The Make-A-Wish Foundation gives Evan Moriarty a day at Seymour Johnson AFB
By Turner Walston
Published in News on April 18, 2005 1:48 PM
Evan Moriarty's big wish came true Friday at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.
The 5-year-old boy, who suffers from cancer, got the red-carpet treatment at the base. His visit, sponsored by the Make-a-Wish Foundation, gave him a chance to be a fighter jet pilot for a day.
Evan was diagnosed last year with Wilms tumor, a type of kidney cancer. He had the tumor and a kidney removed, and has since undergone months of chemotherapy.
But on Friday, the cancer was an afterthought.
Dressed in a custom-made flight suit, Evan, and his mother and brothers, Matthew, 9, and Cullen, 12, toured the base, getting first-hand experience in pilot training. The family lives in Fayetteville. Evan's father, Maj. Sean Moriarty, a member of the 82nd Airborne, is deployed to Iraq.
Upon arriving at the headquarters of the 334th Fighter Squadron, Evan was greeted by balloons, signs welcoming "Big E," applauding airmen and Col. Mike Holmes, the commander of the 4th Fighter Wing.
Holmes presented Evan with the flight suit, jacket, helmet and autographed photo of actor Tom Cruise, who portrayed a fighter pilot in Evan's favorite movie, "Top Gun."
"Do you know who this is?" Holmes asked.
"Maverick!" the boy exclaimed, referring to Cruise's nickname in the movie.
Evan's mother, Shana Moriarty, said her youngest son was not yet two years old when he became enamored with the movie and Cruise's character. While his father was overseas, she said, he watched the movie over and over.
"After he had seen it once, we watched it three times a day, for infinity," she said. "He is just 100 percent fly-boy. I cannot imagine him growing up and being anything different."
On Friday, Evan WAS Maverick, going through the same practice that Seymour Johnson pilots go through in their training, including sessions in a cockpit simulator and parachute simulator and a chance to sit in the cockpit of a real F-15E Strike Eagle.
"Cooool," he said more than once as airmen showed him how to operate the controls.
Strapped in a harness and wearing virtual-reality goggles in the parachute simulator, Evan's jaw dropped as he approached the ground.
"Is it cool, Evan?" asked his brother, Matthew.
"Yeah. I'm not lettin' you see," Evan replied.
Later, Evan and his brothers then took turns sitting in a mock cockpit.
"Okay, Evan," said one of the instructors, "You push forward on the stick, the houses get bigger. Pull back on the stick, the houses get smaller. That's all you need to know."
From there, it was onto the hangar to see the real thing. An F-15E Strike Eagle, fully equipped for battle, was inscribed with the Moriarty brothers' names on the nose.
The airmen seemed to be having as much fun as Evan and his brothers. Airman 1st Class Natasha Sloan was one of the organizers of Evan's tour.
"We didn't actually think we'd see this day," she said. "We're proud because this base has really pulled together to make this happen. We're a family, and family helps family."
Members of the 916th Air Refueling Wing also had a chance to show the Moriartys around. They toured a KC-135 Stratotanker and got to sit in the pilot's and co-pilot's seats.
"Okay, we're coming to your side, Evan," Matthew said, turning the steering wheel toward his younger brother. Evan and Matthew made airplane noises, pretending to be in combat as an officer explained the aircraft controls.
In the simulator, the boys got a feel for what it would be like to fly a mission over Seymour Johnson. TV screens gave them the sensation that they were flying. Luckily, instead of crashing, the boys discovered that planes "bounce" in the simulator.
From there, the boys got a tour of the base fire department. They each received autographed helmets from the firemen, and a ride in the fire truck.
Next came the air traffic control tower.
"Yay! Now I'm the boss," Evan said as he took the center chair in the control room.
Wearing a controller's headset, Evan talked with airmen on the runway. "Can you hear me now?" he asked, "this is Evan Zero One."
"Go ahead, Big E," came the response from the ground.
"I have the Hooptie," Evan said, referring to the car made up to resemble an F-15E that was used to take the group around the base. "Are you there?"
"Roger, we're here. Treat the Hooptie good."
"I've got binoculars. You can't have them," he said.
With Evan in the tower, two Strike Eagles made special maneuvers above the runway. Just before landing, they pulled up and turned to the right before circling around the landing strip again.
The boys then got to see from a pilot's perspective, donning night vision goggles in a room with a model landscape. When the lights went out, the three boys were the only ones in the room that could see.
Later, the family watched a flag ceremony at the base's Airman Leadership School. After the flag was lowered and folded, it was presented to Evan.
The day concluded with refreshments and gifts. Evan and his brothers received hats, airplane models, badges and coins to remember the day.
Mrs. Moriarty said Evan is handling his illness well.
"To him, it's normal," she said. "He has never felt sorry for himself."
"He's kind of proud of his scar," she added. "He says 'Chicks dig scars,' so that's something the Top Gun guys taught him."
Mrs. Moriarty said Evan's prognosis is good. She said that he still has a check-up with an oncologist every three months but that if all goes well he could be diagnoses as cancer-free in five years.
Evan's brothers have been supportive of him since the first day they learned he was sick, Mrs. Moriarty said. "They understand that it's very serious, and they just want their little brother," she said. "They really adore him and pretty much will do anything for him, and he knows it so he takes advantage of it," she added with a smile.
"I'm just happy he's happy," Cullen said.
Airman 1st Class Clementine Cordero, a chaplain's assistant on base, initiated the contact with the Make-a-Wish Foundation that led to Evan's visit.
"The most amazing feeling," she said, "is here's a 5-year-old kid who wants to be a hero."
Richard Lambert of the base's Family Support Center spent much of the day with the family as well.
"Evan is probably the only kid in the history of this wing to have his name and brothers' name on an aircraft," he said. Lambert said that several actual missions will be flown with the boys' names on the plane. On May 13, Lambert said, the Moriartys will be special guests of the Air Force's aerial demonstration team, the Thunderbirds, for a show at Langley Air Force Base, Va.
Asked what it is about jets that he loves so much, Evan didn't mince words.
"Because they're cool," he said. "It's really cool up in the pilot's seat."
Mrs. Moriarty said that she, Evan and his brothers will never forget their day at Seymour Johnson.
"Words can't express how grateful I am," she said, "and how emotional it is to see total strangers take care of him."
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