by Bernie Cobb
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FORT WALTON BEACH, FL:
If records were meant to be broken this was the year for it. With attendance at 174th AHC Association annual reunions hovering around the mid-60's for three years in a row, the bottom fell out this year. Attendance almost doubled.
Everyone involved in the planning and execution of reunion plans was stunned with the unexpected turnout. Pleasantly stunned. "This is great," shouted Association President, Wally Nunn. And, the record crowd of 114 SOB's ("Souls On Board") had a stupendous time, including the 44 spouses and/or significant others (SO's), six guests, one child, and one member's Mom.
Another big surprise was that, on Thursday, the day before the reunion officially got underway, there were almost as many attendees already checked into the Best Western Ft. Walton Beachfront Hotel as there were total attendees at some past reunions. Sooooo, the party started early!
Reunion 2002 officially began at noon on Friday, October 11th, and the remainder of the Association members, their spouses and SO's "touched down" on the landing pad (er, uh, hotel lobby) throughout the day and evening.
The first scheduled event was the annual business meeting Friday evening, following a Bar-B-Que buffet provided by Julie Michael and her great staff at Southern Sensations. The meeting kicked off at 7:00 p.m., with Association President, Wally Nunn, presiding.
After "Butch" Elliott led the group in the pledge of allegiance to the American flag, Nunn read messages of "greetings and salutations" from United States Senator Bill Nelson (FL) and U.S. Representative Jeff Miller, 1st District of Florida. A message from Florida's other U.S. Senator, Bob Graham, was received later and posted on the reunion bulletin board along with special greetings to the 174th veterans from Florida's governor, The Honorable Jeb Bush.
In keeping with the reunion's theme, "A Salute to our Medal of Honor Recipients," Nunn also read highlights of a letter from Nick Bacon, MOH, President, Congressional Medal of Honor Society, United States of America. A brief message of greetings from the nation's most recent MOH recipient, MAJ (USA-Ret) Ed Freeman, MOH, was also presented. Freeman, a former U.S. Army helicopter pilot, won his nation's highest award for action with the 1st Cavalry Division in the Ia Drang Valley in 1965. A book was written on that action and titled, We Were Soldiers Once and Young. The book was subsequently made into a movie. Freeman was the pilot known in the book and movie as "Too Tall."
Nunn then introduced the Association's special guest, CW4 (USA-Ret) Michael Novosel, MOH, who spoke briefly to the group. Novosel received the MOH for his action in Vietnam as a Dustoff pilot. He later authored a book, appropriately titled, Dustoff. Novosel autographed a copy of that book which was later put up for bid in the reunion's annual auction.
Quoting from another letter, Nunn relayed apologies to the group from Colonel (USAF-Ret) Bud Day, MOH. Day, now a Ft. Walton Beach attorney, had planned on attending the opening session of the reunion but was summoned unexpectedly to Germany where he represented a client in a court trial. For the past six years Day has been engaged in a class action legal battle against the federal government, which aims to return free medical benefits to military veterans who were in the service prior to 7 Jun 1956. That case has been before a U.S. Federal Appeals Court in Washington, D.C., for several months. A decision against the military retiree plaintiffs was rendered 18 Nov 2002. Day now promises another long, hard fight to get the case heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Bernie Cobb was called upon to present the Secretary/Treasurer's report. After getting a motion and unanimous vote to dispense with reading last year's minutes, which were posted on the reunion bulletin board, Cobb presented the Treasurer's Report. In the interest of time, Cobb also dispensed with reading the financial statements which were likewise posted on the bulletin board.
Vice President, Mel Lutgring, reported on the T-shirt project and Hatpin project. According to Lutgring, the T-shirts were almost delayed beyond the beginning of the reunion because of Hurricane Lili. However, the vendor was able to finish production in time for them to be delivered a few hours late, but in time to issue at the Business Meeting. Lutgring also explained that the set of hatpins were this year's special "surprise gift" from the Association to current, dues-paying members. The set consists of a replica of the 174th AHC patch, a Shark patch, and a Witchdoctor patch. Lutgring then handed out the shirts and pins to the attending members. Absentee-orders were mailed after the reunion.
Dick Overhamm made a report on last year's 174th auto license plates project. Overhamm said he sold a few more plates and has a good working arrangement with the vendor so that more can be produced if necessary.
