutenant.
His visit was part of the base “Pilot for a Day” program, which provides a fun day of activities to children who live with a life-threatening disease or illness. Leon was accompanied by his grandparents, Donald and Diane Goodwin, They watched as their grandson became Youngstown’s newest Air Force Reserve pilot. He then experienced the firearms-training simulator and taxied aboard a C-130 Hercules.
The experience had him in smiles. He admitted the C-130 ride was the day’s highlight, but he was excited about seeing all the service members.
“I like meeting all the people,” he said.
His grandfather shared his sentiment.
“You’re amazed when you see how much people care,” said Donald Goodwin.
Leon’s bright spirits even had an impact on his new commanding officer.
“To come in here and have that type of enthusiasm, it’s enough to make you cry,” said Dominguez.
Stacy Sheetz, Leon’s nurse at Akron Children’s Mahoning Valley, is helping him with chemotherapy treatment. While the boy’s bright spirits may have surprised some airmen, it came as no shock to her.
“He always has a really great attitude about treatment,” she said. “He’s doing very well.”