As your AMS for our recent mission — PWG Reunion 2008 and 60528 Memorial Services at NVP — I apologize for the lateness of this post mission flight report. Your AMS has slowed down a step or two over the years, but believe me, it is wonderful to be healthy enough again to partake in reunion activities. The difference between my "appearance" at last year's reunion in Destin and my participation in this year's activities in MD is more dramatic than night and day -- if that is possible. Thanks to hyperbaric oxygen therapy that most likely saved my life, this year was more like the good ole daze, and I loved it. Now, where to start!!!!
1. Thank You's -- I thank all of you who pitched in to make this one of our most memorable and successful reunions. I especially thank Jon and Shelia Gwinn for the enormously popular and successful banquet. We also owe Jon, Shelia and Larry Prall a debt of gratitude for 'bailing us out' and obtaining the necessary liquor license for our hospitality suite after the committed volunteer to process the license paperwork defaulted late in the game without even the courtesy of informing us that he was bowing out. ‘Nuff said on that topic. And let us not forget to thank Jon & Shelia, Dave & Shirley Bristol, Larry Lane, Skip DeRousse, Dick & Linda Hahn and Bob & Carole Lambert for assisting with the purchase, hauling, stocking and keeping the hospitality suite functioning. Likewise, the efforts of others to clean up & keep the suite habitable is not forgotten -- THANKS to all of you who assisted!!!!!
2. Beverages ("Imbibables" and Other Potables) -- Imbibing attendees appear to have developed a more sophisticated taste for beer--or perhaps the difference lies in the loss of reunion stalwarts such as the late BIG JOHN DEAVER who was happy as a pig in slop with a plain ole Budweiser. Well, this year, we purchased 30 cases (primarily 24-bottles each, but some 36 and some 12-pack units) of PIVO (Russian for beer)--only a single case of Bud, plus one case each of Bud Lite & Coors Lite. The other 27 cases were all good "premium" stuff, and practically none of the Bud or the two light beers were consumed. Most of the nine 3-to-5 liter boxed wines were also drank, and bottled water, apple and orange juice, wine coolers, colas (regular & diet) were also popular. And let us not forget the combat (3 liter) jug of German Dujardin "cognac" that I had been saving for a special occasion. Given to me at Rhein-Main as a Christmas gift in 1967, I had been safeguarding that bottle for a special occasion. We popped the cork on the Dujardin after the banquet Sunday night & I was concerned that the bottle's cork stopper may have permitted air contamination that might spoil the 41-year-old brandy. But alas, as Safety Sam Craver and others will attest, the Dujardin passed everyone's taste tests -- SMOOTHE and PALATABLE! The brandy was especially revered by several former 6916th Rhein-Main, Germany pioneers. (Hopefully, the statute of limitations has expired on the undeclared importation of that combat jug in my military household goods shipments several times --the bottle shipped in its own padlocked "packed by owner" military issue footlocker.) And not to be outdone, several PWGers showed up with their Tanqueray, Stolichnaya, Bushmill and other favorite hard stuff that they readily shared.
When we emptied out the last two ice chests about 10PM Tuesday night, most of the consumables (except the Bud and the Lights) had 'evaporated.' I believe I'm safe in saying that a good time was had by all!
3. PWG Banquet/31 August -- As mentioned earlier, our PWG reunion on Sunday night was a resounding success. Give or take a couple, 150 of us stormed the banquet hall just after 600PM when the cash bar opened. For banquet buffet food, the chicken breast and pork loin buffet was 5-star quality and plentiful. Our youngest PWG attendee (58-year old Tom "Tadpole" Feerick) felt indeed honored to be provided the "DAVID BLAZEL" beer mug to use throughout the reunion. (Revered by all PWGers as the best of the best, Dave "the Blazer" Blazel passed away in 1990, and his German inscribed bier mug appeared for sale on eBay three years ago. The PWG promptly purchased the mug as a keepsake, acquired a custom-made wooden traveling case, and Lonnie Henderson escorts the mug to our annual reunions for use by the youngest attending PWG member -- a new tradition for the PWG). Lonnie also awards one of his prized custom-made wooden bowls to the eldest attending PWG member at each reunion. Bob Finch (76) captured this year's coveted PWG "Elder" bowl. This seems an appropriate point to express all attendees' regrets that our PWG elder spokesman, retired Chief Thomas H Tennant (THT to his friends) and his lovely bride of some 54 years (Margaret) deemed it best to cancel their reunion plans a few weeks ago. Had they joined us, THT would have edged out Bob Finch for that Elder bowl. Tom and Margaret, we all missed you dearly, but had you there in spirit.
4. Guest Speaker -- To a person, the decision is no doubt that the Prop Wash Gang could not have had a better or more well-received guest speaker than retired USAF Lt General James R. Clapper Jr, who is currently Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence. A mustang officer, he began his military career as a USMC Reserve EM. Having spent a large number of his 33 years on active duty in USAFSS and ESC, including a tour as commander of Det 3, 6994th Security Squadron at NKP, Thailand, Gen. Clapper felt right at home at our PWG banquet. It is not my intent to steal the general's thunder, but I will share one of his anecdotes.
