8th Air Force Historical Society Reunion-October 2011

A little background. . .
 
I attended my first 8th Air Force Historical Society Reunion 2 years ago in Cincinnati, Ohio.  It is an event that I will never forget.  I met a group of people who I adopted as my Bomb Group because I was the only one in attendance from my Father’s Bomb Group, the 92nd.  The 92nd holds their own reunions separately and it’s never worked out that I could attend.   I didn’t realize it at the time that the group would not also attend the 8th AFHS reunion.  So I walked the halls when I arrived there in 2009 hoping to see someone that I might possibly know.  If I would have thought about it, that was a long shot. I did know that Jim Morrin (editor of my book) would soon be arriving so there’d be someone that I knew.  When I glanced inside this particular room I could not help but notice the array of snacks that were laid out along with the beverages that were being enjoyed.

I love my Father’s Bomb Group, the 92nd, but for brief moments when wandering by this room with the “96th Hospitality Room” sign, I wished that it had been my Dad’s group just so I could join them.  After my umpteenth time of trolling the halls and noticing the laughter and friendly conversations that were filtering out into the halls, I didn’t have to wish any longer. I was beckoned into the 96th Hospitality Room, the source of the sounds that were attracting me, by a lovely lady who saw me every time I walked by; Nancy Meshko. It was a little embarrassing to say the least.  I didn’t know they saw me. By the time the reunion ended, not only did I join them for conversation and refreshments, I paid my dues to join the 96th Bomb Group.  So I now belong to 2 BGs – my Dad’s, the 92nd, and my 96th.

Last year I attended the 96th reunion in Charleston, SC, along with my daughter, Lindsay.  It was at this reunion in 2010 that the group decided to join in the 8th AFHS reunions as they had in the previous year in Cincinnati rather than meeting separately.  This led up to my attending the 8th AFHS reunion last month that was held in St. Louis, Missouri.

I can’t explain how much I looked forward to seeing my 8th AF Friends.  It is the most wonderful environment that you can imagine with so many interesting stories shared by my heroes.  The time goes so fast and it always makes me wish that I could be more than one place at a time.  There’s a number of hospitality rooms set up and I wish that I could spend time in every one of them listening to the stories.  There’s nothing like it – hearing the stories from those who lived them.  It’s both interesting and enlightening.

Now that I’ve given a little background, I am up to this year’s 8th Air Force Historical Society reunion in St. Louis, Missouri, and hope that I can do it justice in telling about how fortunate that I felt and how great that it was to be there. . . . . . 

I arrived on October 13th, Thursday, and when I think back I wish I would have arrived on Monday instead to have a few more days with these people who I love to surround myself with.  I no longer have my Father to attend these reunions with.  It was never anything that he ever did when he was alive but I bet if I’d have had the interest and wanted us to go, he would have gone.  It’s a heartwarming feeling to see sons, daughters, and grandchildren with their Dads and Grandpas.  I’d like to think that  I could have talked him into it and we would have enjoyed it so much together

Laura Edge and I had corresponded previously and our flights were going to arrive in St. Louis about the same time on Thursday so we planned to meet at the airport.  I met Laura 2 years ago at my first reunion and again in 2010 at the 96th gathering.   Two of Laura’s Dad’s crew members were buried at Jefferson Barracks and she wanted to rent a car to pay respects to them at their final resting place.  It was only about 30 miles from the airport.   Laura has written a book about her Father in WWII and it is currently in the editing process.  I certainly understood her interest and desire to visit these graves and I was anxious to share the experience with her.  We are kindred spirits and two years ago at the reunion I had written my book and it, too, was in the editing stage at the time I met her.  As a matter of fact, Jim Morrin, my editor, and I met at the reunion and discussed the finishing touches on the book.  It was there that the cover of my book was borne as well.  I have to tell about that in a separate post. ( Jim’s Father was a B-17 pilot in the 303rd Bomb Group.) 

Now getting back to Laura and my arrival at the airport.  Things went rather smoothly.  Laura rented a car for the day and we were off to Jefferson Barracks.  What a beautiful cemetery with row after row of uniform monuments marking the graves of Civil War, WWI, WWII, and KoreanWar soldiers who had been killed in War.  It was heartwarming to think that they are remembered for their sacrifice and it was also very sobering realizing the great numbers who lost their lives in battle – so many young men and women.  Some of the markers were mounted flat in the ground as a common grave with many names of the deceased inscribed.   I took pictures of the monument containing Laura’s Dad’s deceased crew members as well as other photos of the serene area.  The fallen heroes of Laura’s Dad’s crew are  Samuel R. Detwiler, Jr., 2d Lt. and Walter Slemensky, 2nd Lt.  We could not help but notice the number of stones with “Air Corps” inscribed.  You will notice the number “216″ on the stone.  All of those buried at Jefferson Barracks could be located by the area number and their marker number within the lot.

 Laura has never been able to locate their family members.  It would be a wonderful feeling if by mentioning these brave men’s names on my web site, that their family’s would be located.  Laura has dedicated countless hours in her mission; writing her Father’s story.

