April 2015 Newsletter
Vol 2, Issue 4
April’s issue is dedicated to the children and grandchildren of our nation’s veterans. A story I’ve heard many times is how the sons and daughters of reunion attendees never realized growing up what their dad or granddad went through in service to his country. They learn by hearing Dad talking with his buddies at a reunion. Often said by children attending a reunion: “This is the first time I’ve heard Dad talk about his war experiences; he never discussed them while we were growing up.” Military reunions are not just about former comrades-in-arms reuniting. They’re about wives forming auxiliary chapters; about sons and daughters attending year after year, forming Legacy Chapters and keeping the flame alive by assuming leadership roles in the association.
We’ve worked with many groups where the association’s officers are now the children of the vets. Five years ago the National Timberwolf Association (104th Infantry Division) became the National Timberwolf Pups Association. JeNeal Granieri says “My father was in the 104th Infantry Division and fought in Europe during WWII. They’ve had annual reunions since 1945 and I started attending in 2001. The leadership decided to end the organization due to health issues, but many of us children had grown to value the reunions and the bonds we’d developed, so we formed a new organization called the National Timberwolf Pups Association. We are now planning the 5th annual NTPA reunion and plan to keep it going as long as we can. Our goal: to remember the contributions of the WWII Veterans, educate their children and grandchildren about it all, and celebrate the valued friendships we have all gained in a new and interesting location each year.”
In future newsletters we will highlight stories told by the children of our veterans. In this month’s Veteran Interview we are focusing on a very unique and dedicated group of daughters. The 401st Bomb Group Association, a longtime client of AFR’s, has been fortunate to have some of the best entertainment in the reunion business at their biennial reunions – as performed by The Pakawalups, veteran airman Vince Ledray’s three supremely talented daughters who pay tribute to the Andrews Sisters. Check out their Facebook page!
This month’s Top Reunion Destination is Dayton, Ohio – where every day is Veteran’s Day. Dayton is the birthplace of aviation and home to the National Museum of the United States Air Force, the world’s largest and oldest military aviation museum. Centrally located and very affordable, Dayton’s hotels are among the most reunion-friendly in the nation.
This month’s Featured Reunion Specialist is Christine Palmer, Director of Group Sales for the Sheraton Norfolk Waterside Hotel – right here in AFR’s hometown. Christine is a longtime friend and fellow reunion enthusiast. She brings a wealth of experience to the Sheraton, which guarantees a great reunion every time with its waterfront location, reasonable rates, and great hospitality rooms.
DAYTON, the Birthplace of Aviation and So Much More!, is located at the “Crossroads of America”, the intersection of I-75 N/S, and I-70 E/W. This convenient location, coupled with the Dayton International Airport, makes Dayton extremely accessible for your reunion attendees. In fact, the Dayton region is within 600 miles of 53% of the U.S. population. Meeting in Dayton makes sense!
But more importantly, EVERY DAY is VETERAN’S DAY in DAYTON!
In addition to being home to the Wright Brothers and the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park sites, Dayton is home to the FREE National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, the world’s largest and oldest military aviation museum with nearly 1.3 million annual visitors! The Museum offers over 17 acres of indoor exhibits featuring 360 aerospace vehicles and artifacts laid out in chronological order for easy viewing. AND, the best just keeps getting better!
The Museum is expanding! A Fourth Hangar is under construction and slated to open in September of 2016. The new 224,000 square foot, climate-controlled fourth building will give added gallery space to present the Air Force’s past, present and future in space, and the opportunity to consolidate the presidential and research development aircraft collection.
DAYTON HONORS VETERANS & YOUR GROUP WITH A SPECIAL OFFER!
The Dayton Convention & Visitors Bureau is extremely proud of our veterans and is pleased to provide the following to groups that book their hotel before December 31, 2015 (your reunion can take place in future years but the hotel contract just needs to be signed by 12/31/15.) *certain restrictions may apply
• Book your military reunion in a Dayton/Montgomery County hotel and the CVB will pay to have your group memorialized with a Legacy Plate on the Wall of Honor at the Museum.
• The CVB will coordinate an honor guard for a special ceremony honoring the installment of your group’s Legacy Plate.
• You also have an opportunity to provide a short biographical narrative, photograph, and video to be displayed on the U.S. Air Force Museum Foundation’s website.
As a B-17 pilot and co-pilot with 33 missions over Europe during WWII, the late Vincent Ledray flew in some of the most intense aerial combat of the war. Assigned to the 615th Bomb Squadron/401st Bomb Group (H) in the 8th Air Force, 1st Lieutenant Ledray saw action over Berlin, Hamburg, Schweinfurt, and at D-Day in 1943-’44. He and the airmen of the 401st Flying Fortresses played a pivotal role in diminishing Nazi Germany’s capacity to wage war.
