Anderson Air/Malden Air Base reunion jammed with surprises
By Lorraine Heiser
Oh, to be a fly on the wall and hear the many stories -- and some tall tales -- shared by former instructors, student pilots and support staff of Anderson Air Activities, gathered in Malden over the weekend for the biennial AAA/MAB reunion. Folks started arriving in town as early as Wednesday and by Friday the Malden Airport Inn’s sign proclaimed “no vacancy.” Overflow visitors stayed with local friends or in neighboring towns. Those attending represented 22 different states and there were even two from the United Kingdom. Thursday and Friday’s agendas, planned by Col. George Hagans (Ret.), himself a former officer student pilot, focused on getting everyone settled in before the main events of Saturday. An informal social gathering and dinner at the Malden Country Club Thursday evening helped to break the ice and allowed attendees the opportunity to catch up on each other’s live while reliving their memories of their time in Malden
After a communal breakfast at the Country Club Friday morning, it was down to business as attendees were updated on the Link Trainer, which while renovated has still to be refurbished to make it operable. When completed, the Trainer will be the centerpiece, and a hands-on experience, for visitors to the Malden Military Museum. Which brought Hagans to the main point of his presentation -- the need for an entirely new facility to house the many military displays donated to the museum, which officially opened inside the Malden Airport office building on Sept. 7, 2002. From three bags of donations, the number of items has grown to the point that the museum is bursting at its seams and exhibits are rotated periodically because of the lack of space to display everything. With that in mind, Hagans reported that he, the MAAPS (Malden Army Airfield Preservation Society) members and city officials are working on ways to fund the building project of which there is already an initial layout on the drawing board. Because donations for plaques on the Wall of Honor (located at the “Y” at the airport) are the only means of support for MAAPS, and with grant funding, in general, on the decline, Hagans explained MAAPS’ connection with Bayou Aunties Emporium. To find all your online gift ideas and help to support MAAPS projects, use the code of "MAAPS" for a 15% discount at checkout on www.bauntie.com.
During the meeting, Hagans also outlined his vision for Malden relating to both the Museum and the adjacent RV park (see related “Malden progressing” story). Reunion attendees had Friday afternoon to explore the town and the Museum, gather with friends or get some rest before the evening’s planned gathering at the Malden American Legion for more socializing and entertainment by Don Faulkner. Saturday’s busy agenda started out on a less than positive note. Thunderstorms hit the area overnight and the morning started out dark and dreary. Organizers of the Fly In Drive In Breakfast, sponsored by First Flight LLC, the airport’s fixed base operators, were concerned that the weather would prevent fly ins, much less visitors driving to the event. Their fears proved to be unfounded. Not having any idea what kind of response this first-time event would garner, organizers and The Daily Bread, which catered the breakfast, planned to serve 200 people and 178 showed up to enjoy the hot meal. MAAPS members were more than pleased with the turnout, especially when the weather cleared somewhat and within a half hour nearly a dozen planes flew in to the airport on the promise of a free meal. One of the many surprises of the day was the arrival of a TA trainer, the type (although newer) used when the airbase was a pilot training facility. Ed Bowling, owner of the aircraft, flew in all the way from Georgia just for the breakfast. His arrival sparked plenty of interest, pictures and the gathering of a small crowd to watch the plane take off for its return flight to Georgia. The groups of onlookers remained on the apron to watch several members of the Piggott R.C. Club demonstrate their flying skills with the model aircraft. Loops, spins and hovering maneuvers drew admiration from the crowd of approximately 50 onlookers. Before the next event, the Salute to Veterans ceremony began, a drawing was held from all the breakfast tickets turned in. Duane Deniston, a pilot from Kennett, was the winner of the chair back massager ($100 value) donated compliments of Bayou Aunties. With the rain-soaked ground preventing the Salute to Veterans ceremony from being held at the Wall of Honor, the hangar used for the breakfast was quickly refurbished to accommodate rows of chairs instead of rows of tables. With airplanes stored inside the hangar as a seeminly fitting backdrop, the ceremony began with Malden High School JROTC cadets, SSG Habeeb Al-Mashala, CPT Tyrone Vantrease, Cadet Zachery Matney and Cadet Mitchell Howell posting the colors. The JROTC cadets also led the Pledge of Allegiance, presented a flag folding ceremony and concluded the event with the playing of Taps. Those participating in the flag folding ceremony, the meaning of which was explained by Cadet 2LT April McKinney, included cadets, Major Danielle Reddick, GW Howell, Cathy Cody, 2LT Tiesha Roby, Zachery Matney and 2LT Paige Kean. Cadet 2LT McKinney also led the Pledge and Cadet Major Reddick played Taps. In addition to their official roles, the Malden JROTC and the Bootheel Squadron Civil Air Patrol also helped set up and take down tables and chairs and direct traffic, all of which were of invaluable assistance to the small group of MAAPS members. The Salute included a welcome by MAAPS Chairman Gene Cox and the singing of the National Anthem by his granddaughter, 8-year-old Sarah McClain. Organizers had hoped to invite longtime Clarkton resident, veteran and patriot Sonny Rice to deliver his popular, “I Am America,” reading for the ceremony; however, due to his death earlier this year, M/Sgt Gene LaFerney of Campbell, JROTC instructor, graciously and respectably filled Rice’s shoes, adding his own thoughts to