Friday, June 27, 2014

Spring Season 2014 is over, Fall Season 2014 is Right Around The Corner

Our spring season this year took us all over the US.  We met lots of folks in lots of places, and  enjoyed every minute of every reunion.  Thank you so much to all our reunion attendees for allowing us to be a part of your reunion.  

We met this spring in Norfolk VA (I just gotta say, the Sheraton Waterside is just a fantastic location for a reunion.  You just can't beat the service at the hotel and the location right there next to Nauticus and the USS WISCONSIN.)  We also were in Huntsville, AL (that reunion was challenging, but in the end everyone had a good time.); three reunion in a row in Branson, MO; Fort Pierce, FL, Reno NV a couple of times, Virginia Beach, VA, and Albany NY.  

Brenda Eckard, waiting to check in the first arrival from the USS KENNETH D BAILEY reunion in Norfolk, VA

A wonderful place to visit when you are in Branson, MO.  Also known as Hard Work U, where there is no tuition, all students work on campus, and debt is openly discouraged!

The USS CAMBRIA group has a good time wherever they go, this year it was Virginia Beach, VA.

No visit to Reno is complete without a trip to Lake Tahoe.  It was really interesting to see the difference in the lake water on a cloudy, over cast day, and two days later on a bright and sunny day.

Spring was in full bloom in Albany for the visit by the USS PURDY in May!

Our trips this fall will include Boston, MA; Plattsburgh, NY; Albuquerque, NM; Pensacola, FL; Philadelphia, PA; Memphis, TN; San Antonio, TX; Kissimmee, FL; San Diego, CA; Louisville, KY; Nashville, TN, and then rounded out the year where we started, back at the Sheraton Waterside, in Norfolk, VA.  We are looking forward to seeing all of our reunion friends in cities all over the US this fall!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Doolittle Raiders - not original content (I didn't write this), But Oh So Good!

On Tuesday, April 18, 2013, in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, the surviving Doolittle Raiders gathered publicly for the last time. They once were among the most universally admired and revered men in the United States. There were 80 of the Raiders in April 1942, when they carried out one of the most courageous and heart-stirring military operations in this nation's history. The mere mention of their unit's name, in those years, would bring tears to the eyes of grateful Americans. Now only four survive.

After Japan's sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, with the United States reeling and wounded, something dramatic was needed to turn the war effort around.

Even though there were no friendly airfields close enough to Japan for the United States to launch a retaliation, a daring plan was devised. Sixteen B-25s were modified so that they could take off from the deck of an aircraft carrier. This had never before been tried -- sending such big, heavy bombers from a carrier.

The 16 five-man crews, under the command of Lt. Col. James Doolittle, who himself flew the lead plane off the USS Hornet, knew that they would not be able to return to the carrier. They would have to hit Japan and then hope to make it to China for a safe landing.

But on the day of the raid, the Japanese military caught wind of the plan. The Raiders were told that they would have to take off from much farther out in the Pacific Ocean than they had counted on. They were told that because of this they would not have enough fuel to make it to safety.

And those men went anyway.

They bombed Tokyo, and then flew as far as they could. Four planes crash-landed; 11 more crews bailed out, and three of the Raiders died. Eight more were captured; three were executed. Another died of starvation in a Japanese prison camp. One crew made it to Russia.

The Doolittle Raid sent a message from the United States to its enemies, and to the rest of the world: We will fight. And, no matter what it takes, we will win.

Of the 80 Raiders, 62 survived the war. They were celebrated as national heroes, models of bravery. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer produced a motion picture based on the raid; "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo," starring Spencer Tracy and Van Johnson, was a patriotic and emotional box-office hit, and the phrase became part of the national lexicon. In the movie-theater previews for the film, MGM proclaimed that it was presenting the story "with supreme pride."

Beginning in 1946, the surviving Raiders have held a reunion each April, to commemorate the mission. The reunion is in a different city each year. In 1959, the city of Tucson, Arizona, as a gesture of respect and gratitude, presented the Doolittle Raiders with a set of 80 silver goblets. Each goblet was engraved with the name of a Raider.

Every year, a wooden display case bearing all 80 goblets is transported to the reunion city. Each time a Raider passes away, his goblet is turned upside down in the case at the next reunion, as his old friends bear solemn witness.

Also in the wooden case is a bottle of 1896 Hennessy Very Special cognac. The year is not happenstance: 1896 was when Jimmy Doolittle was born.

There has always been a plan: When there are only two surviving Raiders, they would open the bottle, at last, drink from it, and toast their comrades who preceded them in death.

As 2013 began, there were five living Raiders; then, in February, Tom Griffin passed away at age 96.

