38th Annual 8th Air Force Reunion

(Posted: October 10, 2012)

I have recently attended my 3rd 8th Air Force Reunion, October 3 – 7, 2012.  As in the past, it is an honor to be among heroes.  My only regret is that there is not time during the busy days to visit with every one of them to learn their story.  Many of them did graciously record their Oral History while in attendance.  There are so many stories that it can be overwhelming and impossible to listen to all.  All I can hope is that they all realize how much that we appreciate their sacrifice.  I’m adding a picture of the approximately 50 Veterans from our group of about 260 attendees.  How grand to be graced with the presence of so many!

Veterans of the 8th AF

My Father belonged to the 92nd Bomb Group; however, I have joined the 96th Bomb Group as well as the 92nd.  Following is a photo of the Veterans attending from the 96th Bomb Group:

96th Bomb Group  Veterans – October 5, 2012

I have to mention my experience in B-17 “Sentimental Journey.”  I didn’t plan to ride as I’ve ridden in the B-17s “Fuddy Duddy” and “Liberty Belle.”  I, however, could not pass up the opportunity.  It seemed that it was “meant to be”, to ride in a bomber named so fittingly.  I remember years ago, when my Dad was still alive and we were listening to music from the WWII era, he mentioned ”when I die, I’d like this song played at my funeral.”  The song that was playing was “Sentimental Journey.”  Dad died so suddenly;  we were all in shock.  In the haze of his passing, I never remembered this wish until I was writing my book and it hit me like a ton of bricks!  How could I forget such an important request!  I’ve always regretted this oversight but in my own defense, planning my Father’s funeral was something I never chose to think about.  I never thought of him not being here.  Consequently, I knew this ride would be something special for me!  It could not have been more meaningful for more reasons than one!  Dad had flown 4 missions but only received credit for 3 because the first was recalled due to bad weather over the target.  This was my 3rd ride so you can see why it was significant to me in more ways than one.

It was also wonderful to fly as a “crew” with people whom I have become acquainted with through the 8th Air Force Reunions.  The only way it could have been better is if I was with Dad.  It is a daughter’s dream!  But the next best thing was to witness the Toombs family riding with their Dad.  I could feel their emotions along with the sentimental feelings that overcame Laura Edge and me as we sat in the waist area of the bomber.  Laura’s Dad had flown missions as Waist Gunner and I was seated very near Dad’s position, the Ball Turret.  I thought of him in that confined space beneath the plane.  I could imagine him climbing into his position, without his parachute due to the cramped quarters.  He depended on the waist gunners to manually crank the turret should they lose power.  It was a most memorable flight with an unforgettable crew!  Following is a photo of Laura and me with our photos of our Dads in our books which rode with us on this memorable flight!  I am certain that our Fathers were with us in spirit on our “Sentimental Journey” as we remembered and revisited their past.

Laura’s excellent book “On The Wings of Dawn” was just recently published in August!

I participated in every tour that was available.  I had never been to San Antonio and didn’t know if I would ever return so I wanted to take in as much of the sightseeing as I could.  Anyone who I told that I was visiting there mentioned the Riverwalk and the Alamo.  They were two of the must sees.  We also visited the Buckhorn Museum.  That is an amazing place and appropriately named.  I never saw so many antlers.  I took a million pictures to try to capture everything but it is impossible.  There are so many different animals on display.  I think my favorite picture is of my friend, Merton Thurston, standing among the “Texas Rangers.”  I love it!  He looks like he fits right in, doesn’t he!!

Merton Thurston with “Texas Rangers”

Another highlight of the reunion was the opportunity to attend a Basic Training Graduation ceremony at Lackland Air Force Base.   What memories this had to stir in our Veterans who began their service in the same way so many years ago.  I thought of how proud the families and friends of these young men and women must be.  I felt a great sense of pride in them, as well as those on whose shoulders they stand!  As always, I think of my Father at that age and how he went through gunnery and technical school training.  I know he would have excelled.  I’m sure during those days that the families didn’t make it to their graduations.  They were prepared so quickly to move on to the positions that they were called to fill.  In those days, I assume that it was impossible for most to travel to attend the graduation ceremonies of their loved ones.  I guess I’m basing that on my Dad’s family, who anxiously awaited word of where their son and brother was and at what stage of training he reached realizing full well that soon he would be sent abroad.  The families could, however, talk proudly of their loved ones when the community read the notice of their graduation in their local newspaper!  I know I’ve mentioned this before but it is a fitting time to interject once again how Dad graduated with the highest average in his flight of 95 per cent!  That was no surprise to me knowing my Father!

Lackland Air Force Base Graduation Ceremony

Our featured speaker on Thursday evening  was a person who I greatly admire, George Ciampa.  The role he played during WWII was different than that of any of the Veterans who I’ve been fortunate enough to talk with along the way.   It was an honor for me to finally meet George.  I became acquainted with him when I read an article about his dedication to educating the younger generations concerning critical events in WWII and responded.  The article was in the American Legion magazine.  He has produced 3 enlightening and stirring DVDs that can be found on his web site “Let Freedom Ring For All.  http://www.letfreedomringforall.org/.  George poignantly spoke about the recent documentary, his 4th,  that he has been immersed in which should be completed in January.  His current endeavor addresses another facet of the War that many may not be aware of.  He just recently returned from Belgium where he interviewed individuals who have adopted and care for the graves of the many “liberators” who lost their lives during WWII.  It is amazing the respect and care that is exhibited in the steadfast upkeep of the graves of the lost heroes.  The documentaries that George has relentlessly made his mission to produce are excellent tools in educating our school children about the price of freedom; something that should never be forgotten.

George is an incredibly unselfish veteran having served with the 607th Graves Registration Company.  He has experienced firsthand the high cost of freedom.  He explained that thousands of fallen soldiers who are buried at Omaha Beach were first buried in temporary cemeteries by his company.  It is difficult to imagine this young man and the memories that would linger from the duties that his assignment entailed; all of the faces that he would never forget.  I’m sure this is why George has devoted so much of his life to keeping the memory alive.  As he emotionally stated in his talk, every one of those white crosses in the cemeteries represents a young man’s face; a young man who gave his life for our liberty.

Thank you, George Ciampa, for your service and your caring efforts then and now!

George Ciampa and Donald Casey (Author of “To Fight for my Country, Sir”)

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