The Columbus, Indiana community, namely the staff of the Atterbury/Bakalar Air Museum, the Columbus Board of Aviation, and the Columbus Visitors Center, expressed a desire to have the 71st SOS return to Columbus for the unit's 2002 reunion. The invitation was presented and accepted at Reunion 2001 at Ft. Walton Beach, FL. The date was selected to coincide with Armed Forces Day weekend, May 17-19, 2002, and the reunion committee was composed of Al Heuss, Dale Stickles, and Jim Alvis. The 'Homecoming II' theme is a result of the 71st returning to our former air force base and being welcomed home a second time by former Indiana Governor Edgar D. Whitcomb and the Columbus community.
Harry McCawley, Associate Editor of The Republic, authored an article about the 71st's 'Homecoming Reunion' that appeared in the May 16 issue. Seventy-first members and guests began arriving at the Hampton Inn, Taylorsville, IN on Thurdsay, May 16 and Friday May 17. The 'Shadow' Hospitality Room was the center of much story telling, reestablishing of friendships of years past, and sharing of lots of photos and memorabilia items.
The first organized activity of the weekend was a short trip to visit the nearby museum at Camp Atterbury. Flight crews will remember the training missions during the summer and fall 1968 from Lockbourne AFB to Camp Atterbury for firing practice over Puff Lake. Camp Atterbury's aerial gunnery range is in use today by Air National Guard F-16s and Air Force Reserve A-10s from Indiana and surrounding states. Our intention was to observe air-to-ground practice at the aerial gunnery range, but no flights were scheduled on May 17. Sergeant Cecelia Ellis of the Camp Atterbury Public Affairs Office conducted a very informative tour of the Camp Atterbury museum, and did an outstanding job of explaining the various panels that displayed much history of the camp from its beginning in WW II to the present. The history of Camp Atterbury dates back to WW II.
Friday evening was open for attendees to have dinner on their own and visit the 'Shadow' Hospitality Suite. The 71st SOS Base Exchange was also open for members to purchase new 71st SOS caps, T-shirts and license plates. Due to the unusually cool weather over the weekend, 71st sweatshirts would have been VERY popular had the BX officer anticipated the cooler than normal weather.
Saturday May 18 was THE big day of the reunion weekend. It began with a 'mandatory' briefing for all 71st SOS personnel at 0900 hours at the Hampton Inn. Led by Al Heuss, items discussed included minor changes to the day's schedule, introductions and acknowledgments, and the next reunion. Gene Schaltenbrand agreed to host 71st SOS Reunion 2003 at Ft. Walton Beach, FL March 7-9, 2003.
The next event was a memorial service for departed 71st SOS members. The service was held in the Jeanne Lewellen Norbeck Memorial Chapel at the former Bakalar Air Force Base. The somber yet uplifting service was conducted by Chaplain Richard J. Yeaton, and included the reading of the names of over fifty departed members of the 71st SOS. The chapel is a restored Korean War vintage chapel dedicated to the memory of Jeanne Lewellen Norbeck, a Women Airforce Service Pilot(WASP) during World War II. On October 16, 1944 a week after her last visit to Columbus, she was killed instantly when the Vultee BT-13 Valiant plane she was piloting crashed. The restored chapel was dedicated on Friday, May 29th, 1998.
A buffet lunch was served at 1145 hours in the Columbus Municipal Airport Terminal Building. Former Indiana Governor Edgar D. Whitcomb was on hand to meet and greet reunion attendees. The guest speaker at the luncheon was Columbus Mayor Fred L. Armstrong. Mayor Armstrong read a procolamation designating Saturday May 18, 2002 as "71st Special Operations Squadron Day" in the City of Columbus.
The 71st SOS Historical Marker Dedication ceremony began at 1400 hours on Bakalar Green. A program for the dedication ceremony was prepared by Gordon Lake of the Atterbury/Bakalar Air Museum. The Master of Ceremonies was Wes Roy, News Director for White River Broadcasting. Wes began the ceremony by welcoming everyone to the special occasion. Presentation of Colors was performed by the 113th Support Battalion of the Indiana Army National Guard, followed by the National Anthem and Pledge of Allegiance. The Invocation was performed by Chaplain Richard J. Yeaton, Col. IGR.
