June 2015 Newsletter
Vol 2, Issue 6
The summer months are here and in many cities it’s the time of year to get great room rates, as most corporate and association groups meet in the Spring and Fall. This month we are hosting reunions for longtime clients and new ones. We just hosted the Patrol Craft Sailors Assn. in Bay City, MI – the 27th reunion we’ve planned for them, and this week we’re hosting the 94th Infantry Division Assn. in our hometown of Norfolk – the 21st reunion we’ve planned for them. Next week is out first reunion with the Misawa AFB veterans in Columbus, OH – and our first outing with the USS Brownson in Charleston. Bookings for next year are really up. Welcome to the A-6 Intruder Association (San Diego), and welcome back to the Chosin Few (San Diego) and the USS Wisconsin BB-64 Association (Norfolk).
For 2016 reunion groups can realize some of the greatest savings ever: with the Special BookMyReunion Promotion ($200 hotel credit and more) and with a new Armed Forces Reunions promotion to be launched in the coming weeks. Be on the lookout! These are coast-to-coast savings opportunities that cannot be found elsewhere.
June’s Top Reunion Destination is one of the most popular reunion destinations ever – Branson, MO. There’s nowhere that rolls out the red carpet any better than the folks in Branson do. Branson’s legendary hospitality is genuine, and the community’s appreciation for the sacrifices of our veterans is real – and the entertainment value is second to none.
Our Featured Veteran this month is MajGen Michael “Lancer” Sullivan, an old friend of ours with the Golden Eagles and a legend in Marine Aviation annals. Lancer led and AFR planned the 2012 Marine F-4 Foray in San Diego, an event with over 800 in attendance – including then Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen James Amos, who was mentored by Lancer back in the day.
This month’s Reunion Specialist is Lisa Taylor, Director of Sales & Marketing for the Best Western Plus Landmark Hotel in Metairie, LA. We began working with Lisa in 1990 when she was Lisa Boudreaux. No one in New Orleans knows reunions better than Lisa. We look forward to hosting the 517th Parachute Infantry Regiment this month at the Landmark Hotel, our third group there so far this year.
Branson salutes our veterans and active duty armed forces year-round. Their service, commitment and ultimate sacrifice is honored with multiple special events, warm welcomes and VIP treatment. Men and women veterans and active duty personnel from all branches and from all wars, conflicts and peacetime service are appreciated in the Branson/Lakes Area every day of the year.
In keeping with a long tradition of gratitude, many of the area shows recognize veterans, military personnel and their families through special patriotic musical numbers. Frequently the entire audience gives a resounding round of applause to say “Welcome Home” and “Thank You.” This commitment to honoring veterans can be seen at area attractions, restaurants, museums and other businesses in a variety of ways. Military reunion groups often say that Branson is their number-one destination of choice. Surrounded by the scenic Ozark Mountains, visitors enjoy pristine lakes perfect for fishing and sailing as well as beautiful countryside championship golf. Experience for yourself the warmth of the Branson community’s genuine hospitality and appreciation of our nation’s heroes past and present.
Volunteer military reunion planners are invited to join the Branson/Lakes Area CVB for our Military Reunion Planners Conference, Aug 3 – 6, 2015. This event gives you the opportunity to site visit hotels, preview shows, taste meals, and experience group transportation, giving you first-hand information for choosing your Branson itinerary and services. Take this knowledge and let the team at BookMyReunion know your choices when you are ready to plan.
BRANSON VETERANS HOMECOMING (NOV. 5 – 11) Each year, Branson hosts America’s largest Veterans Homecoming celebration. Tens of thousands of veterans, their friends and families arrive for a week of camaraderie. Annually, from Nov. 5 through Veterans Day on Nov. 11, Branson is filled with commemorative events, special appearances by high-ranking military personnel, tribute shows, military era based reunions and more. The Veterans Day parade is held in historic downtown Branson, always at the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, and marks the conclusion of Veterans Week each year.
With 8,700 hours in the air – 2½ days shy of a full year in the cockpit – MajGen Michael “Lancer” Sullivan USMC (Ret.) received the Silver Hawk Award in 1990 and 1991 for being designated as the longest flying Marine aviator at that time. He piloted several different fighter and attack aircraft, including the AD Skyraider, F9F Cougar, F3D Skynight, all models of the F-8 Crusader, F-4D Skyray, all models of the F-4 Phantom, A-4 Skyhawk, AV-8 Harrier, F-18 Hornet and four different types of British fighters while an RAF exchange pilot. Sullivan flew 400+ combat missions in his 1965 and 1969 tours in Vietnam. More than half his flight hours were in the F-4 Phantom. The game-changing long-range supersonic jet interceptor/bomber reached speeds over mach 2. Sullivan was in the first Marine F-4 squadron to go to Vietnam, VMFA 531.
“The F-4 was a rocket ship compared to everything else at the time,” said Sullivan, who enjoyed a 35 year career in Marine aviation. “The plane just had all-around superior performance, weaponry and was very rugged. It was not really designed to be a dogfighter, but we learned how and flew the hell out of ‘em. We bet our lives on the F-4. It could take a hit and always get us home as long as we had at least one engine and one set of hydraulics working.”