Overhamm also made a report on his attendance at the last official reunion of the original Flying Tigers Association. He attended that reunion, held in May, at Seattle, WA., and presented a plaque and letter of appreciation from the 174th AHC Assn.
Nunn announced that an election for Association officers will be held in 2003 when the three-year terms of office will expire for current officers. When the annual newsletters--FROM THE FISHPOND--are mailed later this year, a section will be devoted to the election. Members can write in their nominations for President, Vice President, and Secretary/Treasurer and mail them to the Secretary. When a nomination is made, the nominator should ensure that the nominee will serve in office if elected. Nunn also announced that Bernie Cobb, who will have served for five years as Secretary/Treasurer, will not be available, per his own choice, for re-election.
Members approved a recommendation made by the Treasurer to adopt a Fiscal Year policy for the purpose of financial accounting. With the current calendar year reporting policy, annual financial statements presented to members attending reunions are relatively old and virtually meaningless. By adopting a Fiscal Year beginning on 1 Oct., the statements will be more up-to-date and reflect a more accurate and meaningful account of the Association's financial position.
Replacing the late "Black Sam" Kalagian as tournament director for the annual golf outing, Carl Muthersbaugh did a magnificent job. Carl not only conducted the tournament, but he "raised the bar" in what has become a traditional event. Here is Carl's verbatim report:
This year's golf tournament was held at the Fort Walton Beach Municipal Golf Course on October 12, 2002, in memory of the founder of the annual golf tournament, the late Colonel (Ret) Samuel P. Kalagian. This year's tournament was renamed 'Black Sam' Kalagian Golf Classic. The event was played on the Oaks Course with players coming from around the country.
Gene Teague, Tom Reinshagen, Jim McDaniel, and Tom Rodery were this year's rookie players. Last year's reigning tournament champs were back for a second try at winning this year's classic. Carl Muthersbaugh and Charles Bischdorf were invited back as the oldest veterans to play in last year's golf tournament.
As tournament play began, Gene Teague started off for his team with a drive to the left tree line. Then, Tom Reinshagen drove his ball to the right side of the fairway, then Jim McDaniel with a straight shot down the middle of the fairway. As my team of Paul Kunelius and Charles Bischdorf were putting on the first green we heard "Fore" which means (incoming) and that someone on the third team made a long shot which landed on the green while we were putting for par.
So we waited for them to putt out and then we let them go ahead of us, being they were better golfers and we didn't want to delay their play. Later in the round we came across one snake in a small scrub oak tree and Tom Reinshagen saw a larger snake in a small stream. As play continued at the fifteenth hole, one of our players hit another golfer's ball by mistake, but everything worked out and we were on to the last few holes when fatigue started setting in on my team. But we knew if we could make it to the club house, that cold beer would bring us back to life. As we arrived, teams one and three had made it to the club house and were dining on sandwiches and cold beer.
Yogi Reaves, Bob Shoe and Tom Rodery came in with the best score of 65, that won the first "Black Sam" Kalagian Golf Classic and will have their names inscribed on a trophy that will be displayed at next year's reunion. After having a few laughs about our high score, we returned to the Best Western Hotel to freshen up for our annual seafood dinner.
I hope that all the players that were in this year's tournament will return for more fun again next year. For this year only, I had special "Black Sam" golf hats made for each player and for our unit reunion staff. A special poster was made in memory of our fallen comrade, "Black Sam" Kalagian, which had this year's golf tournament information on it." (Editor note: A hat is also being presented to Kalagian's son, Samuel "Butch" Kalagian, Jr., in his father's memory.)
The on again, off again, annual fishing trip was definitely "on" this year. Really "on." Here's how Warren Hewetson describes it:
On Saturday, October 12, a Shark, four Dolphins and a FNG decided to tackle the great Gulf of Mexico. Fred Taylor (pilot '70), Dale Spratt (pilot and CO '71), Tom Gauby (CE ' 68), Henry "Marty" Wifholm (pilot '67), Wally Nunn (CE '67) and FNG Warren Hewetson boarded the 45-foot charter boat "Miss Chloe" in Destin for some great fishing. Capt. Bass and Crewmate Matt did not let the 174th AHC down. From 8:00AM to 4:00PM the six fishermen caught several fish (including a couple of Spanish Mackerel, several Snapper, several Grouper and some large, what the Capt. called, "Bluefish"). Tom Gauby caught every Triggerfish in the Gulf.
