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News > WWII veterans' reunion continues tradition, legacy
WWII veterans' reunion continues tradition, legacy

Posted 4/6/2011   Updated 4/6/2011 Email story   Print story


by Senior Airman Scott Saldukas
47th Flying Training Wing public affairs

4/6/2011 - LAUGHLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Texas  -- Four World War II veterans and their family members came together with the 434th Fighter Training Squadron here to share a weekend with their old squadron March 31 - April 3.

"The reunion this weekend got everyone together for a squadron tour, pig roast, piano burning ceremony, golf tournament, P-51 display and flyby and a banquet dinner," said Capt. David Brill, 434th FTS instructor pilot.

Among the visitors were Col. Art Jeffrey, Col. Al Tucker Jr., Lt. Col. Elmo Sears and Staff Sgt. Bill Davis, all of whom are retired.

"This is the third year we have been involved with the reunion, so we've gotten to know the veterans personally over the years," Captain Brill said. "They've become our friends and they're a part of the squadron."

Although the guests were only visiting for the weekend, their ties stretch back to WWII when the veterans were assigned to the 434th while it was designated as a fighter squadron. During WWII, the 434th Fighter Squadron lost 26 pilots in combat, which is more people than the training squadron has assigned to it today. To pay homage to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice, the squadron and its visitors held a piano burning ceremony to remember those who lost their life in combat while serving with the fighter squadron.

"Their pictures are displayed around the squadron and many of their accomplishments are written in books, but being able to spend time and share stories directly with the veterans is irreplaceable," Captain Brill said. "This squadron has a tremendous connection with its history; it's something we are proud of."

While the Airmen of the 434th FTS are proud of the squadron's heritage, Colonel Tucker is equally as proud of them for what they do.

"It's an honor for me to come out and talk to the pilots and see the different things they have available to them during their training," he said.

Colonel Tucker noted that he didn't begin attending the reunions until about 12 years ago and was sorry he didn't begin going sooner.

"They have been having reunions like this since the war," Colonel Tucker said, who was an original 434th FS member and former prisoner of war during WWII. "I didn't come to these reunions at first because I was worried I had no bragging rights, but after I was persuaded to come, I regretted not attending sooner."

While each person had their own reasons for attending the reunion, one family member of a fallen veteran was building friendships with her father's friends.

"My father was Lieutenant CJ Murphy. He died in combat during World War II flying Colonel Art Jeffrey's plane," said Jackie Bristol. "My first reunion was in 1987. The first time I was able to meet these men was bitter sweet and definitely tearful. Since I never met my dad, it's nice being able to hear stories about him."

Even though the reunions tend to last only a weekend, Ms. Bristol has managed to keep open lines of communication with her dad's friends.

"My father and Art use to share a room together and be good friends," she said. "Since we met, we have stayed in contact with each other and meet occasionally. I look forward to these reunions all year long and this one has been the best so far."

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