AAA reunion 9/19/06 pub. 9/20/06
Student pilots and instructors Return home
By Lorraine Heiser
Editor Delta News-Citizen
They came to Malden over 40 years ago as young men, eager to soar the skies, and others came as serious-minded instructors, whose job it was to get them there. This past weekend, many returned home to Malden, the place where they came of age. Col. George Hagans (ret.) who, for the second year, coordinated the biennial Anderson Air Activities/Malden Air Base Reunion from his home in Marion, Ill., had nothing but praise for the local MAAPS (Malden Army Airbase Preservation Society) members and the Malden community as a whole. According to Hagans, well over 100 people were in town for the 15th biennial AAA/MAB Reunion. From registration at the Malden Airport Inn on Thursday afternoon to final goodbyes Saturday night on into Sunday, the returnees had plenty to do, see and reminisce about. An informal dinner at the Malden Country Club Thursday evening got about 50 of the guests started.The Country Club played host again Saturday morning for breakfast and then it was down to business. Several more guests were on hand and it proved to be an opportune time for everyone to introduce themselves -- and several had at least one story to tell about their time here in Malden.
Author and former student pilot Ernie Varvil had several. A few years ago he presented MAAPS and the Malden Military Museum with a copy of his book, Born to Fly. He has since updated the original and it was from the new version that he read a few excerpts. The book is about his early desire to fly, how he accomplished his dream and where it led him. Over 30 of its 61 pages are devoted to his experiences at the Malden Air Base. The rest of the meeting was devoted to ways to expand the membership, setting goals and previews of the Saturday night banquet schedule, followed by another opportunity for the former pilots and instructors to share war stories. Already, the success of the reunion was being recognized as one of the ladies in the group congratulated the committee (Hagans and MAAPS) that had organized the events. As he had planned, Hagans provided plenty of opportunity for the attendees to socialize and/or rest up for the coming events. Friday afternoon allowed a choice.
Baldwin Family & their donation of a Link Trainer
The Military Museum was open for those who wanted to see the latest exhibits, while others chose to rest or tour the town, trying to pinpoint the locations of their favorite haunts. Time at the museum took on a special nostalgia as former students, instructors and their wives searched for things remembered -- a face, a class, a familiar aircraft. Others took the opportunity to present pieces of their own memorabilia to the museum as a means to preserve their place in history. Still others were busy getting videos and photos of everything and everyone in order to obtain a slice of history to take back home with them. Yet, according to Barbara Crayne, MAAPS officer and airport manager, the most familiar refrain coming from those touring the museum was, It¹s like coming home again. These folks came here not much more than teenagers. They grew up, and matured here, she said, indicating that the bonds between many of the students and their instructors were much the same as that between a child and a parent. The staying power of these 70-, 80- and even 90-something visitors was to be commended as even more attendees (around 70) gamely turned up at the American Legion late Friday afternoon for more dining, socializing and entertainment. One of their own, Don Faulkner of Energy, Ill., provided vocal entertainment during the evening.
With each scheduled event, the reunion numbers seemed to grow and that was the case Saturday morning. ³The Malden Community Center was a great place to hold the catered breakfast since we had over 70, said Hagans. Again, time for chat and chew gave way to the business of the organization. One of the goals of the organization is to make a master list of all former pilots and students and to legally disseminate that information, Hagans told the assembly. He also asked for a vote to facilitate access to the group¹s savings account at First Community Bank. According to Hagans, Carl Edmundson and Preston Duncanson, two of the original reunion organizers and among the oldest in the group, were still on the account. The group voted, with Duncansons and Edmundsons approval, to remove them and replace their names with those of Barbara Crayne, Gene Cox, and Hagans. Hagans also talked about the Link trainer and how much work MAAPS, Jim Krepps and his crew and everyone else involved in obtaining and renovating the trainer had put into it. It was obvious as, once again, those attending introduced themselves that they have an enduring pride in what they accomplished as students and instructors here.
