Sunday, April 27, 2014

Dover Reunion Welcoming Address

Our venerable Reunion Emcee, Rick Spencer has shared with us the text of his Welcoming Remarks for our Diamond Anniversary Reunion on May 9th & 10th. We know many of you would like to be with us, but couldn't make it. We think you'll agree that Rick has captured the essence of our common bond:

Welcoming Address for the C-133A Diamond Anniversary Reunion at DAFB:

May, 2014, Presented Upon Behalf of the Reunion Committee
Ladies, gentlemen, and guests, this evening we welcome one another back to DAFB for the C-133’s seventh and final reunion, and to celebrate our Diamond anniversary year. 

Tonight, 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 be here before you, peers all, as MC and part of this final gathering of old friends who were colleagues at one time. It has been some 60 years almost to the day since the Douglas C-133A Cargomaster was initially funded and a few years later rolled out for its debut in California. 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 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 all?  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. .  And, we therefore offer kudos to those doing so at the Dover AFB AMC Museum, as well as Travis AFB.

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 here tonight had a direct hand in these and other records.
Our reunions, including this 7th, have always celebrated a grand and glorious interval of our life- that of our service in the USAF, 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. For those our age, throughout our military service and most of our civilian lives, we were actively involved in the containment of Communism. And, it was for good reason.  Communism killed over 100,000,000 men, women, and children, not to mention the near 30,000,000 of its subjects that died in its often-aggressive wars and the rebellions it provoked.  Communism was the great and evil story of the twentieth century and at its zenith, ruled a third of mankind. It seemed poised to spread indefinitely and then it collapsed like a house of cards. It had violated one of the basic tenets of civilization, “Thou shalt not kill.”

But, for us, Peace was our nation’s tenet, and DAFB C-133’s were integral in mission support of our country’s fundamental belief in worldwide democracy leading to individual freedoms. Unfortunately, what we have learned from history and endured throughout our life is that peace is a far more complex affair than war. So complex that peace often seems beyond humanity’s reach.

The century of our lives became the bloodiest of all time in spite of our best efforts toward peaceful resolutions. Atrocitologists have estimated total military and civilian casualties ranging up to 275,000,000. Thucydides the Greek first noted almost twenty-five centuries ago that peace is an armistice in a war that is continually going on.  And, so it seems.

However, this continuous ongoing and out pouring of concern for one another for well 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.  We flew the line with dangerous cargo to risky and unusual places. Flying the line gave us an independence and responsibility here and in foreign countries at a young age that few ever obtain.  Adding to that was the short span of operational years along with the high percentage of mysterious losses that created a special esprit de corps among us.

But, the “Why” is more complex than that and we have to look into antiquity to understand it.  So, here is the more complex answer to these many years leading to a Diamond Reunion among the few USAF veterans associated with the C-133A at DAFB.

The reasons for our reunion and hundreds of others involving military veterans revolve 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 ”philia”.  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-133A.

As we were few in numbers, every single person was important; one to the other, as a friend, as a professional colleague, and as a cog in the always-turning wheel leading to successful mission accomplishment. The tragic loss of one was a loss to all, as our relationships were based upon loyalty, affection, and a shared experience.

“Philia” 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.  Philia never leaves the individual and the individual never leaves the military.  That ethos, ‘brotherly love’, remains to our last.

During these reunion days we have been enjoying the fruits of our ‘enduring friendships’ that were fostered by our ‘brotherly love’ that began over 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, 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 remain as one to the last!   However, after this night’s event, we will slowly fade away; as do all good citizen soldiers with the knowledge that we helped secure a better and safer life for our families, the nation, and the world.

We were not heroes; we were just ordinary citizens from all walks of American life dedicated to the preservation and the good will of our beloved country.  We can stand proudly knowing that we did our duty by honoring our country without rancor during one of its most troubled and dangerous time.  I ask: What more could we have done? We have accomplished our mission, and this evening we shall rejoice in the peace of such knowledge.

Tonight, for a short time we are once again young, so enjoy your meal, enjoy your stories, and enjoy the time together that has been so fleeting. 

Upon behalf of the reunion committee we offer a sincere welcome, and thank you for your attendance.
Richard L. Spencer, Ph.D.

Lt Col, USAF Ret.

39th ATS, MATS    

DAFB, DE   1962-1965

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