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Houston Reunion 2003

Houston Reunion 2003
Another One for the History Books!!

By Michael Faley & Jan Riddling

Almost 500 people strong turned out on October 9th through the 12th for the 100th Bomb Group Reunion!

Everywhere you looked conversations were on going. Laughter filled the air as members of the 100th gathered together to savor each others company. Either the people around you were the “known them for years” kind or the “known them for only minutes” kind, it did not matter, just being there made the trip worthwhile. Second and third generation admirers, eager for conversation but happy to just be in the presence of our veterans, gathered around as crews reminisced of days gone by. Drawn to the flame so to speak, the younger generation can not get enough “story time” with our Veterans. (Your Historical Staff included!) Stories flowed all around, soon fighters and B-17’s were flying in the air as combat was once again relived, friends remembered and moments of so long ago flooded the mind with memories.

Thursday afternoon Jan Riddling held a standing room only “Gunners Roundtable” which really showed the distinction as to what gunners experienced based on the time they were there. We learned of turning the ball turret when the flak was coming up. What the view from each position was like. There were stories of the Me 262 and how fast they were. How fighters attacked and how our gunners knocked them out of the skies, delivering the death blow to the Luftwaffe. Much heart felt appreciation to those 23 plus gunners that participate or sent in there stories ahead of time, you made the roundtable great! To each member of the audience that attend your interest and attention meant a great deal to all of us.

In the Westchase Room, our all-in-one room used for visiting, displays, and the PX, historical and web staff, our Webmasters Charlie Cole, Harry Nelson, and Paul West had the computers up and running to show everyone the 100th Bomb Group award winning website. There was also a continuous photo display of over 7000 of our photos shown on a built in screen on the wall. Many members brought diaries, photos, Form 5’s and many other items of historical interest for our archives, which clearly benefits the history of the 100th. We wish to thank all of you for helping us preserve your history. This is an on going project and future additions to the archives are appreciated and much needed.

Along with the web team, the hospitality room also boasted displays of 100th memorabilia by Greg Hatzenbuhler. This brought on an unmistakable feeling of the familiar, as uniforms hung ever so graciously caught the eye, each enticing display had to be explored until the urging of the next display drew you around the room.

From Greg’s displays, you then melted into the excellent and thought provoking displays of Jan Zdairsky, curator of the September 11, 1944 Museum in the Czech Republic. Jan brought actual pieces of 100th aircraft that were excavated in the area of Kovarska, Czech Republic. Jan Zdiarsky, with help from our own Jan Riddling, have translated the entire account of this mission into a small booklet. Eyewitness accounts (both in the air and on the ground), German records and our 100th records, as well as new accounts from those that were children at the time, went into this very comprehensive record.

For the second reunion in a row a PX was organized by Jan Riddling in order to provide attendees items to purchase such as squadron pins, stickers, patches, the small Joe Crowfoot prints, also many of the fine books written by the 100th veterans. Often times these books are not easy to find elsewhere. Again this year we had the ever popular 100th Bomb Group hat. All proceeds of items purchased go to support both the 100th Foundation and the 100th Memorial Museum in Thorpe Abbotts. Jan would like to thank the following people for their efforts and time spent in making this years PX a success; Robert and Adrian Caldwell, Peggy Jessee and Susie Campbell, daughters of Bruce Richardson and Jeannie Carey and Barbara Carey Broussard, daughters of the late Irene and Richard Carey.

Book signings were held everyday by Hank Cervantes Piloto, Carl Carlson Return Ticket and Frank Murphy Luck of the Draw. How thrilling is was to have each author sign and personalize each book. Also available: Splasher Six 1980-1989,Century BombersThe Forgotten Man (by Cindy Goodman and Jan Riddling), We’re Poor Little Lambs (by Paul M. Andrews), Buffalo Gal (By C. B. “Red” Harper), An Eighth Air Force Combat Diary (by John Alden Clark). There were new booklets, one the story of the 100th Bomb Group Memorial Museum in Thorpe Abbotts in England and the other is the booklet called Black Monday Over The Ore Mountains (by Jan Zdiarsky) from the Czech Republic about the September 11, 1944 mission.

Thursday’s dinner was informal and delicious, as everyone enjoyed finding friends and meeting new ones. Bill Clift did a fine job as reunion chairman. He along with his committee worked tirelessly behind the scenes. Bill and Evelyn Clift, Gene and Jo Bankston, Joe Carl Martin, Jim and Geneva Adair worked with dedication on preparing the goodie bags. Months before the reunion Bill approved the work Geneva Adair and Jan Riddling did in preparing the beautiful Saturday night banquet programs. In case you are wondering who placed all the programs that stood at each place setting. . . you guessed it…Geneva was in charge of that and didn’t she do a wonderful job? It really made that room shine. She had the help of her son, Jeff and Sergio Trejo and Rebecca Garcia. Earlier that afternoon Sergio and Rebecca brought boxes of donuts into the Westchase room…boy were they appreciated!