The acclaimed F-4 entered service in 1960 in the U.S. Navy and later versions were still in operation in the First Gulf War. The aircraft was a mainstay in Vietnam and the last U.S. fighter flown to reach ace status in the 20th century. Carrying a wide range of ordinance, including Sparrow and Sidewinder missiles, Zuni rockets, along with napalm, Snakeyes, Rockeye, a gun pod and Daisy Cutter bombs, the plane was a threat from almost the ground up. “Release altitude ranged from as high as 6,000 feet for “slick” bombs to 200 feet for Snakeye bombs, and as low as you had the guts to fly for napalm. We could hit most any target and provide crucial support to our guys on the ground,” said Sullivan, 81, who lives in Craven County, NC with his wife Nicole.
In 1974 Sullivan won the Alfred A. Cunningham Award for Marine Aviator of the Year. His command tours include CO, VMFA 323, CO, MAG-11, CO, MAG-41, CG, 10th MAB and CG and AWC, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, MCAS Cherry Point, NC.
In 1991 he was invited to join The Golden Eagles, an elite organization consisting of Medal of Honor winners, astronauts, fighter aces and naval aviators who have contributed significantly to naval aviation. It was established in 1956 and the membership is limited to 200 naval aviators.
“I hadn’t heard of the Golden Eagles when I was selected. At the induction banquet the next thing I knew I was sitting at a table with John Glenn and Joe Foss,” Sullivan said. Sullivan, who also received the Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross and dozens of other decorations, retired in 1991 after serving as Deputy Commander, Fleet Marine Force Atlantic, Norfolk, VA. But to hear him speak, you’d think he was still in the cockpit of the F-4. “Tradition and heritage are everything, what was done before and to carry on. If we lose our tradition we lose it all. Those who went before and mentored us are a lot of why we went, and yes, with a little swagger, working hard and playing hard. The warrior ethos – we’ve got to keep it going.”
Sullivan shares the tradition with his youngest son, Byron Sullivan, who served as CO, VMFA-232 Red Devils, F-18Cs, MCAS Miramar CA and will graduate from the National War College on June 18, 2015. Sullivan also shares tradition at reunions with fellow Marines and other service members, including the Golden Eagles reunions and the once-in-a-lifetime 2012 Marine F-4 Phantom Foray in San Diego, both managed by Armed Forces Reunions, Inc., the parent company of BookMyReunion.com.
“We like to enjoy carrying on the tradition at our reunions. There were over 800 of us and our families in San Diego. Like always, the first one to the bar gets to tell the biggest story. The only thing we really miss is not being able to smoke cigars anymore because of the PC rules.”
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 have been employed with the Best Western Plus Landmark Hotel & Suites for the past 35 years, starting in 1980 in the Catering Department. I moved into Sales in 1987. I have booked over 105 military reunions and treasure all the friends I’ve made and look forward to making many more.
BMR: What’s so significant about military reunions and how does the reunion market differ from other markets? Military Reunions are a live history lesson; listening to all the stories and looking through their Memorabilia is truly a trip to the past. Reunions differ from corporate and business groups in that the attendees are mainly here to visit with one another, catch up with old friends and meet new friends, and most importantly reminiscence with each other. Being a History major I look forward to the many stories that are told. It is gratifying to see the smiles on their faces as they see their Comrades. I am honored to host Military Reunions, after all they have fought for and the sacrifices they’ve made to protect our freedom – it’s a job I love!
BMR: What does your hotel do for reunions that’s special? We offer a Complimentary Hospitality Suite and allow them to provide their own food & beverages. Also, we offer a complimentary free upgrade for reunion organizer and a complimentary suite if the reunion has a minimum of 30 rooms paid and occupied. Our hotel is just finishing with a major renovation and is in the best shape it’s been in since opening. Being a full service hotel we can accommodate your client’s meals, meetings and hospitality room all under the same roof. The area around our hotel is so great for reunions, as plenty of restaurants, a Whole Foods, and the Lakeside Mall are all within walking distance. The most important benefit is you have a dedicated and a well-seasoned staff working with you from check-in to check-out.
BMR: What makes New Orleans so attractive to reunion groups? There is so much history and so many attractions in New Orleans from Plantation Tours and riverboat cruises to the Historical Garden District and the World War II Museum. There is something to keep you busy for days on end. Let’s not forget the Food – we have the best restaurants hands down! You can enjoy Gumbo, Jambalaya, Crawfish Etoufee, Shrimp & Grits, Fried Catfish, Crab Cakes, Pralines, Bananas Foster, Hot Bread Pudding with Rum sauce just to name a few…..and we are the birthplace of “Jazz”- the music will have you on your feet dancing the night away!
BMR: How will BookMyReunion.com benefit your hotel? I am proud to have worked with Armed Forces Reunions for the past 25 plus years and their launching of BookMyReunion.com (BMR) is the best thing to happen for reunions and reunion-friendly hotels in years. BMR makes hotel contracting simple for groups and hotels, and offers reunion groups protection that only reunion-friendly hotels can offer. Armed Forces Reunions has been planning reunions so long they know what hotels work well with reunions – like ours! Hotels that love reunions can become a BMR Star Hotel and gain visibility though their Hot Hotel Deals program. The Best Western Plus Landmark Hotel & Suites looks forward to welcoming BMR reunions for many more years.