Fellow crew member Charles Casner wrote a diary about the missions of the 401st. The group operated primarily against key military industrial sites, including factories, shipyards, missile sites, airfields, marshalling yards and submarine facilities. Ardently guarded and fortified by the Germans, crew casualties and the cost of downed and damaged planes were high. The 401st lost 95 planes in 256 missions. The attacks on the ball bearing plant in Schweinfurt, Germany were especially harrowing: “Never before have the Germans sent up so much fighter opposition…and flak was so damned thick over the target I swear you could have walked on it,” Casner wrote.
The valor and service of Ledray, World War II veterans and men and women of the armed forces are today honored by Ledray’s three daughters: Cathie Ledray Senff, Sue Ledray Murray and Vicki Ledray Grabicki. All with childhood musical backgrounds, in 2005 they formed The Pakawalups, a USO-style harmonizing trio named after their dad’s favorite B-17, the Pakawalup. Performing songs by Glen Miller, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, and the Andrews sisters, they also share anecdotes from their parents’ WWII life experiences. The Pakawalups joined the 401st Bomb Group Association and gave their first performance at a 401st reunion in Deenethorpe, England, where their father was stationed during the war.
“Our lives haven’t been the same since our first show in England; it’s just been wonderful,” Vicki said. The group sings at reunions (managed by Armed Forces Reunions, Inc.) and at a wide array of military and patriotic functions, including Veterans’ Day and Memorial Day gatherings, fairs and other events nationwide and near their hometown of Bellingham, Washington. In 2014 The Pakawalups were presented a “Certificate of Recognition” from the Lynden, Washington Lions Club at their Veterans’ Day celebration dinner.
“When we look into our audience we can see by their faces that we have transported them back to another time, a time that holds sweet and sad memories,” Susan said. “The 1940’s Greatest Generation was from a time of passion and romance, and love of country. Everyone pulled together to end the war and there really hasn’t been a time like that in our lifetime. After our performances, people come up and thank us. It’s very gratifying.”
The sisters were inspired to form the group after Vicki did research on their father’s service, including accounts from his flight log. Many of the early forays over Germany and Nazi-occupied Europe were daylight missions, especially deadly, and the escort fighters didn’t have the fuel capacity, range or firepower to adequately protect the bombers from Luftwaffe fighters and anti-aircraft fire. Not until the advent of the longer range, more heavily armed P-51 Mustang fighter in late 1943, along with a more tightly-packed B-17 formation, did the losses begin to abate and the tide in the air turn toward victory in Europe.
“Dad said had it not been for the new P-51’s they would have never made it across the English Channel,” Cathie recalled. The 401st won two Distinguished Unit Citations for its role and had the second best bombing accuracy in the 8th Air Force. The group was often referred to as “The Best Damned Outfit in the Army Air Corps.”
The sisters are currently working on a tribute CD and hope to have it out within a year, but their passion remains performing and their ranks are expanding. The sisters’ granddaughters, The Pak-A-Punches, now perform and travel with the group, as well as run the PX at 401st reunions. “Most important of all, our granddaughters are learning history directly from the veterans and their families,” Susan said. “When one of our veterans goes ‘forever aloft’ the girls cry too because they knew them and their stories personally.”
Scott McCaskey is a contributing writer for BMR.com; Account Director at Goldman & Associates Public Relations and former staff writer for the Virginian-Pilot newspaper.
BMR: How long have you been working in the military reunion market, and how long at your current hotel? I started working the reunion market in 1990 at the then Holiday Inn Waterside in Norfolk. In fact, that’s how I met Ted & Molly Dey as their office was located in the hotel. I am celebrating my 5th anniversary this month with the Sheraton Norfolk Waterside
BMR: What’s so significant about military reunions and how does the reunion market differ from other markets? I love working with our veterans! A quick phone call can easily turn into an hour, but that’s what makes reunion planners the best of friends. I have long-term friendships with group chairmen I’ve hosted over the years and I look forward to many more!
BMR: What does your hotel do for reunions that’s special? We invented the WOW factor! We want your attendees to walk away with something unique for your group. We won’t tell you what it is and it’s not negotiated in the contract so you will be surprised too! We understand what groups need to have a successful reunion, from reasonable room rates to large hospitality rooms and customized banquet menus.
BMR: What makes Norfolk so attractive to reunion groups? The Hampton Roads area is home to military bases for every branch of the service, and Norfolk has so many attractions that reunion groups love: from Nauticus and the Battleship Wisconsin to the Douglas MacArthur Memorial and riverboat cruises. Centrally located, Norfolk is a day’s drive from cities like Boston, Atlanta and Cincinnati.
BMR: How will BookMyReunion.com benefit your hotel? There are so many smaller groups in the marketplace today, and sometimes they don’t get the attention they deserve. While we have hosted reunions with up to 1,000 in attendance, we have so much intimate meeting and ballroom space that is perfect for groups of 25 to 100 attendees. BookMyReunion.com helps those smaller reunions find the perfect hotel, and in Norfolk the Sheraton is that perfect hotel. BMR makes it easy on reunion groups, so they can stay focused on what’s important – sharing memories from the past and staying connected with old friends.