The trip began with the catching of a 'load' of live bait (minnows and herring) and then bottom fishing the Gulf for almost 8 hours. At some points, it was a Shark and Dolphin "frenzy!" Who caught the biggest fish? That's controversial, but Dale Spratt caught a humongous Grouper among several other species and everybody caught a lot of big (and small) fish. If it weren't for a 21-inch limit on Grouper, the boat would have been full!!!
Do they have the fish for proof? Nope, the fisherman made a charitable donation of the catch to the Captain, who will give it to the "locals" who really need it. As Warren Hewetson puts it, 'proof that the 174th AHC really are heroes!' They have pictures. The famous saying among some of the 174thers is, "If you ain't got pictures... it didn't happen!"
Hey, it happened!!!
Our own "Old Man of the Sea," Bill (Cap'n Hook) Murphy, escorted a group of fun-seeking "non-golfers" and "non-fisherpersons" to Destin for a cruise around the bay. This is what Bill had to say about that trip:
About a dozen Dolphins, Sharks, Witchdoctors and "Significant Others" boarded the "Southern Star" in Destin harbor on October 12th for a 2-hour cruise around the bay. The Dolphin Cruise Line (how appropriate) operates this glass-bottomed boat!.
First was a narrated tour around the anchorage area that showed off lots of fine restaurants and fishing and excursion boats. Then out into the Gulf for an opportunity to view some of the sea life. We managed to see a few dolphins in their natural habitat. We then returned to the 'back bay' for some more sightseeing before getting back to the dock. The weather was very nice and the boat featured both indoor and outdoor seating along with a snack bar for light dining and drinks. Feedback indicates that the travelers found the excursion enjoyable and worth the price."
Don't "monkey around" with Bob (Old Curly) Jones. He'll take you to see your cousins at the zoo. Here is Bob's account of the tour:
The trip to the Gulf Breeze Zoo turned out to be great, and not-so-great. The Zoo itself was very interesting as a large number of unusual animals were on exhibit. A nice morning was spent touring the attractive site. It was not-so-great in that, while 20 people signed up for the trip, only five actually went. Bob and Mary Jones, Dale and Ann Wylie, and Ruth Sarnecki rode in Bob's SUV, so it was a good trip spent with friends.
The Zoo has two areas, one for walking and another with a train tour. The train tour, costing only a buck a head, was a great way to tour the site since the train stopped for close-up views of the most interesting animals. Since the train driver had food handouts for the animals, they would come up very close to the train for their 'snacks.'
The train was a relaxing way to see a number of rare animals. The walking tour led you around the interior park for close-up views of the rest of the animals. The walk and foliage was maintained the best I've seen in years. Benches were available throughout the walk for those of us needing a brief rest. One of the more interesting sites took you inside and through the bird house where a large number of rare birds flew over your head or stood on perches close to hand. All in all, an interesting and rewarding morning was spent.
On Saturday evening, after Bob "Bear" Bryant said grace over yet another delectable seafood buffet by Southern Sensations, the annual Awards Ceremony was held. The main door prize and individual awards was a leather keychain with the 174th unit patch laser-burned on one side and the winner's name on the other. Just for old time's sake, a P-38 C-ration can opener was attached.
The traditional award for traveling the longest distance to attend the reunion was presented, again this year, to Tom Taggart from Billings, Montana. Later in the night, that simple act set off a raging controversy as P.T. Yowell screamed "foul" and insisted that he was the winner, having come from Richland, Oregon. Sure 'nuff. P.T. did win that dispute but, as it turned out, neither was the true winner. Dale Spratt actually came the longest distance--from Federal Way, Washington. But, P.T. is now happy--he belatedly got his key ring, anyway.