What a man he was. After bailing out of his plane over a mountainous Chinese forest after the Tokyo raid, he became ill with malaria, and almost died. When he recovered, he was sent to Europe to fly more combat missions. He was shot down, captured, and spent 22 months in a German prisoner of war camp.

The selflessness of these men, the sheer guts ... there was a passage in the Cincinnati Enquirer obituary for Mr. Griffin that, on the surface, had nothing to do with the war, but that emblematizes the depth of his sense of duty and devotion:

"When his wife became ill and needed to go into a nursing home, he visited her every day. He walked from his house to the nursing home, fed his wife and at the end of the day brought home her clothes. At night, he washed and ironed her clothes. Then he walked them up to her room the next morning. He did that for three years until her death in 2005."

So now, out of the original 80, only four Raiders remain: Dick Cole (Doolittle's co-pilot on the Tokyo raid), Robert Hite, Edward Saylor and David Thatcher. All are in their 90s.

They have decided that there are too few of them for the public reunions to continue.

The events in Fort Walton Beach this week will mark the end. It has come full circle; Florida's nearby Eglin Field was where the Raiders trained in secrecy for the Tokyo mission. The town is planning to do all it can to honor the men: a six-day celebration of their valor, including luncheons, a dinner and a parade.

Do the men ever wonder if those of us for whom they helped save the country have tended to it in a way that is worthy of their sacrifice? They don't talk about that, at least not around other people. But if you find yourself near Fort Walton Beach this week, and if you should encounter any of the Raiders, you might want to offer them a word of thanks. I can tell you from first hand observation that they appreciate hearing that they are remembered.

The men have decided that after this final public reunion they will wait until a later date -- some time this year -- to get together once more, informally and in absolute privacy. That is when they will open the bottle of brandy. The years are flowing by too swiftly now; they are not going to wait until there are only two of them.

They will fill the four remaining upturned goblets.

And raise them in a toast to those who are gone.


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Emailers Now Need to Subscribe!

     Please watch your email carefully!  If we have an email address for you in our database, you will be receiving (if you have not already) an invitation to subscribe to the your group's Emailers List. In an effort to reduce the amount of junk email that is being sent, there have been standards established to control the way emails are sent to groups of people. The server that hosts our web site has adopted these standards, and we must abide by them.  This means that we can no longer just copy a list of email addresses out of our database, and paste that list into the “To:” or “BCC:” fields of an email.  We can now only send group emails to recipients who have subscribed to a particular email list.  This process involves sending out an invitation to group members.     
  • When you receive the invitation you will be asked to click on a link within the email that takes you to the subscription page.
  •  On the subscription page, you fill out your email address, and then submit it. 
  • You will then receive another email from the DADA Mailing Service confirming that you are the actual owner of the email address you provided. 
  • When you click on the link in the confirmation email, you will then be “subscribed”.   

     This process is called a “double opt-in” subscription.  It is designed so that a computer robot can’t just go in and fill out random email addresses in forms – they want to know a real person is submitting the email address, and that same person really has access to that email account. 
     This subscription list is totally independent of the database we maintain for your group. If you change your email address, you will still need to let us know, and you will need to re-subscribe with your new address.  If you have not ever submitted your email address and would like to, there is a link to the subscription process on the reunion web site. You will also need to send us an email with your email address in order to get it added to the database. 
     I experimented with several different email programs before selecting this particular one.  It is the least complicated of the ones I tried. Thank you for your patience as we implement this new procedure.  I, for one, get a ton of junk mail, and would not mind at all if standards like this reduced the amount I have to weed through every day!

Dina Coffey
General Manager
Premier Reunion Services, LLC

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Prime Value Destination - Kissimmee, FL!!!!

     Recently the staff of Premier Reunion Services along with the Coordinator for the USS Huntington, Gene Volcik, and the Coordinator of the USS Mississippi, Paul Shepley, were invited to visit Kissimmee, Florida, for a wonderful tour of their attractions. The visit was to highlight all the activities Kissimmee has to offer that are not Disney related and to encourage military reunion groups to consider the Kissimmee area when deciding on a location for their reunions. We were all greatly impressed with what we saw and thought we would share some of our experiences with you.

     Our three-day visit began with a tour to the Museum of Military History. The 10,000-square-foot museum provides interactive displays and exhibits beginning with historical photos, uniforms and interpretations of the Civil War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War and the recent military conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some of the displays that we found particularly interesting were a large panoramic diagram depicting one of the elaborate tunnel systems used by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War, actual uniforms and supplies used in various  wars and a rare World War II motorcycle. There was also an opportunity to have a dog tag made on-site by one of the museum guides.