Major General John W. Hoff, USAF (Ret.) provided opening remarks to set the stage for the remainder of the ceremony. General Hoff's distinguished Air Force career began as a B-17 pilot in WW II. During his Air force career, he was Commander of the 434th Troop Carrier Wing and Bakalar Air Force Base. The General continues as a very active member of the Atterbury/Bakalar Air Museum and a participant in many community activities.
Next was the re-reading of Mayor Fred Armstrong's Procolamation by Harry McCawley, Associate Editor, The Republic newspaper. (Harry McCawley was a young staff photographer for The Republic when the 71st returned home to Bakalar AFB.)
Edgar D. Whitcomb, Governor of Indiana (1969-1973) was the honored guest speaker. Governor Whitcomb was on hand at Bakalar Air Force Base to welcome home the 71st SOS on Friday June 6, 1969. His speech on this day (May 18, 2002) was a second 'welcome home' speech to the members and families of the 71st SOS. The Governor was himself a combat veteran of World War II. He volunteered in the Air Corps before pearl Harbor and was captured by the Japanese at the fall of Corregidor. He escaped from the Japanese prison on Corregidor by swimming eight and one-half hours at night, and ultimately returned to combat duty in the Philippines as an Assistant Operations officer for the 5th Air Force. The Governor was also a Colonel in the Air Force Reserve.
The 71st SOS historical marker was dedicated by Nancy Warren, President of the Columbus Board of Aviation. She presented 71st SOS Commander James E. Pyle with a dedication certificate.
Colonel James E. Pyle graciously acknowledged and thanked the Board of Aviation for their recognition of the 71st SOS. Colonel Pyle thanked all 71st members - flight crews, administrative staff, and aircraft maintenance personnel for their outstanding efforts.
A Service Recognition Certificate was presented to each 71st SOS member in attendance. The certificates stated, "In recognition of honorable and Faithful Service in the Armed Forces of the United States is hereby Awarded this citation for Meritorious Service by the Grateful Citizens of Columbus, Indiana, the Atterbury/Bakalar Air Museum, and the Columbus Board of Aviation." The certificates were presented by Major General John Hoff and Nancy Warren, President of the Columbus Board of Aviation. A similar certificate was awarded to the 71st SOS as a unit, is displayed in the Atterbury/Bakalar Air Museum.
Final activities of the dedication program were the singing of 'God Bless America', led by General Hoff, and the Benediction by Chaplain Richard Yeaton.
Following the dedication ceremony, members and guests visited the Atterbury/Bakalar Air Museum. The museum was constructed in 1991 and houses many historically significant items pertaining to the former air force base from 1943 through 1969. A significant portion of the museum contains items pertaining to the 71st SOS.
Saturday evening's banquet afforded more opportunities for socializing and a very good meal. The program for the evening turned out to be a VERY big surprise. About six weeks prior to the reunion, Jim Alvis was brousing the National Archives website. A search for 71st SOS films revealed Air Force footage taken at the unit's return home on 6 June 1969. Jim worked through one of NARA's vendors and had a VHS tape made from the original footage. The tape was played following the dinner to everyone's surprise and delight. The unedited tape showed scenes of the C-141s landing, the rejoicing of happy airmen and loved ones, Governor Ed Whitcomb's welcome home, and a parade. Following the banquet, everyone returned to the 'Shadow' Hospitality Suite for more story telling.
Sunday morning was spent enjoying the continental breakfast, socializing, and saying goodbyes until reunion 2003 at Ft. Walton Beach, FL.
Reunion 2002, 'Homecoming II' was a very memorable event. It was attended by 57 members of the 71st, many of whom were 'first-timers'. Now that the dates for Reunion 2003 have been determined (March 7-9), 71st members are encouraged to place the weekend on your calendars, and pass the word to others as well.