2004 REUNION 14th Biennial


We hope you had a great time at the 2004 reunion! The MAAPS organization wishes to thank each and every one who attended and for your generous support of our activities. Our work with the Veterans Wall of Honor and the MAAPS Military Museum are close to our hearts. We truly enjoy our projects and find them tremendously rewarding. We salute you - the men and women who served our country, and those who continue to do so. - MAAPS

Students Recall Fond Memories

by Lorraine Heiser
September 2004
Associate Editor
Delta News Citizen

 For many student pilots, the recent AAA-MAB Patriots reunion was their first return to Malden since their training days -- at least 44 years ago. With the AAA Reunion now expanded to officially include student pilots, air base support personnel and their extended families, more student pilots than ever were in attendance September 24 and 25 at the 14th Biennial AAA Reunion in Malden.
     Members of two classes represented at the banquet had reason to be especially proud. Class 54-K celebrated its 50th anniversary with a cake decorated for the occasion. The "polka dot" class, 59-F, had the most students represented ­ 13 plus nine wives (four of whom are Malden natives). According to Dave Regan, it was his class' esprit d'corps and the polka dot flags, one each with their names embroidered on them and flown near their barracks, that earned them the moniker. All members of the class were easily identified at the banquet ­ all wore red and white polka dot kerchiefs around their necks. The 59-F class also is proud of the fact that one of their own, Buster McGee of San Marcos, Calif., served for two years as the right wing of the renowned Air Force Thunderbirds. That class alone represented visitors from the states of Florida, Oregon, California, New Mexico, South Carolina, Nevada, Ohio, Georgia, Illinois and Texas.
     The weekend itself marked a milestone for at least two student pilots. During the Saturday evening banquet, everyone was invited to introduce themselves and state what class they were in. One gentleman rose and proudly said he made his first solo flight exactly 52 years ago. Another quickly rose and added the 52nd anniversary of his first solo flight would be the next day.
     Four former students, among those celebrating their 50th anniversary, were fortunate to be at the reunion with their flight instructor. The majority, it appeared, went on to make the military their career, while others found positions as commercial airline pilots following their tours of duty. One former student, speaking words that were heard often during the reunion, said, "Thanks to Malden, I've been around the world."
     One of the very first students at the air base was among the former. Lt. Col. (Ret.) Raymond Frese of Lake Ridge, Va., Class 43-H, was attending his first reunion. Unlike most of the others, he trained at the air base when it was operated by the military. A young recruit from Idaho, he had completed his two months of primary training under civilian instructors in Union City, Tenn., so when he saw the size of the aircraft, the paved runways, barracks and even a tower at the Malden Air Base, he found it "astounding."
     The other big difference, he noted, was in the discipline he had to follow under the military instructors. "I felt well prepared (for advanced training) when I left here. They had good instructors ­ they'd give you heck if you didn¹t do something right."
     The air base was not even completed when Frese and his class, the base¹s first, arrived. He explained that student pilots had a total of six months of training -- two months in basic, two months in primary (the function of the Malden base) and two months of advanced training -- before being assigned to a flight unit. In sharing his memories of those very early days, he told the audience he couldn¹t tell much about the town of Malden because the cadets weren¹t allowed much time in town during their two months of training here. He did admit that, to the Union City cadets, "Malden was a big town."
     In trying to refresh his memory, Frese said he drove around town and found only two things that looked familiar -- a building housing offices (possibly Max Hilfiker's law office) that used to be a hotel and the old city cemetery.
     With the multitude of changes, especially downtown, Frese echoed what many others had to say, "It's hard to recognize the town." Frese, Col. (Ret.) George Hagans, reunion coordinator, and others found one thing that has remained constant -- the friendly welcome provided by residents both now and nearly 60 years ago.
     "If we were in town, we'd get stopped by residents and invited to their homes. We'd talk about our families and some families even adopted individual cadets," Frese recalled. "They'd even come out to the base to pick us up because most of us didn't have a way to get around. We found the town to be very friendly."
     One of the things he did recall is a problem that still plagues Malden. Before taking the aircraft out to the runway, the cadets had to shoot guns to scare the birds away, he said.
    While the T-6  and T-28 aircraft were the basic aircraft used later at the air base, Frese trained on the heavier BT-13, nicknamed the "Vultee Vibrator" because of its reputation for shaking at low speeds.