Everyone went out of their was to make this reunion so memorable. Many friends came from other countries, Robert and Michelle Bailey and Wallace McNish as well as Eileen and Alan Goodwin came from Canada, Jim Gintner, Richard Gibson, Ron Leigh, Ernest Cockburn, Ron Windley and Leah Hammond made the journey from England. Jan Zdiarsky came from the Czech Republic as did Col. Gallagher, US Ambassador to the Czech Republic. There were also young children which is great to see. Freida Bouchard at 91 years young was just radiant every time we saw her. Speaking of beauties there were plenty. We were glad to see Betty Roane and her daughters Martha and Carol, Lupe DeBlasio, Loretta Crittenden, Gertrude Schimmel, Gwin Gibbons, Mary Shandor, Joanne Wynn, Gisela Brady, Mildred Parmenter, Delores Kennedy and Roberta Seaman…just to name a few. We also spotted Cass Cassimates, Albert Frietas, John Luckadoo, Lee Jacobs, Dick Johnson, Don Bradley, Leonard Rosenfeld, Joe Keenan, Bud Frum, Paul Calkin, Joe Urice, Tex Leonard, Tom Hughes, Earl Wilber, Robert LaFontaine, Rinaldo Bussino and Bob Shoens…just to name a few! It was good to see Bruce and Shirley Alshouse, Chuck and Betty Harris, Ferd and Audrey Herres, Stanley and Roxie Smythe, Bill and Nelda Yates, Albert and Helen Lochra, Ray and Betty Miller and Leroy and Frances Wolf. The younger generation was also there; Ann Jeffery, Richard Shandor, Karen Pitts, Pat Smera, John O’Leary, Richard Chavez, Dan Moede, Frank McDermott, Mark Morello, Joe Bussino, Marilyn Barbarita, Robert Larsen, Brian Thrailkill and Nancy Putnam. There were many families that had their adult children there, such as Charlie and Connie Wilson, Grant and Mary Fuller and Stanley and Lorraine Radunzel…just to name a few!! There were so many there we can not name them all here, but it was wonderful to see everyone. In fact, everyone seemed to stand taller, walk with a little pep in their step. There is just something that happens at our reunions that is not easy to explain, but just being together just makes you feel good.

At Saturdays general membership meeting, a new Board of Directors was unanimously voted in with Ralph Bradley as the new President. Watch for the upcoming issue of Splasher Six for full details on our new President. We wish to deeply thank outgoing President Bob Wolff for all his efforts over the past two years and for his continued counsel in the future.

One very moving event happened at the membership meeting, Villary Cross, the husband of Sharon and son-in-law of Lt. Bill Lewis, a P-51 fighter pilot who died defending the 100th Bomb Group on September 11th 1944 mission to Ruhland, got up to thank the 100th for the support and small financial contribution we gave to Jan Zdiarsky so he could attend a conference on recovering remains of our war dead. With tears flowing and his voice broken, he told the story of Jan Zdairsky and the recovery of Bill Lewis, who’s remains have just been identified by the military. This story swept the country after it appeared on the front page of the LA Times. (We heard of this wonderful and still unfolding story when it appeared in Splasher, the Fall 2001 issue. ) When Mr. Cross finished, there many who were moved. The 100th touches people in extraordinary ways, without a doubt.

Also our dear Harry Vaughn stood up asked his friends to come and find him as he doesn’t see as well as he once did. Bill Bates also stood up and said he was here due to the efforts of Jan Riddling. Later he told Jan he had the best time ever and was so glad he came to Houston. Each member of the Historical Staff were asked to stand up and be recognized. Richard Gibson was here representing the 100th Bomb Group Memorial Museum at Thorpe Abbotts. He let us know that the museum is doing great, with over 10, 000 people visiting the museum last year. Hats off to the committee and volunteers for a job well done. (If you have not gone Thorpe Abbotts you should consider it. There is an indescribable feeling you can only find on such hollowed ground and no one who steps foot there escapes the feeling. )

Of the hundreds of stories that were being told during the reunion some of those we spotted were John P. Gibbons, David Lyster, Tom Hughes, Robert and Phyllis Rosenthal. Between Rosie and Gibbons alone, they had completed 101 missions! We also had the opportunity to sit down with General Tom Jeffrey about his time with the 100th Bomb Group. Jan Riddling also got the chance to interview the “Kleen Sweep” crew of Hal Switzer. Hal, Larry Poksay, Fred Wiegman and Dan Radice were gracious to give her their time and sharing their fascinating stories. Dan’s account of the Me 262 rising from the Autobahn to his altitude in seconds was riveting. We appreciate Hal, Larry, Fred, Dan and General Jeffrey for their valuable time. Our goal is to talk to each of you, we wish we had time to interview all of you, because you ALL have important stories to tell. So PLEASE, record your history and your stories of your time with the 100th BG, on video tape or in writing, and send them to us.

The Saturday dinner is one of the highlights of the reunion. As people congregate around the doors, people you have not seen yet seem to suddenly appear and hugs and hellos are exchanged. Then we are all swept up into that beautiful room and we quickly find our tables. The color guard presents the colors. Before very long people are up and visiting and this goes on all through the night, every chance to visit is taken! Sometime after the announcement and awards the band plays the tunes selected from the “pick-a-song” entries sent in. Oh, what that does to hear such songs as Green EyesBegin The BeguineMoonlight Serenade and many, many others…all songs played were chosen by those that sent in their “pick-a-song” list. The dinner was delicious and the company superb

Some time during the dinner there is always change that takes place …it is when you hear “where we going next time?” “Pittsburgh” some one replies and the phrase “goodbye” never crosses anyone lips, instead you begin to hear, “See you next time!” As you watch it catches on and grows, before long you are saying too. “See you in Pittsburgh!!” These moments should not be overlooked, for they are a wonderful gift of the 100th.

As always, time goes by way too fast and we leave knowing what true American Heroes you all are. We here at the 100th are always in your debt and we appreciate your service and sacrifice. We cherish our families and veterans of the 100th and each and everyone of you that came to Houston. Those that could not be with us this time, we look forward to the next time. No one in the 100th is forgotten!

Until we see you in Pittsburgh 2005 or at the grand opening of David Tallichet’s new 100th Bomb Group restaurant in Cleveland sometime in 2004 we hope or the dedication of the WWII Memorial Monument in Washington DC May 2004, we look forward to hearing from you.

“See you next time!!!”