A Gathering of Eagles

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Please be patient, they have a lot of detail.

The Reunion of the 506th Fighter Group, Iwo Jima
attended by a single representative
of the 27th Fighter Bomber Group, Charles E. Dills
at Rickenbacker Airport, Columbus Ohio

September 27 - October 1, 2007

      I was unsuccessful at setting up a reunion with only six potential attendees. So I suggested an alternative. For at least four years I have been saying that we needed to find some way of combining forces with another group or groups to maintain a viable base. To that end I contacted the 506th Fighter Group. They were based on Iwo Jima and flew long range fighter escort to Japan and back. A far cry from our fighter bomber duties but the common ground was flying fighters in WWII.

      I am pleased to report that they treated me very well, like a colleague in spite of the time differences of our services, aircraft and duties.

      They had set up their reunion to coincide with a very special, probably once in a lifetime, gathering of a host of aircraft. I have no listing of the attendees but I saw a P-38, a P-63, a P-40, 2 P-47's, an Avro Lancaster, and at least 30 P-51's, even a P-51A. I was so busy gawking that I did not try to make a comprehensive list.

      It is my understanding that the Stallion 51 Corporation in Kissimmee Fl was a major force in the creation of this "Gathering of Eagles". They have a group of aircraft including two, full cockpit, two place P-51D25's named Crazy Horse I & II. I had the privilege of flying Crazy Horse I in December 1990. It was a wonderful experience and I was shocked at how well I did, even two beautiful landings! It was still "there"! I hope all old WWII pilots will give it a try. Here is a picture of Crazy Horse I from the Stallion 51 postcard.
      That isn't me in the backseat but it could have been. The illusion of being there by myself was great! The only fuel selector was in the front seat so the "owner" was required to fly there (insurance!)

      Here are my reunion ID's. The 506th was the current one. The other one was, I believe, the one I wore at our last reunion in Wichita. I wore them back to back!

      We had an incredible display of the present and future Air Force. Two F-16's gave an impressive look at its flying abilities and it gave a nod to us oldsters by flying in formation with two P-51's.

      And then our minds were absolutely blown away by an unbelievable demonstration of the present and future protector of our way of life. The F-22, Raptor. It absolutely beggars belief with its power and maneuverability. He pulled it straight up and went out of sight! And later he pulled it straight up and slowed till it just held its vertical position!

      It really appeared that there was nothing it couldn't do.

      Just when we thought nothing better could come along, we had a flyby by the Stealth Bomber, the B-2 "Spirit".


      I told everybody around me that it did not exist, that we were subject to a mass hallucination! It is so unbelievable that this seems more reasonable than the reality.

      My only regret is that Jack Northrop never got to see it fly and ride in it! I believe they showed him the plans when he was on his deathbed. He must of smiled as he passed on to the great hangar in the sky.

My photographs.
I wish I had taken more but I was generally spellbound (and talking!).

Click on the thumbnail if you would like to see an 4 x 6 inch picture.

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      The first picture is the entrance gate that the huge crowd had to pass through on the way to their treat!

      The second picture shows the general attitude of the crowd, straining skyward in disbelief and amazement. Of course they were also looking at the little planes' "death defying" stunts with their loops that came out 50 feet above the runway. I'm sorry but I find this kind of flying repulsive. Unfortunately they cater to a natural feeling of the public. It is very tempting to push the envelope beyond the plane's or pilot's capability and provide the crowd with something terrible. The crowd does not want anyone to be killed but if it is going to happen anyway, they don't want to miss it. If a person goes to three airshows (or car races) and there is a crash in one of them, that is the one they will talk about 40 years later.

      Please excuse my attitude.

      Number three was a real treat for me. It was Britain's version of the B-17, the Avro Lancaster. They did mostly the night raids to Berlin. They did a tremendous job as the B-17 did in the day!
      I love the old planes. Some of my favorites are the gullwing Stinson Reliant, the Ryan ST, the Staggerwing Beech and the Ford Trimotor that gave me a ride in 1929 when I was seven years old. A barnstormer landed on a hayfield outside our little town (pop 800) in North Dakota and took people up for 2 cents a pound, a dollar minimum. I weighed 47 pounds! None of them were here though. Too bad! But they weren't military!

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      Number 4 is the Lancaster taxiing.

      And number 5 was taken as it flew proudly by. It eased the ache in my bones a bit to see it fly by!

      Number 6 shows the F-16, Fighting Falcon, showing off its amazing power in an almost vertical climb.

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      Number 7 is the F-22 in a FAST pass.

      Number 8 shows a formation of the F-16 and two P-51's. It is giving a kind of respectful nod to the glory of the past!

      Number 9 is a similar tribute by the incredible F22, Raptor. I wonder how the F-16 and the F-22 managed to fly so slowly!

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      And number 10 proves that the Spirit, the B-2 stealth bomber, is real. Unless there is a way the camera could also be hypnotized!
      It is hard to believe. It looks like it is still in the packing crate it came in!

      Number 11 is me with one of the Tuskegee Airman. He looks much too young to have been in WWII but I hope to contact him to get his name and what he flew and when. When I get it I will put it here, of course. I apologize for not writing down his name at the time. But what do you expect from an 85 year old!

      Number 12 shows me with another Tuskegee Airman whose badge says Thomas Austin. I will have to confirm that and will place it here.

