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VA-82 Reunion, Camera 2

Photos by Jeff Willhelm, Captions by Kyle Kirby

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Photo by Jeff Willhelm
Like an old family friend or an old song that places you back in time, A-7A BuNo 154345 has been a remarkable piece of history for HAM. Kregg did a recon to Memphis of the bird before we got it in 1992. We had just gotten the FJ-3M in October 1991 and this was the second acquisition for us. He said it was ugly and forlorn looking as newly arrived A-7Es were lined up in full paint schemes. After peeking into the history of the aircraft, it started shedding its primer paint and no marking scheme into wonderful possibilities. She has been a magnet and is definitely the Belle of the Ball! Here she draws in those that are even closer to her. Those that had to make her perform in a very hostile world unknown to 90 percent of the population. To have an actual piece of this VA-82 history is amazing, and it is awesome to see first reactions every time they happen. What a privilege to have this awesome jet on our ramp!

Photo by Jeff Willhelm
Jeff Willhelm is an artist with his camera. This shot could be any of the VA-82 cast and it was great to see the family atmosphere from everyone! These guys were plank owners and shared a bond that squadrons don't get to enjoy for long. When a squadron is formed up, the original crews all train together, live together, do work ups together, and in this case..fly combat together. This also extends to the ground crews. After the original cast starts meandering away on their careers, replacements come from all over! There is still a bond, but nothing like all of the guys going through so much together! And to have a machine they flew!!! MAGIC!

Photo by Jeff Willhelm
This is on Friday when everyone began arriving. Talk about fascinating! To have a cast of this magnitude who performed so incredibly in Vietnam descend on our museum is pretty large. Not only had they not seen each other in a while, many hadn't seen a A-7 in decades, much less one that they had lived with! The stories here are very rich and deep and give you a peek at the caliber of people who are performing this Alpha Strike on Hickory! Among the best I have ever met! Look at Capt. Shedd Webster's face as he sees a former office for the first time in years!! That says it all!!

Photo by Jeff Willhelm
The first man from VA-82 to see our A-7. Joel Eaton flew in from Miami, FL in 1992 not long after the A-7 arrived from Memphis. He talked to Kregg about the aircraft and thought he probably flew it. After a weekend in the mountains, he returned home and checked his log books. He found he had flown 19 combat missions in our aircraft! This really was the beginning of our wonderful relationship with all of those involved with this remarkable aircraft. Joel is an awesome friend and his trips to the cockpit are always emotional! Three generations of Eatons have sat in this cockpit!!

Photo by Jeff Willhelm
Capt. Doug Bradt climbs out of the A-7 after coming from San Diego to be here. Doug flew on the 69-70 Coral Sea cruise and also flew A-7s later in his career, which also took in F-14 time at Miramar with CAG-30. It was an honor to meet Doug and his wife Judi. Doug, Tom Brown and myself were the last three standing Saturday night after the banquet! We had a large time......great people!!

Photo by Jeff Willhelm


Photo by Jeff Willhelm
Paul Greiling is wearing a bracelet in honor of his brother Scotty who was lost on 24 July 1968. What a remarkable man he is and what a joy to get to meet him!

Photo by Jeff Willhelm
This remarkable photograph is of some rather remarkable people!! Paul Greiling (l), Karen DeBellis (with Alex), and Walt Moser. These people have been connected by circumstance for over 40 years. They finally got to meet each other during this reunion/dedication and it is another moment that defies description. I can't begin to caption how special this is...only God could do that.

Photo by Jeff Willhelm
Walt Moser describes details of the A-7A cockpit to Karen DeBellis. They had never met before face to face and this was a very emotional thing. Walt was flying with her dad when he was lost over North Vietnam on 24 July, 1968. Karen was but an infant then and it has been an amazing process to watch the miracles happen that brought these wonderful people together with the rest of the VA-82 cast. We missed Karen's husband Jay at the event. He was deployed aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln. He had a lot to do with finding the museum and the guys that her dad flew with and we hope he can come to the next event!

Photo by Jeff Willhelm
Karen gets to check out the office her dad called home! Walt was there to answer questions for her and it was such a unique thing for them to share.

