August 2015 Newsletter
Vol 2, Issue 8
‘Tis the season! We just put a wrap on the Third Marine Division Association’s reunion in Orlando, and underway this week are: the 104th Infantry Division in New Orleans, the 1st Marine Division in San Diego, the Society of AF Nurses in Portland OR, the 381st Bomb Group in Detroit, and the USS Flying Fish SSN-673 is having its first ever reunion in our hometown of Norfolk.
Remember, when booking a future reunion you can earn your group money via two nationwide promotions offered by Armed Forces Reunions and BookMyReunion.com. Groups are rewarded with anywhere from $200 to $3,000 in cash. There’s honestly never been another promotion like it. Also, you can couple our promotion with Top Reunion Destination promotions (such as those for Norfolk and Providence) and earn your group even more money.
A HELPFUL HINT when booking your next reunion: be sure to block a few rooms on those early arrival days. Groups often ask hotels to honor the group rate three days before and after the main days of the reunion. So they book 30 rooms for Thu, Fri, Sat and none on Tue or Wed. The problem is folks in Central Reservations do not see the group rate loaded into their system and will tell members the rate is not available on those days. To avoid headaches it’s smart to put 2 rooms in the block for Tue and 5 or more rooms in the block for Wed. This ensures that Central Reservations will see the group rate loaded into the system for those wanting to arrive early.
Join the revolution and journey back to a time of patriots and loyalists, citizens and soldiers, historic homes and battlefields, villages and hamlets. Valley Forge in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania has always been a magnet for military and patriotic gatherings. The area’s venues provide the perfect setting to share those photos, re-tell stories, strengthen established bonds and create new ones.
This iconic area, centrally located between New York City and Washington, D.C. in the western suburbs of Philadelphia, offers over 70 hotels with 8,200 rooms with facilities and services to accommodate every reunion and every budget.
Area military attractions include the iconic Valley Forge National Historical Park, which offers living history and various tour options. Just 30 minutes to the east are the historic attractions of Philadelphia and the Battleship New Jersey. Other notable attractions include the American Helicopter Museum & Education Center, with more than 40 helicopters, autogiros and convertiplanes and the Harold F. Pitcairn Wings of Freedom Aviation Museum. Visitors to the area also like to try their luck at Valley Forge Casino Resort and also enjoy one of its seven restaurants.
Clothing and shoes are tax free in Pennsylvania, so shopping is king at nearby Philadelphia Premium Outlets and King of Prussia Mall—the East Coast’s premier shopping destination. Nostalgia is front and center at the American Treasure Tour in Oaks, Pa. This 90-minute guided tram tour features more than 100,000 pieces of Americana spanning every decade of the 20th century.
For your military reunion the Valley Forge Tourism & Convention Board staff is ready to assist with arranging area tours, transportation, entertainment, local color guards and offsite memorial services. Also, we’ll provide welcome signs, area information, bags/giveaways, dining discounts, and more. We also have a special Rewards Program that will earn your military reunion group some serious dollars. CLICK HERE to learn more.
A mortar specialist in the U.S. Army’s 196th Light Infantry Brigade, Warren R. Neill Jr. arrived in Vietnam in December of 1966. He first saw combat in Operations Cedar Falls, Gadsden and Junction City. In April 1967 he moved with the brigade to Chu Lai and points north. The fighting ranged from fierce to dead quiet, and changed back in an instant: scenes repeated countless times in the jungles of Southeast Asia.
“I was on the radio as our chopper was coming in at Junction City” Neill recalled. “First they said the LZ was cold and a go, then they said hot. We came in anyway, scattering into a perimeter of dodging mortars shells and small arms fire everywhere, an ambush, chaos. Then it was over.”
The 196th operated much of the time on its own, not directly under the umbrella of a division, and stayed forward deployed in the field during Neill’s service in Vietnam. The brigade was originally comprised of a squadron of armored cavalry, three infantry battalions, a support battalion and an artillery battalion. Numerous other units were assigned or attached in Vietnam.
“Most all of us saw combat, but not every day. The challenge with Vietnam, and probably in any jungle, was you rarely knew or saw when or where it was coming from,” said Neill, 67. “You could go for a couple days with nothing and then 10 minutes of unbelievable violence, mayhem and carnage, not constant combat, but a constant threat of ambush. With the jungle, tunnels, booby traps and uncertainty, we were on edge all the time. We were never really at a place where you could relax except for R and R. We’re all a team and had each others’ backs.”
