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of the century
by Colin D. Heaton
Fifty-four years after the guns fell silent, the last Luftwaffe
reunion of the last century was held at Geisenheim, Germany. The
bi-annual gathering of the Gemeinschaft der Jagdflieger (Community
of Fighter Pilots) was joined by the American Fighter Pilots Association,
members of the modern German Luftwaffe and official contingents
from Italy, Belgium, Russia, Czech Republic, Canada, South Africa,
the United Kingdom and France.
politics and past grievances were set aside. Only comradeship and
goodwill was felt among the members as old friends met and established
The first day of the Treffen (meeting) guests enjoyed a semi-formal
dinner. The second day there was a guided tour of Geisenheim's historic
sites including the Jagdflieger Denkmal (Fighter Pilots Monument)
dedicated to those fallen in war and peace. A ceremony included
reading names of those who died since the previous Treffen. As the
reading began, the sky clouded over and the wind billowed flags
mounted at the base of the monument as if saluting the deceased.
Wreaths of honor were laid in solemn tribute. A wine reception at
the Rathaus (town hall) was hosted by the Burgermeister (Mayor).
The second evening's formal festivities included some four hundred
persons. Traditional offerings of friendship and speeches of mutual
respect were made.
A special award was presented to Hauptmann (Captain) Stefan Strittner,
a young Tornado photo reconnaissance pilot, who recently flew dangerous
low level intelligence gathering missions over parts of the former
Yugoslavia and Balkans, Bosnia, Serbia and Kosovo. These missions
gathered critical data necessary to ensure the safety of other air
crews entering potentially hostile skies. One of Strittner's most
important results was evidence of the mass exodus and purge of ethnic
Albanians, corroborative information supporting and justifying NATO's
position to the world.
an example of the new generation of Luftwaffe pilots, met the first
time with his forefathers; pilots who, six decades earlier, laid
the groundwork for the future of aviation and aerial combat. When
asked if he would like to meet some of the famous World War II veterans,
Strittner said, "Do you think they would mind? They are important
men, and I don't want to bother them."
There was lots of opportunity for pilots and historians to share
information for research and casual discussions of mutual interest.
Perhaps the most poignant moment was when former enemies, American,
British, South African, Belgian and German, now old and grey, met,
some for the first time. They compared combat accounts and remembered
that as young men they tried their best to eliminate each other.
It is witnessing this singular event that makes reunions unforgettable.
Colin D. Heaton, a PhD Candidate at the University of Strathclyde-Glasgow,
Scotland, is from Wilmington, North Carolina. He has written two
books and is a regular contributor to World War II and
Military History magazines both published by Primedia Enthusiast
Publications History Group.
Thunderbolt's Pilots Association
by Jim Gustafson
The Jug, nicknamed for its milk bottle appearance, had more victories
than any other fighter - its war record was never equaled. WWII
Air Force combat data lists awesome achievements. Unlike most modern
fighters, the P-47 was a single seater. One pilot did it all - flew
the plane, operated the radio, fired the guns, released the rockets,
navigated and bombarded. From such responsibility came great pride.
Despite the aircraft's forbidding size, it was a real pilot's airplane;
honest, stable and a pleasure to fly. Nearly all the leading aces
flew the P-47 and many were aces many times over the five air-combat
victories needed to qualify for the title. The P-47, the only US
fighter with an air-cooled engine, was able to absorb enormous battle
damage, still fly and bring pilots back alive. Thunderbolt pilots
loved the Jug for its sheer survivability.
May 2, 1961, the Jug's manufacturer, Republic Aviation Corporation,
convened a reunion of 873 Thunderbolt pilots to celebrate the 20th
anniversary of the plane's first flight. The following year Jug
alumni chartered the P-47 Thunderbolt Pilots Association to further
camaraderie and perpetuate the memory of the plane. The Association
represents a love affair between an airplane and the men and women
who flew it. Some Women's Aviation Service Pilots WASPs
flew the Jug both overseas and stateside.
cannot explain how the pride felt by boys in their late teens and
early 20s can still be felt by men in their 70s. Out of this feeling
the P-47 Association was born and grows in defiance of the grim
reaper calling many past members home.
P-47 did not lend itself to peacetime, it gulped fuel and was phased
out by 1956. No cheap plaything - just six Thunderbolts still fly.
Association is augmented by an auxiliary, the P-47 Advocates. While
Advocates have not flown the plane in battle, their considerable
support includes research, model building and data collection. As
Association members age and die, the Advocates continue to perpetuate
and venerate the memory of the P-47.
P-47 Thunderbolt Pilots Association, Ltd., c/o The Wings Club, 52
Vanderbilt Avenue, New York NY 10017. Their 1998 reunion will be
in Dallas, Texas.
Wing celebrates fine tradition
by Boyd L. McLean, SMSgt, USAF retired
The 464th Wing was activated by Tactical Air Command in February
1953 and sent as airlift support to Air Force and Army units in
operations from the Carolinas to Southeast Asia. In 1957 the base
and wing were reassigned to Tactical Air Command's Ninth Air Force.
The primary mission aircraft C-123 and C-130E proved their capabilities
during the Vietnam era.
first 464th Wing Reunion as in 1996 but small groups were meeting
periodically throughout the US. Charles B. West, Colonel, USAF retired,
was instrumental in the 'first' C-123 reunion held in Fayetteville,
North Carolina. Clarence B. Slaughter, Jr., former 464th Wing Commander,
Billy C. Mullinax, SMSgt USAF retired and I met annually in Biloxi,
Mississippi, for informal 'staff meetings.' Charles West and Joe
Stilwell met weekly in Fayetteville and we joined hands and went
to work. For most reunion members attending from out-of-state it
had been twenty- to twenty-five years since their departure. Membership
voted to hold reunions in Fayetteville every two years so that old
reunion members could come back home and reminisce. A large number
of our 464th Wing personnel retired or were discharged in the Fayetteville
330 formal members total military service exceeds 6,900 years with
five years average time served with the 464th at Pope Air Force
Base, North Carolina. The average age of our reunion members is
seventy years young.
favorite of reunion members is the "Reunion Brochure," containing addresses of all known members, old photos from their
career at Pope and other memorabilia. A special treat for our 1999
Reunion Brochure will be profiles of members in their second or
third careers. One of the most interesting and unusual is the career
of Jerald O'Brien, a former C-123 pilot with the 464th Wing between
1961-64. His second career was with Delta (Western) Airlines and
his third as owner and winemaker of Silver Mountain Vineyards, Santa
Cruz Mountains, California.
year's reunion will be the "really big one." There will
be a tour of Pope AFB, with a visit to the flight line where reunion
members can enter the cockpit of their favorite aircraft. A golf
tournament at Pope AFB Willow Lakes follows, with local dignitaries
participating. Door prizes are awarded to those traveling farthest,
and the youngest and oldest members present. A wide range of "table
topics" about the good old days will be exchanged. We look
forward to renewing old acquaintances, enjoying the 464th camaraderie
we are blessed with and swapping tales of what we did and what we
have been doing. On Sunday our "Farewell Breakfast" will
bid goodbye until the 464th Wing Reunion in April 2001. There is
something special about a military reunion. There is nothing like
Boyd L McLean, SMSgt, USAF Retired, served as Administrative
Assistant to three 464th Wing Commanders. After his retirement from
the USAF he was selected Magistrate, 12th Judicial District, Cumberland
County, Fayetteville, North Carolina, and later served in Gaffney,
South Carolina, as Cherokee County Veterans Affairs Officer. He
retired in 1992 and serves as Secretary, Treasurer and reunion coordinator
for the 464th Wing Reunion.