     One of our most adventurous outings was to Wild Florida where we took an airboat ride into the headwaters of the Everglades. Speeding through the water we saw alligators, flocks of many different species of birds and, believe it or not—cows munching on the plant life in the swamps, knee-deep in the water. Also located on the property was the Wild Life and Nature Park which featured zebras, watusis, water buffalo, emus, alligators, peacocks and many other exotic animals. We also had the opportunity to hold an alligator. A few of us took the challenge and lived to tell about it!

     Our next visit was to Stallion 51, a huge collection of vintage aircraft, all air-worthy and in prime condition. The amazing thing about this facility was that it offered anyone—no experience necessary—the chance to fly (after a training session, of course) a World War II P-51 Mustang.
     In much the same grain as Stallion 51, the Warbird Museum also housed a collection of vintage airplanes. Some in our group were able to climb on the wing of one of the P-51 Mustangs and look inside the cockpit. Flight opportunities for the adventurous souls were also offered at this museum.

     There is no shortage of nighttime entertainment in Kissimmee either. Our day continued with an evening visit to the Arabian Nights Dinner Show. “The American Princess” show features an American girl who discovers she is a princess and must find her Prince Charming. The stars of the show are the beautiful Arabian horses who put on a spectacular performance as various young men arrive on horseback to compete for the princess’s affections. A wonderful dinner is served as the performance takes place.
     Day two started very early with what turned out to be our favorite activity of the trip—a flight in a hot air balloon! Although we missed the sunrise because weather conditions a few miles away kept us from launching on time, we thoroughly enjoyed the ride! Beautiful scenery, floating peacefully in the fresh morning air—wonderful experience! (The only hitch to the ride was getting in and out—no ladder or step stool; we just had to climb over the basket top—no small fete for our “mature” bodies!)

     Our next visit was to Gatorland, “Alligator Capital of the World”. Alligators of all sizes make their home here, including Chester the Dog Eater. Chester was becoming a pest in one neighborhood because he was eating the homeowners’ dogs. Gatorland came to the rescue and captured Chester for the park. He is now the largest alligator at Gatorland at 13 feet. He has his own area and seems very happy in his new home. Another rarity at the park are the giant white alligators, seen only at Gatorland. Quite a sight to behold! A walk along the long boardwalk in the park allowed us to see thousands of white egrets nesting in the trees. They choose the park for nesting because the alligators keep away all the predators which would, in the wild, eat their eggs. Many other creatures are also on display here, including giant turtles, boa constrictors and all types of exotic birds. We all thoroughly enjoyed our visit.

     A visit to Old Town was next on our agenda. We ate lunch at the A& W Restaurant, with 1950’s d├ęcor, ad then moved on to the Chocolate Kingdom. Here we learned about the history and processing of chocolate through a tour conducted by a knowledgeable guide, and then we were able to have our own chocolate bars made to order. There was much more to see in Old Town, but our time was limited, so we didn’t get a chance to see everything, but it looked like a great place to shop and be entertained at an amusement park on site.
     Our evening entertainment was at Capone’s Dinner and Show. A buffet featuring many Italian favorites was enjoyed before the beginning of the show. The show itself was set in a 1930’s Chicago speakeasy with a zany cast of characters who get into lots of trouble, leading to hilarious consequences. The cast also brought the audience into the show by coming down to the tables and talking with them. This made for some very funny ad libbing by the cast. It was a wonderfully entertaining evening which we all enjoyed very much.

     The next morning we spent touring some of Kissimmee’s hotels, and then lunch was at a wonderful authentic Italian restaurant, Pacinos’s. Following lunch we had another rare experience at Fantasy of Flight, the world’s greatest aircraft collection airport. First we viewed the take off and landing of a P-51 Mustang. Then we were able to hear a very special presentation by three of the famous Tuskegee Airmen, who were there for only a few appearances. They shared some of their experiences of a segregated America in a question/answer type interview and then took questions from the audience. Afterwards they were available for photos and personal greetings. It was truly a privilege to hear and meet them. After the presentation we toured the facility which offers a wide variety of experiences including simulated rides in a Corsair Fighter atop an aircraft carrier, a hot air balloon, and a hang glider. One can take a walk through a World War II bomber  which ends at a World War II exhibit. We did not have time for all the experiences that were available here, but really enjoyed the ones we were able to visit.
     Our last evening in Kissimmee was spent at the Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament Show. Before the show we got to visit the museum in a separate building which contains artifacts that date back for as much as 800 years. The most fascinating artifacts were the actual tools used for torture in Medieval times—things like body stretchers, skull crushers, and other unimaginable punishments. Clothing, tools, furniture and household items were also on display. It  certainly made us appreciate the times we live in. When it was time for the dinner and show, we were escorted to our seats in the “Blue Knight” section of the arena. The pageantry and thrills of an authentic medieval tournament came to life inside the walls of the King’s 11th century-style castle. Six armor-clad Knights on valiant horses sought the title of Champion amidst the clashing of lance and shield and heart-pounding combat. Dinner, without benefit of utensils, was served during the show. Luckily for our group, our “Blue Knight” won the competition and claimed the title of Champion.