Neill received the Combat Infantry Badge, Meritorious Service Medal, Army Commendation Medal and numerous other decorations. After Vietnam, he was assigned to the 2nd Armored Division in Ft. Hood, Texas. Subsequent active duty assignments included Germany and finally as a disbursing officer in Ft. Dix, New Jersey where he retired from active duty as a MSG in 1988. Neill then enlisted and served 4 years as a Battalion Command Sergeant Major (CSM) in the Indiana Guard Reserve. He returned to the Army as a civilian employee, and retired as a Financial Management Analyst in 2011.
Not long before leaving active duty, Neill had an encounter that reconnected him with the 196th and changed his life: courtesy a tip of the hat. “I went to the New Jersey State Fair and couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw a guy wearing a 196th hat. I hadn’t seen the 196th patch in years. He leaned over, shook my hand and said ‘Welcome Home Brother!’ I’ve never forgotten how it made me feel. I learned about the 196th Light Infantry Brigade Association, went to the very next reunion, Cincinnati 1987, and haven’t missed but one, Boston 1989, since. I found the men I trusted with my life, and was again truly surrounded by a band of brothers.”
Neill served as vice president of the association from 1995 to 2001 and as president until 2013; today he is the secretary. “I’m devoted to bringing all of us back together – for the fellowship and to talk about things that only we know and feel,” he said. “We all have PTSD to some degree and a lot of healing goes on.”
With about 450 veterans, the 196th is one of largest military reunion associations in the country. The biennial gatherings draw about a thousand people with family and friends. For years Neill did much of the reunion organizing and logistics, enlisting family members to help. He turned over the operation several years ago to Armed Forces Reunions, the parent company of BookMyReunion.com. AFR is managing the upcoming reunion in late September in Daytona, Florida and the 2017 gathering in Louisville, Kentucky.
“Setting up the events took so much effort that it took time away from fellowship. Now I have more opportunity for the camaraderie, remembering those we lost, sharing stories and support,” said Neill, who lives in Cicero, Indiana with his wife Carol. “The 196th was the first light infantry brigade in the army to go to Vietnam and the last to leave. We needed each other then, and we need each other now!”
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?
28 years, is that possible?? 18 years with Sheraton Westport Hotels. Boy does time zip by….it’s been a great career. I’ve learned so much and had the privilege of meeting so many wonderful Veterans!
BMR: What’s so significant about military reunions and how does the reunion market differ from other markets? Military Reunions are happy events with a gathering of brothers, lifelong friends who will always have each other’s back! It’s our pleasure to be of service and there is a sense of pride amongst the employees when a reunion is in-house. We are so grateful for our freedom and truly appreciate all that these men and women have provided for us. Many reunions have a different chairman each year and event planning may be new to these people. Our management and staff have worked together for 18+ years, are seasoned in our positions and will do everything possible to make each reunion the best one yet!
BMR: What does your hotel do for reunions that’s special? All of our guests are special, and treated so!! However, we bend the rules a little for the reunion groups. For example we:
• Don’t put attrition on contracts
• Are very flexible with food and beverage minimums
• Allow the attendees to provide their own refreshments in the hospitality room
• Don’t charge an early departure fee if someone checks out early because of health or family issues
• Provide refrigerators in rooms for those with medicinal needs
• Offer deeply discounted pricing for guest rooms as well as Catered meals
• Provide all needed meeting space complimentary
BMR: What makes St. Louis so attractive to reunion groups? St. Louis is centrally located and very economical. We are within 500 miles of 1/3 of the U.S. population. Lambert International Airport has 475 arriving flights daily and with Southwest Airlines being a major carrier, economical fares are available. Traffic is good in our fine city and you can get anywhere in 25 minutes. Culturally diverse, there is so much to do whatever your interests are. The Gateway Arch, Anheuser Busch Brewery, Cathedral Basilica, St. Louis Cardinals Baseball, The Botanical Gardens, The St. Louis Zoo, History Museum, Science Center…. I could go on and on. Fabulous dining, an abundance of live music and plenty of nightlife are available in all areas of the city. Casinos, Outlet Malls – yes, we can help you spend your money.
Specifically for Reunion Groups, from the World Wars to the modern military, St. Louis is filled with monuments and historic sites honoring our nation’s military men and women. Some attractions of interest for military groups include: the General Daniel Bissell House; Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site; Historic Aircraft Restoration Museum; Soldiers Memorial Military Museum; James S. McDonnell Prologue Room; and the Museum of Transportation. I was born and raised in St. Louis and am proud to call it home. Come and visit me, I’ll show you!
BMR: How will BookMyReunion.com benefit your hotel? I’ve worked with Ted Dey and Armed Forces Reunions for 20 years, maybe more, and have only had great experiences with the groups his company has sent our way. BookMyReunion.com provides one stop shopping for the Planner as well as the Hotel. We know what to expect, the services to provide and how to execute a great event. I look forward to working with each of you for many years to come!