Photo by Jeff Willhelm
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Photo by Jeff Willhelm
Ron and Nellie Shirley came from Ohio to be with us and their friends. Ron was plane captain on Streetcar 302 which was the aircraft that Scotty Greiling was lost in. It was great to meet this incredible couple and hear their stories. Ron and Shirley have since sent pictures to the museum that include a shot of the original Streetcar 302 (BuNo 153253). Thank you!

Photo by Jeff Willhelm
Joe "Bad Man Jose" Algermissen gets reacquainted with the A-7. When required to write names on boards for various purposes, he just signed them Joe A+10. It was great to have Joe here as all of the original VA-82 cast!

Photo by Jeff Willhelm
Captain Carter Refo was Commanding Officer of the carrier USS Independence in 1992 during the enforcement of Operation Southern Watch in the Persian Gulf. He's the real deal!

Photo by Jeff Willhelm
Some of the greatest guys you will ever want to meet! Carter Refo, Tom Brown and Shedd Webster have a fun moment during the ceremony. These guys lived it and wrote the history in the cockpit of our Corsair and the other ones in the squadron. It is a unique privilege to host an event like this where we can share with them in this moment. These guys had incredible careers and their stories are beyond description.

Photo by Jeff Willhelm
Mary Eaton in the cockpit of the A-7. Joel looks on and describes everything to her. This is very special for us to be able to provide such a wonderful opportunity. Joel is a very special man here at the museum as he was the first to see the A-7 and strike up a friendship. It is also special here as Mary represents the wives in this picture. They sacrificed as much as the men did. Raising kids on their own and not knowing what the next day brings. What a collaboration to honor! We are still humbled.

Photo by Jeff Willhelm
Dave Page and his wife

Photo by Jeff Willhelm
VIP row for the reunion. This is Scotty Greiling's family members that came to be a part of this special event. They were Royalty! From left to right they are Paul Greiling, Bob and Alice Gridley, Gail Wickersham, and Karen DeBellis with Scotty's grandson Alexander. No words could ever describe what an honor it was to have them here with us.

Photo by Jeff Willhelm
HAM President Jeff Wofford addresses the cast as Karen takes care of Alexander in the foreground. I know Scotty was very proud of his grandson as he was one of the best infants I have ever seen.

Photo by Jeff Willhelm
Scotty's brother Paul prior to his talk about his brother. I was nervous about speaking as was Paul. We joked about having each other's back and when it came his turn, he did a fabulous job. In one of the most moving speeches I have ever heard, Paul gave us an insight into his brother's character that only he could do. I know once more that Scotty was proud. This was emotional for Paul and the entire family and I hope it all helped them in this tragic circumstance of events that happened some 40 years ago. In meeting these fine people, I know that David "Scotty" Greiling was a great man.

Photo by Jeff Willhelm
The first VA-82 crewman to happen upon BuNo 154345 in 1992. Joel Eaton is a lawyer and has addressed the Supreme Court on several occasions. His speech about happening upon the A-7 and our first baby steps that led to this event was very stirring. Joel provided pictures of the unit very early which helped us nail down the paint job many years ago. As well he sent a letter to Pensacola praising our efforts. I must admit that we did nail it but this really helped motivate us and help us with Naval Museum! This man has been a huge help to us and his visits are always remarkable. Only these guys know truly what they did and Joel is just one of my favorite folks. He talked about the fact that his wife, sons, and grandson have visited our A-7. They didn't sit in an aircraft like he flew, they sat in an aircraft that he actually flew...in combat! It was poignant for me and it can only be Divine Providence that has made all of this happen.

Photo by Jeff Willhelm
Another great friend, Walt Moser. It is hard to find words to describe these people that you come to know and respect. Walt is one of the most humble men you can ever meet. His hard work made this event the success it was. He was the last original plank owner from the VA-82 cast to leave the squadron. He has always been a big supporter of our efforts and it means so much. Walt was on both cruises that we celebrated at the reunion and I just know he was Sierra Hotel in the A-7. These guys are such great ambassadors for the military men and women of this great country and they are as great as any generation that has worn a uniform in the service of the United States of America. They racked up huge numbers of missions and always performed incredibly during very difficult times. They were handcuffed by our own government by ridiculous Rules of Engagement and were treated terribly when they came home. I am here to tell you that they are the cream of the crop, elite warriors and pioneers that we should all be immensely proud of. I can just see a section of A-7s now approaching the carrier and a break for landing, hooks down. What an honor once more to host this event!