This was a very fitting way to begin the day.  We dropped our things off at the hotel, the Sheraton Westport Lakeside Chalet, and returned the car.  I might mention that Laura had brought printed driving directions and I was the navigator and, without bragging, I think our expedition went rather well.

We returned to the hotel to register and obtain our information and tickets to various events and meals for the remainder of the reunion. We entered the 96th Bomb Group hospitality room and reunited with some of our old friends; Merton Thurston, Dale Budde, Glenn Harrison, Rebecca and Jerry Lutz, George and Nancy Meshko, Joe and Joan Garber, Marbury and Carolyn Councell, Bill and Dorothy Thorns and Mike McIlraith to name a few.  After spending a little time rekindling our friendships, we went to get ready for dinner.   Our first dinner was Thursday evening with folks from all of the bomb groups.   We enjoyed a buffet dinner.  I chose salmon for my main course and it was delicious.  Everything was good including the lemony cake dessert.  And there was fine entertainment to boot (or maybe I should say “to tap”)!  It was the St. Louis Strutters!  They tap danced the night away in their beautiful costumes, full of energy and with their smiling faces, changing costumes several times.  It topped the evening off just great!!  These ladies are well known dancers and what I thought was so great about them is in order to be a “Strutter” you have to be 50 years of age.  These ladies ranged in age from 50 to 80.  They were magnificent!!  They certainly paid tribute to our veterans throughout their performance.   I was able to talk Joe Garber into having his photo taken with one of the lovely “strutters.”  It didn’t take much coercing that’s for sure!!  I think if he’d have had the opportunity he would have danced with them in a couple of their numbers.  I have to say after watching them shuffle, hop and scuff, I am a “strutter” at heart!

After the dinner and entertainment we returned to the Hospitality Room to visit a little and listen to some “war stories.”  There were going to be individual Bomb Group meetings early Friday morning so we would have to pick up where we left off when we had the chance Friday and Saturday.  The meetings were scheduled for 9AM and I had also signed up for the “Paddlewheeler Cruise” on Gateway Riverboat’s Tom Sawyer due to depart by bus at 10:45AM.   I have to admit I was a little tired from my 6AM flight and having to leave home at 3AM but I didn’t want to miss anything. 

Friday morning I attended the 96th BG meeting and I found it enlightening and interesting.  At the meeting it was voted to add Rebecca Lutz to the Board.  She’s been very involved in the group and will be a productive addition to the board.  Dale Budde thought that it would be a great idea if members of the 96th who live near each other would get together perhaps monthly so that the group is active year round.  He also mentioned that it would be most appropriate if the 96th, the group with the largest number of reunion attendees, could have representation on the 8th Air Force Historical Society Board.  There was an opening that had been mentioned in the latest newsletter.  Everyone was advised to attend the General Membership meeting that would be held Saturday morning.  At that time our 96th member, Joe Garber, would be nominated to fill the vacancy.  The ideal situation would be if the party who was running other than Joe would remain on the board and Joe would be added.  It would make for a well-rounded group.  It was a meeting to look forward to and we had our fingers crossed.

After the 96th meeting and before we boarded the bus for the lunch cruise I asked Joe Garber if I could tape him when I returned from the cruise and he said he’d be happy to tell his story.  He talks to students regularly about his wartime experience and I wanted to tape his talk.  I didn’t feel that I needed to ask questions.  I wanted to hear his presentation, more importantly to learn his experience.  Joe was a POW held in Stalag Luft IV and Stalag Luft I so his recollections of that time are of great interest to me.  So that was the plan and I looked forward to returning from the cruise for this welcome opportunity.

How fortunate that we were in the weather for the day, and for all week for that matter.  It was a little windy on the boat, the “Tom Sawyer,”  but if you stayed in the sun it was comfortable.  It was a pleasant cruise and the best photo ops were when we passed the arch.  Three of us ladies traveled with Merton Thurston.  Merton was a radio operator and I believe he flew in a B-24.  He completed 30 missions during the War!!  What an accomplishment!  It was an honor to travel with him.  We: Jeannette Batton, Laura Edge and I referred to ourselves as his “harem” and we were proud members.

 

Everyone had the opportunity to have their photo taken whether they would want the picture or not and we chose to have our picture taken together.  We all ended up with a copy as a remembrance of the fine excursion that we shared.  And we also took our own pictures just in case we didn’t wish to purchase the other.  The Gateway Arch made for a grand photo and I probably took more pictures than were necessary.  I heard some folks say that they had been all the way to the top inside the arch.  There wasn’t time for that and I can only imagine the view of the City from that height.  Maybe next time.  The time on the bus was not wasted time because it gave you an opportunity to visit with whoever you shared the seat with. 