Whether here for just a few months as they received their primary flight training or for years as instructors, the fact that they made the effort to come here from all over the country for a few days of reminiscing speaks volumes about the importance they place on their time in Malden. And that being said, all agreed that beginning the reunion on Thursday evening and continuing it through Saturday, makes it worthwhile to come. Rumors heard circulating that this would be the last reunion were squelched as Saturday¹s business meeting ended with the next reunion set for the third weekend in September of 2008. With all that had already been done and said, the highlights of the reunion were yet to come, beginning with the Veterans Wall of Honor Ceremony, a brief but emotional commemoration dedicated to all veterans, living and deceased. Gene Cox, MAAPS chairman, welcomed everyone before the Malden JROTC color guard, consisting of Cadet Sgt. 1st/C Trevor Young, Cadet 2nd Lt. Zach Gunnels, Cadet Sgt. 1st/C Quontez Jones, Cadet Sgt 1st/C Angela Simmons and Cadet Command Sgt. Major Waylon Grant, presented the Colors. The color guard is under the instruction of Major William Gribbons and Sgt. Doug Bruyette. MAAPS member, Connie Cox, led the assembly in singing the Star Spangled Banner, followed by everyone joining in the Pledge of Allegiance led by the JROTC. Those who have heard the song, It¹s Always Been a Soldier, will understand the emotions that song arouses. Larry Roberts of Bloomfield presented his rendition, which moved several ladies in the crowd to dab their eyes and men to put on their most stalwart countenance. The Malden JROTC again took over the program as Maj. Gribbons joined the crowd in expressing appreciation to all the veterans in attendance. Then, deceased veterans were honored as Cadet Major Josh Beaird and Cadet Richard Kimball placed a wreath at the Wall of Honor.
The ceremony concluded with two other cadets, Adam Stone and Danielle Reddick, playing Taps. Everyone was invited to remain in the area for a model plane air show presented by the Barnstormers, an area remote-control aircraft group, and to view World War II-vintage Army vehicles, alongside a modern Humvee. The ambulance and jeep/trailer were brought to the ceremony courtesy of Dr. Michael Penney of Poplar Bluff. The Missouri National Guard supplied the Humvee. I like to bring these vehicles to patriotic ceremonies like this one, especially with the World War II veterans who are here,²= said Penney who, as the son of a WW II veteran, has had a long-standing interest in that era. He obtained the vehicles through the Military Preservation Association and had them professionally restored. The Saturday evening banquet was particularly well attended and everyone appeared to enjoy the delicious meal served by Rebecca Sharp Catering and the patriotic decor provided by Flo Bennett. This evening, too, was full of entertainment and surprises, the highlight of which was the unveiling of the long-sought Link trainer. Obtaining the trainer was the goal set at the 2004 reunion and that dream came to fruition as MAAPS members researched the Internet in their hunt for one.
Through considerable effort by the MAAPS and the desire of the Baldwin family of Virginia to see their father¹s love of flight and the Link trainers he used in his flight school preserved in some way, two Link trainers eventually made their way to Malden. With transportation help from Falcon Communications, a donation from Paul Rikert of White Plains, N.Y., that helped meet the financial end of the project and renovations made by Jim Krepps and his crew, the AAA/MAB¹s dream became reality Saturday night. However, the dream will not be complete, said Hagans, until the expensive parts needed to make the trainer operational are obtained. Cox and Geoff Baldwin, son of Mial Baldwin, the original owner of the trainers, unveiled the Blue Angel as Baldwin called it in his commentary. With his entire family at his side, Baldwin said his father would have been honored to have the Link trainer survive and be put on display at the Malden Military Museum. Other presentations also were part of the evening program, not the least of which was a solid silver tray presented to the museum by Pat Strati, daughter of Col. Roy T. Wright, who not only discovered the perfect site for a new Army Air Base but was also assigned to develop it and became its first commander. Called the ³Father of the Malden Army Air Field, Wright was presented the tray from his co-workers in appreciation for the work he had done. In preparation for the official presentation, Jim Crayne designed and built a wood and glass display case that featured the tray, the story of the founding of the air field and early photos of Col. Wright. Jim Granger, a friend of the Strati family, made the presentation to Barb Crayne in the absence of Pat Strati, who was unable to attend. Ernest Varvil, mentioned earlier as the author of Born to Fly, made his formal presentation of an autographed copy of the newest version to MAAPS member, Lorraine Heiser. Hagans also had a couple gifts for the museum -- scale models of an AT-6 Texan and a North American T-28A, aircraft that were flown by the student pilots. MAAPS member Paula Reeder accepted these on behalf of the Museum. Entertainment for the evening was provided by the Replicas, a trio of female singers, heralded for their harmony and nostalgic renditions of patriotic songs and hits from the O40s era.
Instructors Present at the 2006 Reunion
As has been traditional, the reunion attendees also received greetings from a prominent government official. This year, Vice President Dick Cheney sent his well wishes to the group. The letter will join others from President George Bush and U.S. Congresswoman JoAnn Emerson in the Military Museum. To bring a fitting conclusion to a reunion filled with memories, California native Dave Carpenter presented a slide show -- A View Down Malden Air Base Memory Lane. And, as has become traditional, the group received a lecture from The Old Aviator -- George Hagans as Gen. George Patton.