     "But once you were in the air, it was a smooth flight," he said. Frese spent 30 years in the military, retiring in 1971. He was one of many who trained here and returned as flight instructors. Now, after so many years, he admitted nothing is the way he remembered, except the one hangar that remains on the flight line. While the building is no longer there, he said he also was able to pick out the site of the mess hall. "It's nice to come back and see where you were," he said.
     The Malden Military Museum provided a great gathering place to share stories and reminisce during the lull between the Veterans' Honor Ceremony Saturday afternoon and the banquet that evening. Many found the pictures, newspapers and other information housed in the museum a treasure trove rich with memories. The copy machine in the airport office was kept busy all afternoon copying documents for visitors to take with them to their respective homes.
Frese was one who found the picture of his class hanging on the wall and was busy matching names of his former classmates with their pictures. He said he has been trying to locate his classmates and has about 20 names to follow up with.
     Preston Duncanson of Winterhaven, Fla., on the other hand, has been keeping up with the reunions and those who attend all along. He has been to every reunion except the one held in Oklahoma City, Okla. (prior to 1986 when Malden became the permanent site for the reunions).
     Duncanson was among the first group of 25 flight instructors on hand when the air base reopened under AAA on Labor Day weekend in 1951. He said he was impressed with the turnout for this year's reunion. "Hagans is doing a good job. Students are here that we hadn't been able to get here before," Duncanson said. He was a close friend of the late Bob Thust, who coordinated the previous reunions.
     Duncanson and his wife, Katy, were among the first to arrive at this year's reunion, coming in on the prior Monday. "We arrived in our motor home after spending the summer at Table Rock Lake waiting for the reunion," said Duncanson. "Now, here it is."
     The Duncansons always plan to spend time with the many friends they made while he was assigned at the airbase from 1951 to 1958. He observed that the Military Museum is so much more complete than the last reunion two years ago. At that time, the MAAPS volunteers had put forth a tremendous effort to have the museum opened in time for the reunion.
     Outstanding among Duncanson's memories is the fact that he never had a flight-related accident nor did any of his students. However, there was at least one close call. On his last flight here, Duncanson had a student who wanted to fly instruments. "About 500 feet up, the crank shaft broke and the engine stopped. I was able to take over, made a steep left turn and had just enough time to put the gear down," Duncanson recalled.
     He remembered thinking, "It's my last flight and I saved the plane, the student and myself." If he hadn't made that turn, the plane would have hit houses along Highway 25, he said. He recalled only one fatal accident ever occurring at the air base and only a few minor ones.
     Attending this reunion was, for Duncanson, almost bittersweet. "You expect to see fewer familiar faces each time," he said. "I'd like to come back as long as the Lord will let me and hope I can make another one, but one of these days, they'll be singing 'I'll Fly Away' for me."
     Even Duncanson's wife, Katy, enjoys returning to Malden. The couple married 60 years ago at an airfield in Mississippi. Their four children grew up together with local kids and the couple still enjoys returning to the Malden United Methodist Church where he taught Sunday School. "It's like returning for a family reunion," she said.
     Whether making new friends or meeting old ones, those attending the biennial AAA reunions give Malden a reason to welcome and applaud their return.
As Frese said, even though he didn't "recognize a soul" at the reunion, it was nice to see what others did after their tenure in Malden. Besides, he added, "You're never a stranger if you're in the Air Force."
Organization proposes to broaden air base interest
by Lorraine Heiser
September 2004
Associate Editor
Delta News Citizen
 The Anderson Air Activities reunion breakfast held Saturday, September 25, at the Malden Community Center set the stage for the business meeting that followed. According to Barb Crayne, a member of the Malden Army Airbase Preservation Society (MAAPS), approximately 90 gathered for the morning meal.
The visitors got down to business, literally, following the breakfast. During the business meeting, Col (Ret.) George Hagans announced that the AAA-MAB Patriots organization had received its charter to become officially recognized and those present were invited to become actively involved in promoting membership.
A     ccording to Hagans, who took over the reunion planning following the death of long-time coordinator Bob Thust, the Malden Air Base Patriots is an offshoot of the Anderson Air Activities group.