the heartfelt rendition. Heartfelt was also in the words of the song performed by well-known local gospel singer, Jennifer Krepps, as she sang “His Blood Bought My Freedom.” The ceremony concluded with Taps and a rifle salute, three volleys that rang through the air, from the Stoddard County Honor Guard. The banquet Saturday evening at the Malden Community Center opened with a welcome from Mayor Ray Santie. Recalling his own memories of the time when the airbase was humming with activity, Santie told the visitors, “We congratulate you and honor you for your service. “You had an impact on Malden when you were here before and your coming back has an impact.” Then came the first of many surprises the evening held. Calling Col. Hagans forward, Santie read a proclamation from the city, recognizing Hagans’ efforts over the past years to preserve the history of the Malden Airbase by being an active member of the MAAPS and serving as coordinator of the AAA/MAB reunions. Santie also presented Hagans with a key to the city. Linda Stewart, MAAPS president, also welcomed the attendees and spoke of the progress of the original two dreams of MAAPS when it was created in 2002: to build the Wall of Honor and to place on it at least 100 plaques recognizing living and deceased military, who served in any of the Armed Forces (that goal has been reached with over 400 names currently on the wall); and to preserve the memories of the airbase as a military training facility. “We had a room and three trash bags of memorabilia. After the 2002 reunion, we were overwhelmed by the response. Reunions in 2004, 2006 and now 2008, and we’re still overwhelmed,” Stewart stated. She, too, spoke of the dream and vision MAAPS has for the future of the Museum and reprimanded naysayers, saying, “I’m tired of hearing at each reunion how it will be the last.” Her comments struck a bittersweet chord as most attendees are now well into their 70s and 80s and each has noted the passing of instructors, classmates and friends from their past. Other than the keynote speaker for the evening, Mary Helen Crane Foster, who was assigned to Malden in 1944 as a test pilot and was the only female pilot ever assigned here, there are no longer returnees from the days of the Malden Army Airfield. Those listed on the attendance roster were all former Anderson Air Activities instructors, students and support staff (and in some cases their children). With a large crowd of over 100 people, Hagans offered some special introductions, including Mrs. Foster, her son and daughter from Texas and Alabama, Class 59-F, known as the Polka Dots, who were celebrating their 50th anniversary, the MAAPS members and Steve Smith and Duncan Nisbet, owners of an original Malden-based TA 6 trainer, who flew in from Kent, England, for the event (more about them next week).
Hagans paid special tribute to one of the originators of the AAA/MAB reunions, Preston Duncanson, who died earlier in the year. Begun in 1978, the reunions continued to be organized by Duncanson for many years. The 2006 reunion would be his last to attend He also paid tribute to one of those who now works diligently behind the scenes to keep the reunion plans organized, publicized and disseminated. He presented Barb Crayne, MAAPS member and airport manager, a large bouquet of flowers in appreciation for all her efforts to facilitate the reunion. The dinner, catered by Rebecca Sharp, was accompanied by some tableside serenading from The Replicas, who later went on stage with their snappy WACS uniforms to perform a wonderful selection of patriotic songs and selections from the era of the ‘40s and ‘50s. Their soothing harmonies and light humor were an enjoyable after dinner treat.
More entertainment followed in the form of the “Crazy Czech Pilot,” Snooks Bouska, a friend of local businessman and pilot, Jim Krepps. Snooks, as he prefers to called, has had a long and distinguished career in flight and in his comedy he takes a whimsical look at flying. He describes himself as a lucky, loony, goofy and resourceful aviator and shared even his near-death experiences in that light. “I always wanted to be a pilot when I grew up,” he stated. As an afterthought, he’ll tell you, “I am a pilot, but apparently I never grew up.” The evening’s keynote speaker was much anticipated and Mary Helen Foster did not disappoint. In her soft-spoken voice, she had the audience mesmerized with tale after tale of her exploits as a female pilot, particularly during her time here in Malden. A favorite, oft-repeated story occurred upon her arrival on the base. Meeting her for the first time, the base commander said, “I didn’t ask for a woman.” Her response? “Sir, I didn’t ask to come to Missouri.” Another favorite involves another pilot her earned her instant respect by taking a chance at being the butt of some less than complimentary remarks. As she told it, the two were just taking off with Foster on the radio as co-pilot when she got word from the tower that they had an engine on fire. The pilot, who had had a previous harrowing experience asked if they should bail out or land. Foster chose to land. Later, as the pilots gathered to talk about the incident, they assumed that Foster had panicked under the stress. The pilot admitted such was not the case. “She landed the plane!” he told his surprised buddies. Foster shared many other such stories relating to her love of flying, including her attempt to train in Canada when she couldn’t immediately start flight school with the U.S. military. To do so, however, would have meant giving up her U.S. citizenship and that, she told the audience, she wasn’t willing to do. She also expressed her disappointment when, after leaving the military, she had passed the tests for becoming a commercial pilot but was never hired. That, apparently, was a consideration too far ahead of its time. As the 2008 AAA/MAB reunion came to a close, Hagans thanked everyone for being there, wished them godspeed, spoke again about his vision for the future and related that the mayor and city administrator have “promised a new museum in the next year.”
