Rick Spencer, Navigator, 39th ATS, '62-'65
Reunion Program Master of Ceremonies
Ladies, gentlemen, guests, and all others, we welcome one another back to DAFB and the C-133’s sixth reunion as we head into our Emerald anniversary year.
We also pay homage to those members not with us because of illness, the natural passages of life, or the fatal accidents that we endured.
I am honored, humbled, and somewhat nervous to appear before you, peers all as MC and part of this reunion. It has been some 55 years since the Douglas C-133A Cargomaster was rolled out for its debut in CA and we can all say that we have been with it in spirit, if not body, from its beginning to its end.
Given the size of the USAF and the years gone by, we were a very small group of people maintaining and flying a very large airplane around the world. It was an ‘eye popper’ for all those seeing it. We were involved in important and memorable missions with the best air and ground crews ever assembled. Should I use the word ‘elite’ to describe us? I think so! When one surveys today’s aero technology, we were iron men in wooden ships.
There were a mere fifty C-133’s built, based at two locations, and their lifespan and “heyday’, the 1960’s, were compressed into a very short period compared to nearly all other AF aircraft. The final landing of a C-133A, 61999, some 35 years after its official retirement and subsequent private ownership, was at the Travis Air Show in 2008 prior to it becoming a part of their AMC Museum display. Now, sadly, there are no more.
In one of the quirks of our history, the C-133A now at Travis AFB was originally a DAFB bird, and the display here was originally a Travis bird. That incongruity between what one would expect to happen and what actually happened has created a closer relationship between the two Museums and among all the veterans associated with this historic transport. We are now family; and, we now have an obligation, one to the other, to maintain these special aircraft that were an unusually important phase in the life of military cargo flight.
As an example of the unique capabilities of both the crews and the Cargomaster, our C-133A set a number of unofficial records, including records for military transport aircraft on trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacific routes. Among the longest were non-stop flights from Tachikawa AB, Japan to Travis AFB, CA (17:20 hours on 22 May 1959, and Hickam AFB, HI to Dover AFB, DE in about 16 hours. The only FAI officially sanctioned record was in December 1958, when C-133A 62008 lifted a payload of 117,900 lb to an altitude of 10,000 ft at Dover AFB, DE. I would surmise that some convening here had a direct hand in these and other records.
Our reunions, including this 6th, have always celebrated a grand and glorious interval of our life- that of our service in the USAF and our personal relationship with the C-133A and Dover AFB. We were young then, very young, and it was a time like no other in our lives.
A continuous ongoing and out pouring of interest in one another for over 50 years poses an interesting but central question, “Why?” Our mere attendance would seem to suggest a simple answer-enduring friendship engendered by our small size with a big mission.
But, it is more complex than that and we have to look into antiquity to understand it. So, here is the complex answer and after hearing it one may want to revert to the simpler. It is equally as true. The reasons, in my opinion, for our reunion and hundreds of others involving military veterans revolves about two concepts: one important to the nation and the other important to those who served the nation in uniform.
The former, importance to the nation, is the common sense observation that escapes many of our citizens and the political bodies of the country: that military organizations exist to win wars. Winning the nation’s wars is the military’s functional imperative. In fact, it is the only reason for a liberal society to maintain standing armies. We were personally a part of that important national organization dedicated to preserving freedom and protecting our citizens. We were proud to be so and to do so. And, we remain so.
The latter, importance to the veterans, is traced to antiquity. Aristotle conceived it and the Greeks called it ”phillia”. It is broadly defined as ‘brotherly love’ and it is the glue of the military ethos, then and now. It is that bond formed among disparate individuals who may have nothing in common but facing the dangerous unknowns of military duty. We performed personal acts to help one another that were inherently good. That was the major critical factor for our success during some of the trying times we faced with the C-133.
“Phillia” exists to this day as the foundation for all military organizations throughout the world. The many reunions of veterans that we see taking place every year, including ours, results from an ethos first noted by the ancient Greeks. It exists in the USAF from the ground crews to the flight crews; and, tonight we have participants from all levels of our C-133 organization. Phillia never leaves the individual and the individual never leaves the military. That ethos, ‘brotherly love’, remains to our last.
During these reunion days we will enjoy the fruits of our ‘enduring friendships’ that were fostered and began some 50 years ago here at DAFB. They were the offspring of our relationship with the world’s flagship military air transport, the C-133A Cargomaster. It was the unselfish nature of service for the nation in the uniform of the USAF that brings us together, once again, maybe for the last time, for celebration and to embrace America’s Exceptionalism.
I am not certain there is another AF retiree group that shares such mutual feelings of trust and affection as we. We were one then; we are one now; and, we will be one for all time!
Again, welcome! Enjoy your old friends, enjoy your stories, and enjoy the time together that is always so fleeting.
Sincerely and upon behalf of the reunion committee,
Richard L. Spencer, Ph.D.
Lt Col, USAF Ret.
39th ATS, MATS
DAFB, DE 1962-1965