Palm Springs Mini-Reunion
January 26 - 28, 2007
Return to the 100th in Palm Springs
By Kim Olson
My brother Ron and I took our Father (Arthur L. Olson) to attend his first 100th Bomb Group reunion in Palm Springs this January 2007. After three days of watching him visit and meet new/old friends I was approached and encouraged by Jan Riddling to write about what his (and our) experiences were regarding the event. I agreed to do so and will attempt to share with you what we considered highlights of the weekend.
Growing up as kids Dad never talked about the war. I know that it affected him deeply and that recalling parts of it brought back troubling memories. It was only later in life that he began to open up to share his experiences. This prompted me to complete a historical family document regarding his Air Corps training and assignment with the 100th Bomb Group. It was while researching the 100th web site that I saw the Palm Springs reunion announcement and decided I would attend. After telling my brother about the event, he stated that he would also like to come and bring along our father. With great enthusiasm I made our reservations and anticipated the arrival of the weekend. Two weeks before the event Dad indicated that he was having second thoughts and was not sure he would come. Dad was 29 years old when drafted in 1942 making him 30 by the time he was assigned to the bombers. This meant he was the "old man" of his crew. At a present day 93 years he does not move fast and feared he may not be able to keep up with the group. My brother and I assured him that between the two of us he would never be alone. After hearing this he had a change of heart and decided to come.
Our adventure began almost like magic. Dad called me the day of our departure early Friday morning at 0’dark 30 to tell me they were leaving from Sedona, Arizona. I was just about out the door from San Jose, California. We both started our commute drive 900 miles apart and phoned mid trip on the road to talk about the first arrival getting the rooms set. After seven hours I pulled into the hotel parking lot only to find my brother sitting in his car with Dad. I was a bit puzzled as he looked at me with a big grin. It so happened that they had arrived only 15 seconds earlier and he had just turned off his vehicle. At that point I knew there was something special going on!
We checked into our rooms and suggested that Dad rest for a while. He said he was not tired and immediately wanted to go out to the pool area. Arriving at the pool we found five or six men with their wives sitting and visiting. Much to my surprise Dad open the gate, walked in confidently with his cane and boldly announced "anybody here from the Eighth Air Force"? He received a welcome response of "you bet" and was told to grab a seat and join in. So much for my apprehension on how this trip was going to pan out for him!
After this visiting we moved to the hospitality room with introductions to Mike Faley the group Historian, Ron and Carol Batley from the Thorpe Abbotts Museum in England, and Jan Riddling who is the group Administrator. Jan required us to provide her welcome hugs before sitting Dad down for some signatures. Dad was asked to sign lithographs, the Century Bombers book on the pages with the planes he flew on (Goin Jessies and Humpty Dumpty) and other documents. He also spent time with Mike going over some of his assignment history so the group data base could be updated. My brother and I were in awe of how everyone was so friendly and respectful towards Dad. He was accepted immediately.
The following day we attended the scheduled program at the Palm Springs Air Museum. The museum had set aside one whole hanger for the group and it was quite impressive. On one side of the structure was a large display of 100th memorabilia. I had brought along Dad’s uniform and ribbons and asked Mike Faley if they could be included in the display. Without hesitation Mike said of course and moved some items to make room. This meant a great deal to my father as he walked along the table and saw his items along side others he had served with. He was very proud. Although hard of hearing and failing eyesight, Dad enjoyed the program of guest speakers (Mike, Bob Wolff, etc.). I watched him closely during these talks on the 100th missions and losses as I knew this is an issue with him. He appeared fine and with the conclusion of speakers he moved with the other vets to group up for pictures. Dad does not walk fast but he confessed later to my brother that it was alright because by arriving last he ended up being one the individuals in the front row. Dad has not lost his great attitude or sense of humor.
With the conclusion of the P-51 Mustang flying program it was time to get Dad back for a rest. While entering the museum we had seen a Distinguish Flying Cross Memorial off to the right. It is a very impressive piece of sculptured bronze and marble art work. Dad had received this medal for his service while flying with the 100th. Wanting a picture of this special piece I positioned Dad to stand next to the memorial. As I readied for my shot I had to pause as a women came up to him, talked for a few minutes, and then kissed Dad on the check. A young girl of about twenty was standing next to me also waiting. I asked her if she was with the women and she stated it was her Grandmother. She told me her Grandfather had flown with the 100th but had passed away a few years earlier and that she was attending the event with her Grandmother. This all hit me as another very special moment to see how this perfect stranger treated my Father with respect and gratitude.
After a rest it was time for Saturday night dinner a Billy Reed’s. Arriving at the restaurant we found it packed with the 100th Bomb Group. We navigated our way to some seats at a nice table in the corner. Here we were joined by two other vets and their families. We visited and heard interesting conversation as they had all been with the group at different times (one had been a POW). They each shared a special story or thought about their assignment with the 100th. Dad talked a bit about his time and experiences at Thorpes Abbott during his 28 missions with the 351St Squadron from September 1943 to July 1944. It was an enjoyable evening and upon returning to our rooms Dad stated he had a great time.
Sunday morning was check out day. We found the lobby filled with vets and families enjoying coffee and breakfast. I had stopped in earlier that morning and visited with Carol Batley from England. She was a pleasure to speak with and was very patient in answering all my questions regarding the air base, museum, and what it was like around the local towns. I shared this information with Dad as we packed up and he insisted that he also get a chance to speak with her. He ended up sitting with Carol for about twenty minutes talking about England and Thorpe Abbotts. With that we loaded up for our return drives home.
It had been an incredible weekend for the three of us. It is always emotional for me when I hug and kiss my Dad goodbye. He hugged me back and thanked me for making this happen. I also thanked my brother for bringing Dad. It was clear that this would not have happened without his caring effort. I think we both really treasured being able to witness our father’s reactions during the course of the three day events. For him it was the first time in sixty-three years that he was able to talk and express him self to others who absolutely identified with what he said. He was comfortable, happy, and at ease during the whole reunion. I believe this was due to the fact that the 100th Bomb Group is made up of special people who experienced a very unique time in our country’s history. My thanks to all of you!
Kim Olson (son)
Palm Springs Mini-Reunion