During his one-year stint as the Det 3, 6994th CC, he wanted to contribute operationally by participating in the unit's airborne missions aboard WW II-vintage EC-47 aircraft . However due to crew size and make-up limitations, the only way he could fly on the Gooney Bird missions was to replace one of the USAFSS crew members -- namely an airborne traffic analyst (A202 AFSC). So, Gen. Clapper studied up on the A202 job, received the unit's standard on-the-job training and felt that he was ready for upgrade to a fully qualified A202 airborne analyst. His best qualified analyst (a sharp A202 SSgt) was the unit's Stan/Eval member for their A202 flyers, and the general stressed to his A202 Stan/Eval guy that he wanted no special treatment. True to Stan/Eval SSgt's professional integrity, when he stand-boarded the general for upgrade to fully qualified airborne analyst, the Stan/Eval NCO flunked the general, resulting in Gen. Clapper going into remedial training and additional study of operating procedures. Alas, on his second Stan/Eval check-ride, his SSgt evaluator certified him as qualified, and Gen. Clapper logged 73 combat missions during his year tour as the Det 3 commander. His iteration of this story struck a cord with us old airborne warriors -- the banquet hall roared with laughter and applause! As an aside, I first met Gen. Clapper when as a 2nd Lt, he and his new bride arrived in San Antonio for his assignment with the Air Force Spec Comm Center in 1964.
5 Distinguished Guests -- We were honored to have members of two families of lost 60528 crew members join us in our hospitality suite. Several of A2C HAROLD KAMPS twelve siblings and some of their spouses (siblings Ray, Harvey, Jerry, Ruth and Rita come to mind) spent considerable time with us, chatting with Lincoln Gilbert and others who knew and flew with brother Harold before the tragic shoot-down of 60528. Lisa Gorby Reid (daughter of deceased 6916th veteran Bob Gorby) and husband Cliff also joined us at the Holiday Inn for the entire reunion. Striving to learn as much as possible about her father who passed away at a young 52-years old without telling his family what he did in the Air Force (sound familiar???), Lisa has pretty much adopted the PWG as her extended family, and we welcomed her with open arms. Finally, the son and grandson of ill-fated 60528 co-pilot John Simpson (John II and John III) joined us in our hospitality suite on Monday night. Having enlisted in the Air Force after being impressed with the C-130 60528 memorial dedication on 2 Sept 1997, John Simpson III is now poster-sharp TSgt, an airborne cryptologic linguist flying as a DSO (direct support operator) aboard AC-130 gunships and other special ops aircraft with the AF Special Operations Command. His father, John II, had been a maintenance technician with the 6944th at Omaha during the 1970s, and they brought 3-4 year old John Simpson IV to the memorial service on Tuesday, 2 Sept.
6. Memorial Service, 2 Sept 2008 -- Our four-day PWG reunion culminated with its most important event--the C-130 60528 memorial service at 900AM, 2 September 2008. This being a special ceremony on the 50th anniversary of the shoot-down of 60528, the National Security Agency hosted the service, whereas annual services are an Air Force 70th Intel Wing responsibility. Less elaborate than the memorial dedication in 1997, but nonetheless a truly solemn event, Deputy Director of the NSA, Chris Inglis, hosted the ceremony on a podium set up in front of our memorial C-130 60528 aircraft in National Vigilance Park. Family members sat in reserved seats directly in front of the podium with most of our 150-strong PWG contingent occupying bleacher seating to the left of the podium. A few non-PWG local patriots also came to pay their respects to the lost crew, and an active duty squadron of the 70th Intel Wing honored the crew in formation under the right wing of memorial 60528. In their own way, each attendee silently honored those seventeen heroes, thanking them for giving their lives in the defense of freedom. Few, if any dry eyes prevailed at the conclusion of the ceremony.
Using "facts" prepared by others, Mr. Inglis and the other speakers acknowledged the Prop Wash Gang by name, but as in past years, they (the speakers) identified the entire crew as being assigned to the 7406th Support Squadron. No one at the NSA or within the 70th Intel Wing at Ft Meade seems to be capable of comprehending that the eleven intelligence-gathering members of 60528's crew were assigned to Detachment One, 6911th Radio Group Mobile, a USAF Security Service unit. On multiple occasions -- after memorial services in earlier years -- I have personally submitted corrections to the 70th Intel Wing in writing so that this egregious oversight would be eliminated in future memorial services. However, bureaucracy continues to win out over common sense. Regardless of this continuing slight to Air Force Security Service, the memorial service was a resounding success. We honored our seventeen departed heroes. Mission accomplished!
7. New 50th Anniversary T-shirt -- This PMFR would be incomplete without a few words about our new 50th anniversary t-shirt that was designed by recently retired Air Force Chief Steven Staycoff. Dedicated to our 17 lost crew members with a C-130 60528 angel motif, Steve's design was a sell-out success at the reunion, and several expressed interest in purchasing a shirt if I place a new order with the vendor. Unfortunately, our travel schedule (away from home for the last half of September and departure for Florida weeks later) precludes my handling orders.at this time. If there is sufficient interest in the spring, I'll place an order. Sorry, but I seemed to have more uncommitted time when I routinely put in 60 to 70 hours weekly at a full-time job than I now have in retirement! But I was not snow-birding in Florida during those working years. Priorities, Priorities!!!!!
We'll see y'all at the next PWG reunion.