Other awards were: Early Bird to Abe Gomes (first to reserve hotel room); "Red" Jones and Bob Koveleski (first to register); Patron Saint to Dale Spratt and David Lindsey (outstanding support to the Assn), and Jay Walland (for supplying 174th unit patch decals for the entire group); Good Samaritan to Jan Gomes (for picking up non-driver, Tom Larkin at his home in GA, and chauffeuring him to the reunion); Clam Man Award to (who else?) Bruce Marshall; Project Director to Mike Banek (McDaniel Award); Bob Jones (Zoo Tour); Bill Murphy (Bay Cruise); and Carl Muthersbaugh (Golf Tournament). On the lighter side, Peggy Mahone received a "Mostest Hostess" award; Julie Michael an "Ironess Chef" award, and Warren Hewetson, a "Deputy Dawg" award for his work with the 174th Listserver and E-mail address listings.
President Wally Nunn presented Vice President Mel Lutgring with a special award for his dedicated work in designing and procuring T-shirts and hatpins. It seems that Mel had become so attached to the 174th banner last year that he spirited that coveted item home with him. He was later accused of "misappropriation of Association property." So, to get the 174th banner back into proper hands, and to quiet Mel's burning passion for that banner, he was given a "twin sister" banner as his very own. At least, Mel does put the banners to good use-he flies them, along with the American flag, from his front porch at home on every official holiday. Good for you, Melvyn.
And now, the big one! A surprise award went to Jim McDaniel for his outstanding work in creating, maintaining, and enhancing the 174th Assault Helicopter Company Web Page on the Internet. The project for presenting Jim with a top-of-the-line A-2 leather flight jacket, complete with blood chits and unit patches, was the brainstorm of Mike Banek. It was a project begun two years ago and funded with personal donations from Jim's friends in the 174th AHC. Here, in his own words, is Mike's report on that project:
I served 6/67 to 6/68 w/the 174th, when the C-130 dumped Glenn Blackmon and me on the PSP on a hot dusty afternoon in June '67. I prayed it was a horrible mistake and hoped the Herc would circle and pick us up. But it continued on to Chu Lai where people lived in real wooden hootches as did every base on the ride north from Nha Trang. Except Duc Pho!
From the air it looked like a tent city slum, and it didn't get any better up close. Just off the northern perimeter a B-57 Canberra was strafing with it's Vulcan cannon, too close for comfort! Of all the units in Vietnam, why this one? As time bore on I thanked God for the privilege and honor of flying with the Dolphins and Sharks, and those magic wrenches of the Witchdoctors, and our great Crew Chiefs.
I now have the honor and privilege to recognize one of our own for his devotion to the preservation of the 174th's history and more importantly the memory of our fallen brothers-in-arms. A sister in Idaho was able to find some closure and tell her children how her brother did it right. A daughter in Seattle receives a gift of a few precious seconds of video copied from a 35-year-old 8MM movie of her departed father doing what he loved best. A son who only knows of his father from his mother's best memories hears of the honorable professionalism his father displayed.
There are numerous stories like these because of the 174th Internet website. Many of us in this room have been reunited with our "missing" brothers because of our Internet website. Maintaining and updating the website is tedious work, demanding many hours of sacrifice. I know only too well having built my family genealogy website. They are a labor of love.
We're blessed to have an individual who not only gives unselfishly of his time but whose creativity has turned our site into the finest of it's kind on the World Wide Web.
Please welcome our 174th Webmaster, Jim McDaniel, as he joins us up here. Jim, we'd like to present you with a token of our appreciation."
Following that presentation, a stunned and emotional McDaniel was also presented, from the Association, a key chain engraved with his name and "World's Best Webmaster" along with a Lifetime Membership Proclamation presented by the president, Wally Nunn. The remaining private donations, after expenses for the coat and patches were deducted, went towards partial payment of the McDaniel hotel bill with the Association covering the unpaid balance.
After the reunion, when he had time to reflect on the award, McDaniel had this to say:
Char (McDaniel) and I have been married for 34 years. She's an O.W. (original wife), and after all this time I thought we were truthful with each other and I could trust her. Well live and learn! I discovered she's almost as devious as some of the guys I flew with in Vietnam. They all kept this a total secret from me, and I was FLOORED by the whole thing! I've since learned this has been in the works for a long time and would have been given it last year, but because of other commitments, neither Mike Banek nor I could make last year's reunion.
