VA-82 ReunionPhotos by Brian King, Captions by Kyle Kirby
Bob and Candi McLester. Bob and Joe Algermissen were taken off the VA-82 roster when they were to deploy. They had to cut two pilots and they were the ones unfortunately. We were very glad that they came to the reunion though!
Here are Sally Clemons, Mary Eaton and Carole Cook. Sally was awesome and was 1969-70 CO Gene's wife. Mary did a lot to make the reunion possible and is Joel's wife. Carole is Charlie Cook's wife who was LSO Officer in 68 and donated his 1969-70 cruise book. Great to have this many first ladies!
Walt Moser, Karen DeBellis (with Alexander) and Gail Wickersham. Walt did a superb job speaking at the reunion and dedication and also looked fantastic in uniform. Karen came from Washington state to see Streetcar 313 dedicated to her father's memory after he was lost on 24 July, 1968. Gail was also there to honor her brother, Scotty Greiling. There wasn't a dry eye in the house when they approached the guests area! Walt was flying with Scotty on that fateful night! This is a poignant photograph and such an honor for our little museum!
George Potter and his son in law also attended. I was glad to see him. George served on the USS Bogue in WW II and was very gracious. His carrier was based in the Atlantic Fleet and saw a lot of action. He was moved by the VA-82 event!
Judi Bradt and Bill "Cowboy" Johnston. There were several other A-7 drivers in attendance from other units and Bill was one of those. He was just outstanding as was Judi who was Capt. Doug Bradt's wife who flew on the VA-82 69-70 cruise!
The real First Ladies of the event. Doris Jones and son Ray came up from Florida. Our main cast of light Attack guys graduated at the top of their respective classes and were the cream of the crop in 67. The A-7 was a brand new weapons system and they needed some leadership that had combat experience. Jack Jones came over from the A-1 Skyraider community to become the first CO of the unit in 1968. He passed in 1977 and it was great to have Doris and Ray here. It was a very emotional weekend for both. Also coming from the A-1 community was XO was Don Thomas. His widow Bobbye was here (also from Florida) and these gals were just fantastic! They talked just like the pilots and knew their stuff! It was an incredible honor to have them all here and there are no words to say what an honor it was!
The Newton-Conover JROTC provided the Honor Guard and did a spectacular job. Bravo Zulu!
Karen and Alexander DeBellis stand as the Colors are presented at the start of the ceremony. We have never had an opportunity to do something this special! Thank you VA-82 for coming to HAM and letting us be a part of this very emotional experience!
Paul Greiling waits his turn to speak. He is Scotty's younger brother and I just couldn't wait to hear from this man who lost his older brother in the service of this great nation! I have studied Scotty a lot but to hear from Paul would be inspirational!
Bob McLester, Sally Clemens, Mary Eaton, and Carole Cook enjoy the reunion together. It was an all-star cast that came to HAM for this event.
It was really an honor to have the first VA-82 CO and XO's family represented. On the front row was Doris Jones and her son Ray. First CO Jack Jones was with us in spirit. Doris and Ray were both incredible to meet and talk to. It was a very emotional weekend for both. Executive Officer Don Thomas was also with us in spirit as his widow Bobbye was also here. She was incredible and to hear them talk was like other Naval Aviators! They know their stuff! Jack Jones and Don Thomas came over from the A-1 Skyraider community to lead our VA-82 cast in combat. Bobbye has donated Don's log books and other memorabilia that will help us tell the complete story of our A-7! Behind them is some of the other light attack community. Eric Jensen and his lovely wife, Doug Bradt and wife Judi, as well as Bill "Cowboy" Johnston are seated on the next row. Eric and Doug flew on the 69-70 VA-82 cruise aboard USS Coral Sea (CVN-43).
In what can only be described as a family, there were several plane captains that showed up at the reunion. Ron and Nellie Shirley came from Ohio to be with us and it was great to meet them. Ron was plane captain on Streetcar 302 which was Scotty's aircraft he was lost in. They have actually sent some pictures that Ron took on the 68 cruise that include that particular aircraft. Many thanks for this! Beside them are Chris and Tom Brown. Tom worked very hard on the reunion and has become a great friend. He did the hats and shirts as well as other planning. The banquet programs were just incredible! Bravo Zulu to all.
I was not worthy to speak at the event but it was an incredible honor for me to address the folks who have always been my heroes. I look at the picture of Scotty behind me and I still can't believe this event even happened. It was made more awesome by the fact that 69-70 cruise CO Gene Clemens was sitting right behind me! What a privilege!
Another plane captain that came was Fred Barber and his lovely wife. These guys made sure the aircraft were ready to go at any time and put in long hours! After the banquet Saturday night, Fred donated his VA-82 plank owner certificate to me for the museum. Amongst a crowd, it raised everyone's eyebrows!! Most everyone had lost theirs to some reason. We thank you Fred for this awesome piece of VA-82 history.
The first man to discover our A-7 at HAM was Joel Eaton. He flew into Hickory in 1992 not long after the A-7 arrived. He spoke with Kregg who was working line crew at the time. He thought he had flown this aircraft and checked his log books after returning home. Sure enough he had flown 154345 on 19 combat missions in Vietnam!! This was the genesis for this fairy tale weekend we all enjoyed. Joel gave a very emotional speech about this and his sons and grandson being able to sit in one of the very planes he flew! Joel has donated many of his artifacts to the museum and we are eternally grateful to this great man!