“We’ll meet again in September, 2010.”
NATIONAL ANTHEM--As the Malden High School JROTC color guard and other Salute to Veterans participants faced the American flag, eight-year-old Sarah McClain led the audience in singing the National Anthem during the Salute to Veterans ceremony Saturday morning.
TRIBUTE--With a nod to the late Sonny Rice of Clarkton, who popularized the presentation of “I Am America,” M/Sgt Gene LaFerney offered an updated version as part of the Salute to Veterans ceremony Saturday morning at the Malden Airport. Originally set to be held at the Wall of Honor, the ceremony was moved to the First Flight LLC hangar due to bad weather.
FLY INS--Despite the bad weather Saturday morning, nearly a dozen planes, at least one from as far away as Georgia, flew in to the Malden Airport. Pilots flying in for the occasion were offered a free breakfast.
AIR SHOW--Several remote control airplane clubs demonstrated what they can do with the model aircraft during the Drive In, Fly In Breakfast, held in conjunction with the Anderson Air, Malden Airbase Reunion, onSaturday morning at the Malden Airport. Lannie Hatley of Gideon had this airplane hovering straight up, seemingly stopped in mid-air, to the amazement of onlookers.
CRAZY CZECH--Snooks, who calls himself the Crazy Czech Pilot, provided comedy relief to the AAA/MAB Reunion banquet held Saturday evening at the Malden Community Center.
TA 6 OWNERS--Special guests were acknowledged during the AAA/MAB reunion banquet program, among them two gentlemen from the United Kingdom, Steve Smith (left) and Duncan Nisbet. The two, owners of an experiential flight business, came to the reunion to learn more about their TA 6 trainer, which was originally based in Malden. In photo at right are members of the Polka Dots, Class 59-F, celebrating their 50th anniversary.
RIFLE SALUTE--The Stoddard County Honor Guard lent their support to the Salute to Veterans Ceremony with a rifle salute.
FLAG FOLDING CEREMONY--The Malden High School JROTC played an integral part in Saturday morning’s Salute to Veterans. Cadets are shown during a special flag-folding ceremony that lent significance to each fold of the flag.
SURPRISED--Airport manager Barbara Crayne was one of many individuals receiving special recognition during Saturday evening’s AAA/MAB banquet. Col. George Hagans (retired), reunion organizer, presented Crayne with a bouquet of flowers from the MAAPS (Malden Army Airfield Preservation Society) members in appreciation for all she does to facilitate the reunion planning.
FOSTER DONATION--Following her keynote speech, Mary Helen Foster (left), the only female pilot to have been assigned to the Malden Airbase, presented the Malden Military Museum with her dress uniform. Linda Stewart, president of MAAPS, accepted the donation on behalf of the Museum.
ALL IN FUN--As the Replicas, Kelly Baker, Jackie Huls and Sandra Bollinger, serenaded banquet guests before the program, they asked Linda Stewart, MAAPS president, to join them. Stewart’s reaction follows instructions that she was only supposed to mouth the words.
MUSICAL SALUTE--The Replicas, Kelly Baker, Jackie Huls and Sandra Bollinger from Benton and Sikeston, have provided entertainment for the AAA/MAB reunion for the past several gatherings. Their program of patriotic and ‘40s/’50s-era music provided a fitting salute to the former instructors and student pilots in attendance at Saturday evening’s banquet.
RADIO CONTROL PILOT--Lanny Hatley of Gideon was one of several radio-controlled airplane pilots who demonstrated their skills during the Fly In Drive In Breakfast held Saturday morning at the First Flight LLC hangar at the Malden Airport.
PLAQUE RECOGNITION--Mary Helen Crane Foster, the first and only female pilot to be assigned to the Malden Army Airbase, was presented with a plaque acknowledging that distinction by Col. George Hagans (retired), former officer student pilot at the Air Base and chief organizer of the AAA/MAB reunion.
STUDENT AND INSTRUCTOR--Jack Mars, seated, former instructor with Anderson Air Activities, gives his former student, George Hagans, a hearty thumbs up.
APPRECIATION--Mayor Ray Santie presented Col. George Hagans, reunion organizer, with the key to the city and a proclamation in appreciation and recognizing his efforts on behalf of the Malden Military Museum, MAAPS and the city of Malden.
FEATURED SPEAKER--Mary Helen Foster Crane regaled her audience with stories of her experiences as a female pilot, especially what it was like being the only one at the Malden Army Airbase.