At this reunion, when Mike got about half-way through reading his introduction, it dawned on me he was talking about the web page, and I quickly leaped to the realization I was also gonna get one of those cool, personalized key-chain fobs that were being passed out to several of the other 174th Association contributors. Well, when Mike pulled out that A-2 leather flight jacket, it took my breath away! Then he followed with the WWII flying Tigers leather blood chit for the back, the Vietnam blood chit, the Flying Tigers unit patch, new 174th and Shark patches, the Tet-68 Survivors patch, and the "Webmaster" leather name tag.
MAN! I couldn't believe it! The timing was perfect too, as I'd been out of the room and had just entered (Char was about to panic) with our good friends Dean and Tina Resch, who joined Char and me for the banquet. I know I should have been more articulate in my "acceptance speech," but I was so surprised and taken aback I couldn't do much except blubber.
A difficult chore, that I've just finished, is to decide what patches to use and where to put them on the jacket. All the goodies wouldn't fit, but what I wound up with is dynamite! I'll have pictures of it on the website later. I love it!
I gotta tell you all that the recognition and the jacket are terrific, but in truth the REAL reward for the work that goes into the website is the reaction I get from new brothers who discover the site and get re-connected with old friends; relatives of lost brothers who finally get a chance to learn details they've not know for 30 or so years, and to talk with people who knew them and could provide tidbits of personal information; vets from Vietnam and other times, housewives, and school kids literally from around the world who write to offer appreciation for what we all did. The word "hero" is thrown around quite casually these days, but to me you are all heroes, and I'm proud to be able to spread the word about what we all did for our country when "country wasn't cool."
I'd like to really thank Mike Banek (who I understand was the ring-leader) and all others who participated in this recognition. As yet I don't know who all those were, but I know some of the "usual suspects" had a part. For all of you. Thanks!
Now, finally, I think a special recognition also goes to my good bud Fred Thompson -Shark7- who for years has been working overtime to find people and bring them back together. If you haven't noticed, Fred (the original California surfer-dude with his ever ready camera) is everywhere throughout the website. Without his work it wouldn't be nearly what it is today. Others have certainly played significant parts in development of the website and the 174th Association (like Ted Saunders), but Fred has been relentless and tireless in his research and energy. I was saddened to learn he was not going to make the reunion this year. Everyone please keep Fred and Donna (Thompson) in your prayers.
As Warren (Hewetson) says, "I'm following the right bunch of heroes."
(Bernie note: The reference to the late Fred Thompson has been retained in Jim's original report. Sadly, as we all know, Fred has passed away, the victim of lung cancer. His funeral was held in his hometown, Tujunga, California, on Saturday, November 16th.)
Following the awards ceremony on Saturday evening, the Annual Memorial Service was held. Vice President, Mel Lutgring conducted the service. Here is Mel's report:
The common thread among us is our tour of duty with the 174th Assault Helicopter Co., from the early days of 1966 as an Aviation Co., the middle years at Duc Pho, to the last days at Chu Lai in 1971. A deeper bond exists, that only those who served with us can truly appreciate and understand. It is a "brotherhood" we have come to cherish as deeply as our families, because belonging to it brings an understanding of our experiences only our fellow veterans can give.
The reasons we all came to serve in the 174th in Vietnam is as varied as the faces I see before me. Some were career soldiers, doing their duty to country, others drafted, but no less committed to doing their job, and some volunteered for patriotic or personal reasons. Once there, we knew our survival depended on each other and many of us are here today because of the skill and valor of our fellow Unit members. It is in the light of this memory we all have been looking forward to this weekend with joy and anticipation of seeing old friends and meeting new ones. Yet, all of us carry with us a sorrowful memory of someone who paid the supreme price of war.
Their names etched in the black granite of the Vietnam Memorial in silent testimony of the lives sacrificed for freedom and democracy. It is only fitting we take a few moments to reflect and remember not only our fallen comrades of years ago, but also those "brothers" we have lost over the years since Vietnam. The below names were read either because of recent family inquiries of their loved ones, or their recent passing.