We can't promise this for future reunions, but we were so privileged to meet
 three of the Tuskegee Airmen.  What an honor!

     All during our visit we were treated like royalty and were certainly impressed with everything we were shown in Kissimmee. The weather was wonderful, the sights were spectacular and the overall impression was that Kissimmee would make a great place for a reunion.  We consider Kissimmee to be a Prime Value Destination and we encourage you to make Kissimmee your 2014 reunion location.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

May was an Exciting Month!

Our staff covered a lot of miles in May of 2012, working with 5 different reunion groups.  We managed events in Norwich, CT, Warwick, RI, Minneapolis, MN,  Norfolk, VA and  Chattanooga, TN.  All of these locations were great host cities!

The week before Mother's Day we had a group go to the little town of Pawcatuck, CT (not to be confused with Pawtucket, RI!) for a special memorial dedication.  The members of the USS PAWCATUCK actually stayed in Norwich, CT, and rode the bus over to Pawcatuck to dedicate a memorial to the ship in their small veteran's park near the river.  It was a fantastic event!   Also while in CT, the group visited the Coast Guard Academy and the Sub Force Museum and Historic USS NAUTILUS.

Next on the calendar was the USS PURDY reunion in Warwick, RI.  Another great group of folks in another great location.  The meet for 4 nights instead of the traditional 3, so they can enjoy a slightly slower pace.  From Warwick, they ventured over to the historic area of Boston, the Battleship Cove, and to see the mansions in Newport.  It made for a great reunion!

Where we went in April 2012

Well, 2012 is winding down and it's time to look back at the places we've been this year!  I think I'll divide this up into a couple of posts.  This first one will be our April reunions.  This year we went to Branson, MO, Washington, DC, Nashville, TN, Cincinnati, OH, in April.  Each location was a great place to hold a reunion!  Check out some of these pictures:

The first reunion of the year was the USS CAMBRIA in Branson, MO.  There is so much to do in Branson. It is truly a city dedicated to our country's veterans.  There is a spectacular Veteran's Museum - a must-see for every American.  You can see a number of shows, take a ride of the Branson Belle Showboat, and Ride the Ducks.  Our group went to the Dixie Stampede and thoroughly enjoyed the show!

The same week we had a group in Branson, we had another group in Washington, DC.  I don't have a lot of tour pictures, but this group always has a good time.  They've been getting together for years and are more like family than just friends!

We were also privileged to manage the USS TARAWA reunion in Nashville, TN.  The highlight of this reunion was a visit to the Grand Ole Opry.  We were very fortunate to be there this time for a very big event in country music - the induction of Keith Urban into the GOO.  I think I personally may have enjoyed this even more than the reunion attendees.  A couple weeks after the reunion, I spoke to one of the Tarawa guys on the phone and he made the comment that "he didn't see why all those young people were so excited to see a singer who couldn't even afford jeans without holes in them, or to get  a haircut!"  (I know he was just picking, we really did have a great time!).  Here's a few pictures from the Grand Ole Opy:
USS TARAWA crewmembers waiting for the show to begin

Bus trip over to the Grand Ole Opry

Little Jimmy Dickens!

One half of the duo Love and Theft.  They performed one song, and  later in 2012 that song was released as their first single - which scored the duo their first CMT Music Awards nomination for Duo Video of the Year.  

The other half of the duo Love and Theft

Keith Urban

Josh Turner

Keith Urban, center about to receive his ceremonial microphone stand as a member of the Grand Ole Opry (Trace Adkins is on his left, Josh Turner on his right)

Trace Adkins speaking a few words of welcome

And now Keith is thanking the GOO for his induction

We can't promise big names like this every visit to the Grand Ole Opry, but the show is always top notch!  (Our tickets are purchase months before the big names are added to the Opry schedule).  Other attractions our groups enjoy in Nashville include the General Jackson showboat, tour the Opryland Hotel, the Country Music Hall of Fame, and many more!

The last trip we took in April was to the Cincinnati area.  Another great location!  An Army Security Agency group that was stationed in Helemano, Hawaii met in Cincinnati for their annual reunion.