Photo by Jeff Willhelm
Gene Clemens during the ceremony. Gene was CO for VA-82 on the Coral Sea cruise. To have the Commanding Officer of the unit here was fantastic. He and wife Sally were just again incredible! I hate to keep using the word, but it really was like a fairy tale all weekend. I have grown up all my life studying these guys efforts and they have always been my heroes. This man was responsible for the pilots in the unit and he was very well respected by all that I talked to. That is the best compliment a CO could ever have. He also gave a very emotional talk at the BBQ on Friday night that I will never forget. To get a glimpse into this wonderful culture was very eye opening for me and I have more respect for these guys than ever before!

Photo by Jeff Willhelm
In a somber part of the ceremony, Dave Page sounds off the names of those that have passed from the Marauder family. Gene Clemens looks on as Jerry Walker sounds the bell for each name. There were several that I wanted to meet and it is sad to say goodbye. I hope that the Marauder faithful will continue to come to Hickory and Streetcar 313 for their reunions. We have a obligation to make sure their story is told, and told as accurately as possible. They deserve it.

Photo by Jeff Willhelm
Walt Moser snaps a salute during this very moving Saturday afternoon. It transcended everything we could have hoped for and there are no other words to utter except...God Bless America.

Photo by Jeff Willhelm
In a very emotional moment, Karen unveils her father's name on the A-7 during the dedication of the aircraft to his memory. Paul and Gail were there to assist and there were many tears at this moment. In what can be only described as the Lord's work, later in the afternoon a Bald Eagle made an appearance over the A-7. I have never seen one here before! I know that Scotty Greiling was with us on this wonderful day!

Photo by Jeff Willhelm
Those that knew Scotty and lived and flew with him during the early days of VA-82 lined up to honor the dedication. If we never do anything else as a museum, this was worth everything we have ever done.

Photo by Jeff Willhelm
The tradition of the salute and the honor behind it tells the entire story of this magical weekend. We live in the greatest nation that has ever existed and these guys are a big reason why.

Photo by Jeff Willhelm
The pilots and members of VA-82 honor their fallen comrade Scotty Greiling on the ramp at Hickory. I had always hoped this day would happen and it finally did.

Photo by Jeff Willhelm
Scotty's daughter, sister, and cousin gaze upon his name that will stand in tribute to him here at Hickory. What an honor and also a reflection of all of those that have fallen in the line of duty for this country that we may enjoy the freedoms we love.

Photo by Jeff Willhelm
Hickory Mayor Rudy Wright graciously came out to present Karen and the family a key to the City of Hickory. All of these fine folks are always welcome here.

Photo by Jeff Willhelm
Karen addresses the crowd in a very emotional moment about her father. She holds a flag that Linda Hill presented to her on behalf of the museum in another emotional moment. After 40 years of wondering what happened to Scotty's daughter, the VA-82 guys and gals actually got to meet her. After 40 years about wondering about her father, a family circle closed on the ramp at our museum. This was the most awesome event we have ever been privileged to do, and there have been some great ones!! Very classy people with Attack Squadron 82!!

Photo by Jeff Willhelm
Dave Page takes it all in. And there was a lot to take in!! Dave came here on July 5th 2009 for our mini reunion that actually made the Hook magazine article. He later became a A-7 squadron CO and enjoyed a great career in the Navy. He is flanked by plane captain Jerry Walker and his wife. I have witnessed many events in my life, but this one is at the very top of the list.

Photo by Jeff Willhelm
One of my favorite people at the ceremony!! Bobbye Thomas traveled up from Florida to be here. Her husband was the first Executive Officer of VA-82, Don Thomas. All of these folks are family but I want to adopt her! You meet remarkable people in your life, but this weekend was just studded with greats. Bobbye has donated Don's log books and several other artifacts and I am speechless about it. She sat right up front with Doris Jones and her son Ray where they should have been. The family atmosphere was remarkable with the Marauders and I really had to pinch myself several times to believe all that was happening.

Click Here for Part 1
Click Here for Part 3

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