     With the passage of time, "the smiling faces of the civilian flight instructors diminish in numbers," so it became important to provide a means to continue the organization, history and tradition of AAA (and the military basis for which the air base was created). "The AAA-MAB Patriots is an association of flight instructors, student/military pilots, military and civilian specialists, their spouses, sons, daughters, extended families and friends who share in the desire to preserve and perpetuate the service to our country, having accomplished great deeds during time of conflict, declared and undeclared, and who continue to stand tall in the ranks to protect the freedoms of the United States of America. Together, they shall carry the banner of past experiences forward for all citizens, young and old, to acknowledge that our freedoms must be protected through actions taken by all," wrote Hagans prior to the reunion.
     Hagans also offered a brief history of the relationship between the military air base and Anderson Air. During the period between 1950 and 1960, AAA was the name of the civilian contractor who was awarded the government contract to teach military student pilots initial piloting skills. Malden Air Base (MAB) land, aircraft and ground support equipment was owned by the government. Thus, there were two entities involved -- AAA and MAB. The reunions were begun by AAA flight instructors and have always been referred to as Anderson Air Activities reunions.
    "Out of courtesy to the flight instructors, when the military student pilots began attending the past couple of reunions, there was no distinction made to reference them from the AAA title," Hagans explained.
     Forming the AAA-MAB Patrioits is the first step in creating the organizational avenue to perpetuate the reunion activities and reach out to other classmates who are not aware of the ongoing reunion/group activities, he added.  
     The AAA-MAB Patriots will be working in the future with the MAAPS to accomplish the goals the MAAPS members have set for preserving the history of the Malden Air Base and further developing the Veterans Wall of Honor and the Malden Military Museum. Both organizations see those goals as a means of passing on the important part the Malden Air Base played in the history of the military and in the lives of the 7,000 student pilots who were trained there between 1943 and 1960. They also see it as a means to enhance tourism in the area.
     Hagans pointed out that, even though the MAAPS is relatively new and not well-known locally, it has already gained recognition in national circles for its organizational growth and accomplishments on behalf of the Malden area. "Through that recognition, MAAPS has been selected to receive two classic Link trainers previously used to train early pilots over 45 years ago," Hagans said.
     While the trainers are being donated, the cost to refurbish and ship them to Malden will run into the thousands of dollars, according to Hagans. That project has top priority with both organizations and fund raising has already begun. Once installed, they will become part of an ongoing aviation youth training project that will add the opportunity for youngsters and others to actually sit in the Link trainers and "fly" them.
     The Link trainers are presently located on the East Coast, part of the estate of a former marine pilot who learned to fly when he joined the military in 1942. After World War II, he established a flying school that included an outstanding ground school where the Link trainers were used.
     According to Hagans, several large institutions were vieing for the trainers. "Surprisingly, the MAAPS was selected over all other contenders because of its superb presentation as to the planned use as part of a youth educational program within the Military Museum," said Hagans.
     The stipulation is that MAAPS must pay for all storage and shipping costs as well as refurbishment costs for the 40-45 year old trainers. There are two Link trainers and all support equipment involved in this "once in a lifetime acquisition."
    Hagans said a definite figure will not be available until the trainers actually arrive at the local airport and undergo review. The cost just to get them to the airport could run around $3,900, Hagans estimated. MAAPS is considering various avenues to reduce that figure. Once the trainers arrive, Jim Krepps, owner of Malden Ag Craft at the Malden Industrial Park and himself once a student at the air base, will lead a team of volunteers who will refurbish both trainers. "This is part of the major undertaking to expand the Military Museum," Hagans noted.
     The second project MAAPS and now the AAA-MAB Patriots will be working on is an entirely new building to house the Malden Military Museum, which is currently crowded into a room in the airport office building. In addition to sharing the report on these projects during the business meeting, Hagans also laid out the proposed organizational plan for the AAA-MAB Patriots.
     "As the Patriots charter is outlined, it is intended that, at a certain point in time, the Patriots will be transitioned into the MAAPS organization to effectively build the economic base for the benefit of the greater Malden area," said Hagans. "We have already laid the groundwork to begin identifying long-term plans. Therefore, anyone who holds the conviction that we all must protect our freedoms and are willing to step forward and offer their service is encouraged to join MAAPS/Patriots."
     At the business meeting, Hagans was authorized to continue the organizational planning along with Frank Urbanic of California and Charlie Bennett of Louisiana as members of the advisory board.