Another very special friend is Walt Moser. Walt helped spearhead the event and spoke very eloquently about the many things that have happened with all that led to this event. He looked fantastic in his uniform and is just a wonderful human being. Walt was flying with Scotty Greiling the night he was lost and it was a moving event for him I know. He was the last of the original VA-82 plank owners and they just don't make em any better than this man! Walt has been a regular visitor to HAM as he lives fairly close and it is always great to see him. He recently moved away and we will miss his regular visits!
A very special cast on this row. This is the family of Scotty Greiling who was the only combat loss on the 68-70 cruise. When Scotty was lost, the squadron lost contact with his wife and infant daughter. For 40 years they often wondered what ever happened to them. Through the miracle of the internet, they found out about our A-7 and the pilots we had met about two years ago. Another family circle closed around the squadron once more. Scotty's daughter Karen DeBellis (and son Alex) came from Washington state to be here. His sister Gail Wickersham came from Indiana with her cousins. Brother Paul Greiling also came from Washington to be here for the event. If Scotty was anything like them, he was a wonderful person indeed and I know he was smiling down from Heaven. Bob and Alice Gridley are between Gail and Paul.
These guys worked miracles in the skies over Vietnam and are so often overlooked. They were pioneers and did incredible work on our behalf. They shaped modern aerial warfare and their techniques are still used to this day. I can't say enough on their behalf to convey just how awesome they are! Also, the wives always have a huge burden too. It was great to see and meet these remarkable ladies at the event.
More of the VA-82 cast takes in this incredible event. There are no words to describe it and it was our biggest honor yet!
Walt Moser addresses the crowd with Streetcar 313 as a back drop. It is really great to have this wonderful aircraft here and it has really brought a host of folks together. The event was very special because here was an aircraft that all of these guys literally flew in combat!
Plane captain Jerry Walker and 69-70 CO Gene Clemens look on as Dave Page reads the names of Marauders that have flown west!! This was a somber moment and there were several names of those mentioned that I so wanted to meet. One was Fred Lentz who was airborne with Kenny Wayne Fields when he was shot down. Fred experienced a fuel transfer problem and had to eject on the same mission-May 31st 1968. This was the squadrons first day on line in combat!! What incredible people!!
Jerry Walker rings the bell for yet another VA-82 family member!! Walt told a story about Jerry when he was on the catapult ready to launch one day. Walt got a no-go signal and Jerry ran up under the A-7. Walt couldn't see what was happening and just waited. Jerry returned into view covered in hydraulic fluid from head to toe and gave him a thumbs up!! That was good enough for Walt and he launched off the ship!! It is a testament to the professionalism and trust these guys had in their plane captains for Walt to shoot off that ship after Jerry's approval!! His life was in Jerry's hands and it was an honor to have these hard working guys here at the reunion!!
Karen DeBellis and Gail Wickersham watch as Karen has just unveiled her dads name on the side of the A-7. This dedication was beyond words and to have such a large contingent of the family here was incredible! There were many tissues out at this moment! Gail is Scotty Greiling's sister!
The VA-82 cast looks at Scotty Greiling's name on the aircraft. What an incredible experience! Many thanks to Henry Busch, Brian King, and Walt Moser for getting the name correct. Walt provided a photo from 67 when the squadron carried names below the canopy rails! Henry and Brian made the magic happen!
Paul Greiling speaks about his older brother Scotty. He loved to camp, played the clarinet, and was a huge Mickey Mantle fan!! This was a very emotional time for all of Scotty's family and they have since said it was a blur. I commend each of them for their sacrifice and it was just wonderful to meet each of them. I know Scotty was smiling down from Heaven!
Capt Charlie Cook hugs Paul after his moving speech about his late brother. There was a lot of closure at this event and it was a huge honor for us. I have to give the credit to God as only He could have made all of this happen!
Mayor Rudy Wright took time from his busy schedule to be here for the event. Here he addresses the crowd with Karen looking on. He left the Senior Golf tournament at Rock Barn to attend....Bravo Zulu!
Mayor Wright gives Karen DeBellis a key to the city in a wonderful moment! All of the cast is welcome here!!
Our own Linda Hill presented Karen a flag that had flown at the museum in a very emotional moment. There are no words that I can say to convey how hard Linda worked on this event and she deserves a medal! Her heart is huge and her stamp made all that we enjoyed on this weekend all the more special!! A special thank you from me Linda!
Karen DeBellis delivers a very emotional speech on all that had happened on this wonderful day. There are no words that I can say about how special this moment was.............I will leave it at that! God bless America!
Walt hands Karen the VA-82 Blue Max. This incredible artifact has all the names of the original VA-82 plank owner pilots on it. Walt was the last original Marauder and the deal was that the last one decides what to do with it. He presented it to Karen and they decided to donate it to the museum as part of the VA-82 legacy. I wept!!!
I didn't want this day to end, but Walt so eloquently began to shut things down. He is the BEST!!
A picture that might have never happened had we not gotten 154345 from Millington NAS in 1992. It makes me so proud that all of this came together at Hickory and our museum. It was all surreal. Here is a guy that was flying with his friend on 24 July 1968. His friend never returned from that mission. Here is the daughter of that friend who was but an infant when her father was lost. I'll never forget when I got word that the DeBellis family had emailed our museum. I called Walt right when I found out and I will never forget that moment! We love you guys and thank you!!
A very special moment with Walt and Karen. These are the stories that need to be told to our children!!
What an honor to meet Karen DeBellis and we wish her husband Jay well while in service aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln. Jay you have an invite to Hickory anytime!!
The Newton-Conover Color Guard did fantastic and I was glad that this next generation of our finest got to take part in the event. Rick Stewart should be proud!!