Merton, Jeannette, Laura & Candy

Marbury and Carolyn Councell (Carolyn sketched the cover of my book)

Lorene and Harry Tanner

The Gateway Arch

When we returned to the Hotel I went immediately to the 96th hospitality room to seek out Joe Garber to make arrangements to meet him and wife, Joan, so that I could tape him.  We tried to find a quiet place and ended up downstairs where there had been something going on with tables set up but it was obviously over as there was no one around.  It was a large open area and we thought it should suffice.  I just told Joe to pretend I’m one of the students that he gives his talks to.  I didn’t want to interrupt with questions to make him lose his train of thought and I thought, too, that it would be smoother to just let him tell his story.  It was fine when I commenced taping but there was background noise when the hotel workers began vacuuming and taking down the tables that were set up.  It was unavoidable and we did move into the dining area, which wasn’t being used.  That was  I okay for a while but then they began setting the tables for dinner.  Well, we did the best we could and I look forward to trying to edit the video to try to eliminate some of the areas where we were disrupted.  I should have thought it out better and found a quieter place ahead of time.  Oh well, next time!

Friday evening there were separate dinners for the bomb groups and we were served “chicken capri” that was pretty tasty.  It was fun to visit with everyone.  We had the pleasure of Mike McIlraith’s wife, Terri, joining us.  This was her first reunion. Mike was at the 2 reunions that I participated in prior to St. Louis and I believe that Terri is now as hooked as we are in attending these reunions.  She’s as attached as we are to these fine individuals.  

Mike & Terry McIlraith

Dale Budde

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 There were a lot of pictures taken.  The group of 96th veterans posed so that everyone could get their desired number of  photos.  And families posed with their Dads and Grandfathers.  Bill and Dorothy Thorns had four generations in attendance!  The veterans are the stars and being among them is better than any movie star or sports figure that I can imagine being with. 

96th Bomb Group Veterans

Thorns Family - Four Generations!

Only One Unhappy Attendee

 

After dinner and photos we gathered once again in the 96th hospitality room and exchanged pictures and information.  It’s so interesting to learn about everyone or everyone’s Dad.  I try to absorb everything but it’s overwhelming.  I always want to know everyone’s story.  It was another enlightening evening.

Saturday morning was the 8th AFHS General Meeting at 9AM and we were to leave at ll:30AM for the St. Charles Historic tour.  The meeting was important because hopefully we would be able to add Joe Garber to the Board.  Dale Budde nominated him and explained that they did not want to displace the member who was running for another term, but ideally to add Joe.  Joe took the floor and gave his bio.  After comments and discussion from attendees and the board, it was decided that it could be done.  Donald Casey, another WWII Veteran, offered his legal services as well.  These additions appear to me that they will definitely enhance the 8th AFHS.  A $10.00 dues increase as a way to offset any deficit was also discussed.  I don’t think that anyone will mind an increase.  The Newsletter that is issued quarterly is amazing and full of great information. 

After the meeting we gathererd to board the bus for the St. Charles Historic Tour.  Once again, Merton, Jeannette, Laura and I traveled together.  We ate lunch at “My Mother-In-Law’s” and it was a great choice.  Their soup and salad was the best.  No, the coconut cream pie was the best!  We walked around in many of the shops and before we returned to the bus, we stopped for ice cream just because we heard how delicious that it was and they were right!

Back at the Hotel, I went to the hospitality room and found that George Meshko, Manny Manniello and Bill Thorns were sharing stories with an attentive audience.  I was sorry that I was missing it.  I went to my room and brought my camera and videotaped the end of their recollections.  It’s so hard to be everywhere!

Everyone went to their rooms to prepare for our last dinner, the “Gala Dinner.”  It would be our last evening together and Laura and I had been invited to sit at the 8th AFHS President, Harry Tanner, and his wife, Lorene’s, table.  It was an honor and added to a memorable evening!  We were entertained by a choral group who sang many songs from the WWII era.  They ended with a lengthy version of the Star Spangled Banner and announced that because of it’s length that it would not be necessary to stand and it would not be disrespectful.  Everyone stood.

And then the approximately 70 8th AF Veterans combined for a group photo.  I didn’t have a wide-angle lens so I had to take the photo in halves.

 

What a group they are and how fortunate for me to be among them!  The cameras were flashing for several minutes and then the group disbanded to their respective rooms. 

I obtained two books this year and a DVD.  Joe and Shirley Reus attended the reunion;  Joe and Shirley participated in 2 of the tours that I took when retracing my Father’s WWII experience; in 2005 and 2006.  It was great to see them again.  I had sent Joe my book and when I saw him, he had a signed copy of his book for me.  Donald E. Casey had his book for sale “To Fight For My Country, Sir!”  I had a copy of my book with me and he suggested that we trade.  It was good fortune for me to obtain a signed copy of Donald’s memoirs.  He explains in great detail his responsibilities and experiences as a B-17 Navigator in WWII.   Joe Reus tells of his experience in being shot down and his role as a POW in Stalag Luft I in his book “Kriegsgefangener; War Prisoner.”  In what I have read so far, I am finding them both informational and great additions to my library. 

 There is nothing better than hearing or reading the stories from the men who lived them.  That’s why these reunions are so great!!  It’s always sad to say good-by to my friends that I only see once a year. 

Our last hugs were exchanged and we bid one another farewell until the next time.  I was able to get a few more last minute photos with my friends.  We parted with the hopes that we would meet again in San Antonio in 2012.

Nancy Meshko & Candy

Candy & George Meshko

 

 

Rebeccca Lutz & Candy

 

Candy, Terri & Mike McIlraith

"Snetterton Falcons"