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For those who served in the RVAH Community, their families, and friends!

Captain Gunnar Finn Wilster, USN Retired Former CO RVAH-9



There is currently no obituary, but his widow wrote this to a shipmate:

"...there is no obituary.  he is just gone.  I do not think I would do very well without him, but I will try to put something in words one day...the emptiness in my life is just too huge.  One cannot love and lose a man like that  and talk about him...but one day I will.  He was 85, died of pneumonia worsened by COPD and other stuff.  He was still building boats and his last one will be put in the water (she never got there while he was alive) the last weekend in June, we hope.  Did I send you the write up about her?  If not I will send it and try to send a photo soon.  The article about the boat will be in a magazine, Messing About in Boats, in June.  Please ask those who cared about it to forgive me.  Most of my time the last year or so was spent caring for him...full time...by myself.  I am so grateful I was able.  I am sad and tired.  I will do him honor...just not right now."

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So sorry to read about Captain Wilster. He was my division officer while attached to RVAH-1. One incident sticks in my mind, and I will always remember it. I was at home one Friday night, and I get a call from LT Wilster. I was always bugging him to get me a ride in a plane. He wanted to know if I wanted to go for a ride in the morning. When I got to the base, he said he had a test hop in one of the squadron aircraft. I was elated. I set in the backseat, and I was quite excited. What a thrill it was for me. I still have the aircrew certificate that he and the skipper, CDR Taft, presented to the following Monday morning. It reads "semi-qualified as RA5C rear seat knob twister". Fair winds and following seas Captain.

I was very sorry to learn about Capt. Wilster's passing.  I knew him back in the late '80s and early '90s.  He was our tow pilot and secondary instructor when I was managing the Boone, NC glider operation and learning to fly gliders during the summer of 1988.  We kept in sporadic touch after that.  I moved to MA in 1990, and started flying out of Plymouth Airport.  I was sitting in the ready room one day when the operator of the glider port said "Finn should be here soon".  I really didn't think much about it.  A few minutes later, a SuperCub (as best as I can recall) came over, dropped the banner it was towing, and landed.  Here comes Capt. Wilster (all of his civilian students called him "Finn" or "Skipper", more on that later).  He saw me, shot me his huge smile, and said in his saltiest voice "what the he!! are you doing here, Hawkins???"  We had a great time catching up.  I saw him a few times after that.  I moved back to NC in 1999, but we had fallen out of touch and never caught back up with each other, much to my regret.  He was a great aviator and a great man.  He taught me many things that have helped me since, both about flying and about life.  I respected him greatly.  The world will be more empty with his passing.

I'd like to share a few humorous "Finn" stories here (only the less salty ones!), for those that knew him, and also perhaps to give those that didn't some idea about him.  However, if this is not an appropriate place to do so, I completely understand.  Just tell me to knock it off.

Another Finn story:

One day I showed up on the flight line wearing a pair of urban camo pants and a T-Shirt.  Finn just looked at me and said "Musta been a good party Hawkins, I see you're still wearing your pajamas".   I laughed about that for weeks.

  • Finn always demanded the best from us.  It got to point that we would land the glider on on runway 31 (often with a headwind on approach, and a tailwind on rollout), roll out, make a 90 degree turn, and drop the main gear into the parking divot.  The main was a single centerline gear on the Blanik L-13 glider/sailplane.

One of the times I saw Finn the happiest was the day I put our names and call signs on our cockpits.   Our principal instructor was a bit slow on the uptake,  so his call sign was "Lightnin" ".  Mine was "Hawk" for obvious reasons.   On Finn's  Piper Pawnee tow plane, I put "Capt. Finn Wilster, "Skipper" ".  Finn went out to the flight line, and when he saw it, he got that giant smile on his face and gave me a big thumbs up.  A memory that I will never forget.

One day as we were towing to release altitude,  I saw a cloud about 45 degrees to the right of our course that looked like it had good thermals (the gold currency of all glider operations).  I keyed the mic and somewhat excitedly said "Finn, 45 right".   Before I  knew it, Finn had put us in a *really* tight right turn.  I hung with it, released under the cloud, and flew around for another 30 minutes or so before landing.   I really didn't think much about the steepness of the turn... I was happy Finn went for the cloud I had indicated.  When I landed, Finn walked up with that huge grin and said "Sorry, Hawkins, but when I heard you call '45 right' I was back in my Vigi dodging flak."  We had a laugh about it, but it also showed me how much Finn was shaped by his past experiences.

I showed up one Saturday after partying with my buddies.   I forgot my logbook at my buddy's place.   Finn just said "Hawkins, how could you possibly forget your logbook?  I sure hope she was worth it!!! (She wasn't).

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