Young cancer patient enjoys being "pilot for a day" at Keesler

By Steve Phillips - bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - The men and women at Keesler Air Force base opened their hearts to a 13-year-old cancer patient Friday.

The Make-a-Wish-Foundation worked with Keesler to make a dream come true for the Bay Middle School student.

"Today, you're number one here, okay? So this is all about you," said Col. Chris Valle, as he welcomed the guest of honor Friday morning.

Sean Peneguy began his base adventure receiving pins and patches for his brand new flight suit.

"So, today you're officially our pilot for a day," said a military pilot, as he presented his new young friend with some patches and medals.

Along with the special presentations, his new military friends had some fun with Sean. Recognizing his love for video games, they gave him the nickname "Thumbs."

"Thumbs" Peneguy felt right at home behind the controls of a C-130 simulator.

"And there's an airplane in front of us taking off," said the instructor, as Sean smoothly glided the plane where it was supposed to head.

This lover of Play Station 2 adapted quickly to the "real life" pilot's training.

"It felt like a video game. Like I was playing a video game," said Sean, who admitted the simulator was really pretty easy.

"And we have to be able to tell the pilots how far they can see," said a member of the flight support team.

A visit to the flight line gave Sean a "hands on" experience with the various gadgets used by the team.

"Got to give him some space.  See how he's real close to that other aircraft there?" said the instructor, as he showed his young guest the finer points of the air traffic control tower simulator.

The control tower simulator presented another video challenge for the young pilot.

Seeing Sean enjoy his whirlwind tour brought a big smile to Captain Shawn Mosher. He helped arrange the tour, but for him, the meaning is deep.

"For myself, it's personal. I had a child with special needs. And he was sick and he passed away. So, we got it going. When I did it at Scott Air Force Base we had a couple of kids who went through and it meant a lot to myself and my wife and family," said the Captain from the 45th Airlift Squadron.

The looks on Sean's face said it all as he toured the air traffic control tower.  Five stories above the runway, this pilot for a day was on top of the world.

"Oh, he's loved it. He was so excited. He's loved it," said Sean's mom, Charlene Hearndon.

"And I'm going to tell you something about these wings. You don't just put them on. You earn them. And we're going to put them on there and make them stick," said Col. Valle, as he gave Sean his wings.

Sean was diagnosed with a form of bone cancer a year ago. Since then, he's received nine months of chemo therapy and had surgery to remove a tumor in his leg.

He's excited about starting the seventh grade at Bay Middle School.

©2009 WLOX. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.