      I would like to mention the accommodations. They had huge tents they called "Chalets". This one was shared by the Tuskegee Airman and the 506th Fighter Group so of course I piggy-backed as a representative of my group, the 27th Fighter Bomber Group of Italy, Corsica and Southern France.

      They had another tent called "Legends". Friday I went over to get a little lunch that I heard they had. I went in with no problem and before I got to the food, someone stopped me with a book for my autograph. Being sufficiently flattered by the request, I sat down at a table and gave it to him. Before I got up there was another one. I sat at that table from about 1:00 till 4:30 signing many kinds of memorabilia. One person even presented a piece of aluminum skin from a P-51, about 18 inches by two feet which I dutifully signed, with another smile, of course. Finally two members of the 506th found me and collared me with a laugh because I had forgotten I was supposed to be at the bus by 4:30! During this session I finally realized that i had been promoted from Icon to Legend!
      I accepted the new rank with the realization that it was not me there, that I was simply a representation of all the others that could not be there for one reason or another.

      On Sunday I went down again and they would not let me in. They said I had to have a ticket to enter the "Legends Chalet". I asked how much it was and they said $350. I gulped and said I couldn't afford that. I asked if the Legends Chalet was there so the people that could and did afford the ticket could meet with the "Legends". They agreed and I asked how they could meet me if I was not allowed in. I asked them how many of the Tuskegee Airman or the 506th would be able to enter under the conditions. They said it was the rule. I told them that the rule was stupid, that they were taking money under false pretenses if they were promising "Legends" and then making it impssible for the Legends to come in! I can be a bulldog sometimes when I feel something is ethically wrong, so when they saw I was not going away, the "boss" gave me two names up at "headquarters" and that I should see them.
      I grabbed one of the little carts that were all over (a very nice service) because I cannot walk that far anymore and they took me to the office. I asked for the two names and I got a representative instead. She explained that it was a rule. I gave them my spiel about the stupidity and virtual fraud perpetrated by the "rule". They appeared to agree with me but saw no way to get around the "rules". Finally, when she got tired of my smile, after she consulted with someone, she gave me a "pass" so I could enter. I told them I would take it although it was fundamentally unacceptable. I asked if this would let in all the others and they said no.

      So I faced an ethical dilemma. I could throw the pass in their faces or I could swallow it and go to the tent and try to give the people a little of what they paid for. I chose the latter.

      I went down to the "Legends Chalet" again, gave them my "pass" and they let me in. I let them know however, with a smile, what I thought of it! I hurried to the food table and got a bowl of potato soup. As I sat down at a table, almost immediately, more memorabilia appeared. It took me an hour to eat the soup. I didn't mind because that is what I was there for. I was dressed in a khaki jumpsuit with my wings and rank and a military cap with the right insignia. I also had the obligatory well beaten A2 Pilot Jacket with the squadron insignia, name plate, XIIth AF patch and the painting on the back. It apparently was warm out, but I didn't notice. I'm originally from North Dakota and I don't notice temperature unless it is above 100 or below zero! It made me easy to spot which is what I felt was appropriate in these circumstances. Again I signed things till 4:15. I did not want to be late this time. I accepted a good bit of ribbing for almost missing the bus on Friday. I didn't want to do that twice. I went to the main gate. Nobody there and I got worried that they had promised to meet somewhere else and I was doing the 85 year old thing again. Finally, after 4:30 another one showed up so I was no longer alone. We started walking around, found another couple of people, grabbed another one of the ubquitous carts and headed to where the bus was supposed to be. And, Lo and Behold, there it was, and we were the first ones there. The others finally got there and I let them know in no uncertain terms that I was one of the first ones this time! With a smile, of course.

      I felt good about my actions.

      And number 13 shows the entire Tuskegee Airman group on a trailer they paraded down in front of the spectators to applause and salutes.

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      And number 14 shows me doing my thing. One of the people waiting took my camera and made the picture. In case you did not know what a "Legend" looks like, there one is!

      And now, numbers 15 and 16 are of a wonderful woman I met on the plane coming up from Phoenix, a W.A.S.P., Women's Army Service Pilot! Her name is Betty Blake. She flew 36 different Air Force Planes, ferrying them to where they were needed. I'm sure it was always a shock when a B-17 came flying in and a pretty bright-eyed young girl stepped out !

      Obviously, she is over eighty now but look at those sparkling eyes. She is still "there"! She has a book called "High on Life", available at: Betty Blake W. A. S. P. at 8485 E. McDonald Dr. #273, Scottsdale AZ 85200.

      It will be available in December 2007. Pre-orders will be shipped from Pearl Harbor on 12/7! All copies will be signed and dated.

      They are available at www.bettyblakewasp.org

      Here she is (from her brochure) in her flying days!

      Number 19 shows eight 506th veterans and me standing on the staircase at our Inn.

      I'm pleased they allowed me to participate!

      Picture supplied by Robert Grant.

      If anyone sends me pictures, I will put them on the page with suitable attribution.

Guest Pictures

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      And number 16 is a picture of me with David Rachid which he sent to me by e-mail. Thank you David.

      Number 17 was e-mailed to me by a Danish visitor to the show, Mr. Thomas Schau Damm. His family has quite a history in WWII.

      Number 20 is of a P-40K was also sent by Thomas Schau Damm.

      Thank you, Tom.