WILLIAM "BILL" S. FIFE
EARLE "JACK" J. WESTLAKE
STEVEN D. GROOMS
JOHN L. FREEOUF
DENNIS GLENN BLACKMON
RONALD A. GISCHEL
DENNIS E. DORCH
DONALD A. PETERSON
CHARLES "TERRY" HAYS
RAYMOND L. RICHARD
WALTER L. SEGER
CHARLES L. "CHIC" MOROSKY
CHARLES E. HAGGERTY
The poem, "If You Are Able" by Maj Michael Davis O'Donnell was read after, and this was followed by a moment of silence. A toast was then given, "Tonight we remember and honor our fallen comrades. We also cherish this precious life we have been blessed with living and celebrate the friendships we are all so fortunate to experience."
God bless all of you!
(Editor note: Mel conducted the service in front of an appropriate display of items, befitting the memory of our fallen comrades. The centerpiece was a UH-1 pilot's door painted with the famous shark's teeth.)
The annual auction last year set a new record of over $1,000. This year, like the attendance, that record was more than doubled with a mind-boggling $2,200 plus. Eddie McNeill again led the show as the 174th's most experienced auctioneer. The big item was a piece of artwork by Ben Kennedy featuring a Huey helicopter. Our own talented Mel Lutgring visibly struggled against the forces of "buy" and "don't buy" before plunking down a whopping $375 for the beautifully done piece.
As usual, Sam Davis, made a big splash with his specially brewed "ice tea" and Jan Gomes supplied a nice culinary accompaniment with her homemade pickles. First-timer, Frank Brown, satisfied an itch by buying a "twin sister" of the 174th banner, only to find it missing when the auction was over. Anyone who "mistakenly" took that item home with them are urged to return it to the heart-broken owner.
The Good News: The contribution of many items to the auction this year was overwhelming. As you know, the monies go into the general fund of this non-profit organization and your Association gratefully appreciates the donations.
The Better News: In keeping with the Association's newly adopted policy (Reunion 2001) you, the dues-paying members of the 174th AHC Assn., will reap the benefits of the contributions that you have made by receiving the Association's "reunion surprise gift packets" during the years to come.
Dick Overhamm reports that he still has a few of the 174th AHC Assn., auto license plates for those who missed out on last year's sale. Anyone wishing to obtain a set should contact Dick personally at: shark6AZ@earthlink.net
Al Sarnecki, who was supposed to be among the Zoo visitors on Saturday morning, was seen about mid-morning in the hotel lobby, fussing profusely. "You know," he complained, "eight o'clock in the morning…….well, that's just downright ridiculous."
P.T. Yowell promised to attend this year's reunion after missing the last one. And he did, but barely. Perry joined the party Saturday afternoon. "Hell," he said, "I thought this thing started today, not Friday." P.T. then proceeded to catch up on the vodka that he had missed the day before. Well, he didn't quite catch up, but he "got ahead."
Wally Nunn and Bernie Cobb, who both became ambulatory medical patients at last year's reunion, never got so much as a bad headache this year. Wisely, both of their wives accompanied them at this year's reunion. Hard to say how much fun they had with that kind of tough supervision, but at least they each returned home unscathed.
On a not-so-much-fun note, Marvin Schultz also had to make a trip to the hospital last year. This year, according to his wife, Philomene, Marvin had to break his long-standing reunion attendance record due to having a leg amputated between the knee and ankle. The unfortunate surgical procedure was necessitated by a diabetes complication. Marvin welcomes messages from his 174th buddies. His address is: 29259 Rostad Loop, Underwood, MN 56586.
Another "Clam Feast" was enjoyed on the pool deck again this year, thanks to "The Clam Man" - Bruce Marshall. Two years ago Bruce brought 2,000 clams and they went fast. Last year he brought 4,000 clams and they, too, went fast. So, this year? Yep, 5,000 of those little suckers. What a delight to just sit on the patio, drink cold beer, and eat clams right off the grill. Thanks, Bruce.
They seem to be getting better and better. Reunion 2003 should be no different. So, start planning right now on attending. Your Association officers, in collaboration with vendors, the hotel management and the caterer, have already begun their planning. The big change which will be made, to everyone's delight, is arrangements for more spacious seating for the seafood buffet on Saturday evening. The sudden, unexpected influx of attendees this year caused seating to be very tight, as we all know. With expectations of an even larger crowd next year (hopefully), more accommodating arrangements will be made.
Next year's reunion will again be held at the Best Western Ft. Walton Beachfront Hotel, during the Columbus Day weekend in October.
Y'all come! Ya heah?