Dancing in the Skies on Laughter-Silvered Wings

It was all airplanes all the time. At least that’s what it seemed like. I hadn’t heard this much aircraft chatter in so long, it was as if we were trying to relearn an old language. My sister and I were truely lucky to be a part of the 55K Reunion.

They get together every three years and tell tales that stay with you like old friends long after the book is finished.

There were about 300 of them in this particular class; they trained in T-6’s at air fields like Bartow and Spence. Most of them are in their mid-seventies to early eighties. Around two thirds of the class is still alive with many of them still kicking the tires and lighting the fires of everything from antique bi-planes to modern Learjets.

The first night we were there we set sail on the Tahoe Queen for some fun and food. No where else will I see folks belly up to a bar like a bunch of fly boys, two deep and a fistful of dollars.The band trio was comprised of a couple of Air Force Brats and we had a few other ones among us. I was surprised to see these pilots shaking a leg to 70’s tunes and of all things doing The Bump!

No telling, they were all in great shape for their age. My heart cheered when the Band Brats dedicated a song to them. “It’s a Wonderful World,” how perfect.

Dinner was like being seated at the table with a bunch of Uncles who just happened to be aviators. One of the graduates was named Mike Adams and none other than the son of Ansel Adams. While some of them had gone on to be lifers, others had joined the reserves and had very successful careers.

They had found all but five of their members of their class thanks to the best skip tracer in the US.

Many had died in airplane accidents, some in the wars and others succumbed to the march of time. Still the most poignant story was the remembrances of their Cuban classmates. During the training course Fidel Castro had come into power and when their colleagues reached home they were taken out and summarily shot, every single one of them.

I also learned about the 90 day wonders. They were pilots trained in 90 days to go off and fly during WWII. Needless to say many perished. My guess is that the 55 Kilos guys were trained in basics and then went off to various bases to learn their aircraft to avoid the outcomes suffered by their predecessors.

It was the middle of the 1950’s, many of these pilots were fresh off the farm and just out of high school. Wanting to avoid the draft they opted for the USAF. Most said their recruiters told them, ‘you look like the pilot type’ and off they went to the nearest air base. A few were out of OCS, started as Captains and generally two years older. As an Aggie grad, Dad fell into the latter category.

On Saturday we attended the Reno Air Races. (http://www.airrace.org/) It was an awesome event. A lot of civilian and military static displays and the Blue Angels were there.

One AF Brat was interviewed by the local media and he made several nice comments about the races. However the media edited his words and all we saw on the news that night was, “What do you think of the Blue Angels”? To which they had him replay by sound bite, “They aren’t the Thunderbirds.” Ha! Too funny. I picked up a really nice Air Force T-shirt, which I proudly wear and we found Sgt Lancaster’s name on the 55 Chevy POW*MIA Car.

I thought about RickyT, a fellow Military Brat and member of Military Brats Online, paying your respects to him. I like to imagine that he’s up there in heaven smiling at us. (http://www.neverforgotteninc.org/)

That night we had a nice banquet and we heard from Clay Lacey (http://www.claylacy.com/) . He was in their class and had started flying when he was 12 years old. By the time he got into training, he already had 3000 hours under his belt. One of his website notes, “To place this accumulation of flight time in perspective, it would take over five years of non-stop gear-up to touch down flying to equal this accomplishment. Then added,  “Lacy has conducted over 2500 air-to-air photography flights, shooting everything from sequences for Hollywood blockbusters Top Gun and The Right Stuff, to commercials for the airlines.”

As far as anyone knows he has logged more flight time than any pilot in the world. It was quite an honor to listen to his story.

It was an awesome trip and one that I feel truly blessed to have experienced. They allowed me to talk at length about what my experiences as a brat were. I told them how much I missed it, what it was like to be ejected into civilian life after 21 years.

I compared it to being raised on an Indian Reservation, being told I had to leave and couldn’t come back unless I agreed to be a real Indian for two years, only at the time they didn’t allow girls to be the real Indian I wanted to be. One of the wives nudged her husband and said,” Do you hear her?” and then related a story about one of her students who was born in an aircraft over the ocean near Alaska.

When kids would ask him where he was from he would say he was from “Airborne.” So take heart fellow brats, some of the veterans, our parents, hear us and sympathize. I was telling Dad about Roberta’s work on Military Brat legislation and how much I hope that it’s successful.

We could have reunions on bases without a sponsor and some of our base privileges back. He wondered what else we could do on a base and I said I think that the AAFES would be happy to have our business and that they might be an ally in helping us having some access to our places of birth and residences.

Airplanes, pilots and prime rib. Who could ask for more in a weekend?

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