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March 2020 Newsletter

Vol 8, Issue 1

TED’S TALK

This is Armed Forces Reunions’ first newsletter of 2020 and there is a lot going on.  Coming off one of our best years in 33 years of planning reunions, it is a shock to confront the pandemic of the Coronavirus.  Ok, let’s call it what it is – The Wuhan Virus.  Our country is at war, against a virus that threatens the well-being of our citizens (especially our seniors), against an unseen and unknowable enemy that causes great economic pain on every segment of our nation – but most especially on those in the hospitality industry (hotels, airlines, restaurants, theme parks, cruise ships, bars and theaters).  At the White House this week President Trump met with the CEOs of major hospitality companies (Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt, Choice Hotels, Wyndham, Intercontinental Group, MGM Casinos, Radisson, Disney Parks and others).  No one in the room had ever witnessed a disaster in our industry quite like this.  I have personally worked with reunions for 37 years and have never seen anything like it.  As the CEOs all reported, hotel occupancy went from a high of  87%  to occupancy currently in the single digits.  And this is worldwide!  This is unsustainable and requires immediate action on the part of our government to help those folks and families in the industry make it through the coming weeks and months.  We will get to the other side; we will defeat this virus, and in doing so will hopefully be better prepared to meet head-on any new virus or pandemic in the coming years.

But let’s get back to military reunions. Over the thirty-plus years that AFR has planned reunions, some basic truths have always shone through.  In good times and bad the hospitality industry has never had a more dependable market.  Corporate business and association groups come and go with the winds of economic forecasts.  The bond of military camaraderie is a constant that remains unbowed through economic hardship and national disruption.  I remember being with the Third Marine Division reunion in Dallas two weeks after 9/11.  Maybe 5% of those registered cancelled.  Fear did not keep these Marines and their loved ones from their goal – sharing time with one another through thick and thin.  I’d like to take a few millennials with me to some of our reunions and say “If you want to know what makes America great, come spend some time in a military reunion’s hospitality room.”

But here we are in unknown territory.  What can one help but think when the head of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention says those at greatest risk from the virus are our beloved senior citizens, and especially those with underlying health issues.  There is considerable angst about whether to attend a reunion this year.  Our nation is on a wartime footing against this pandemic.  The President has invoked the Korean War-era Defense Production Act, invoking special powers to rapidly expand domestic manufacturing of protective masks and clothing.

GM and Ford are in talks with the Trump Administration to convert stalled auto plants to ventilator production. The CDC and FDA are loosening regulations on private labs to hasten the availability of widespread testing.  The experts at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute at Fort Detrick are fully involved in decoding the virus, and the Defense Department is releasing 2,000 ventilators and up to 5 million respirator masks from its strategic reserve.  On the economic front, analysts at Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, and Moody’s all predict sustained economic growth throughout the second half of 2020.  As Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin recently said, “We will destroy this virus and the economy will come roaring back.”

Unlimited resources and unbridled American ingenuity will conquer this Wuhan Virus and life will return to normal.  My advice to reunion groups is this: maintain caution and take a pause.  Let things develop and make informed decisions based on scientific evidence and the advice of medical experts.  For most of AFR’s groups that were scheduled to meet in April or May we have found alternate dates later in the year.  Keeping the reunion in 2020 makes it easier for members to rebook airline tickets as the airlines have waived change fees for flights rebooked within this calendar year.  While the safety and well-being of reunion members must clearly be the top concern of any reunion’s leadership, if our nation’s medical leaders determine that we are safe to travel then please consider supporting our economy and the hard workers in the hospitality industry who have faithfully served you year after year.  Let us pause, minimize fear and panic, be mindful of our joint safety, and make clear-headed decisions when the time is right.

AFR will do everything it can to make your reunion happen.  We recently rescheduled the Red River Valley Assn. from April to October in San Antonio.  The several hundred folks who registered for April were automatically registered for the October events (including the Rio Cibolo Ranch BBQ with an expected appearance by the Lt. Dan Band!).  There are no change fees with the airlines, and our hotel partners have been stellar to work with.  When our nation’s political and medical leaders flash the green light let’s get on with our lives, attend a reunion, celebrate the wedding of a loved one, and go to the local coffee shop or bakery to support our mom-and-pop businesses – what really make America great.

AND NOW FOR THE NEWSLETTER AS WRITTEN PRE-WUHAN VIRUS

We ended 2019 with some old friends in December in San Diego – the veterans of the Chosin Reservoir Campaign in Korea.  We’ve long partnered with “The Chosin Few” and look forward to the 70th Anniversary reunion in Washington D.C. this coming October.  And speaking of anniversaries – we just wrapped up the 75th Anniversary reunion for veterans of the Battle of Iwo Jima – it too in D.C.  The Commandant of the Marine Corps led a special anniversary salute at the U.S. Marine Corps Memorial honoring Iwo Jima.  We had over forty vets and 450 at the gala banquet.

It’s hard to say there was a special guest of honor at the Iwo Jima Association of America reunion, as they are all so special, but it was a pleasure to meet Martha MacCallum from FOX News’ The Story with Martha MacCallum.  Martha’s uncle was killed on Iwo Jima, and her recent documentary showed her and Aunt Nancy meeting two veterans who served with her uncle Harry Shade.  These two gentlemen, George Colburn and Charlie Gubish, actually saw each other for the first time in 75 years at the D.C. reunion.  Martha signed copies of her new best-selling book Unknown Valor and attended the annual banquet with her family, including Aunt Nancy Shade – sister to brother Harry, who was killed by shrapnel from mortar fire at the young age of 18.  Also in attendance was Hershel ‘Woody’ Williams, the sole living Medal of Honor recipient from Iwo Jima.  See the photos that follow.

2019 was one of the best years we’ve had in the last thirty-plus years.  AFR was re-awarded a three-year contract to handle the planning of Returning Warrior Workshops for the U.S. Navy Reserves.  These events occur throughout the year and are meant to help returning reservists learn how to overcome the battles they face back home – the struggles that come from the dramatic transition from combat life to civilian life.  We are proud to have been awarded this special contract multiple times since the program’s inception in 2008.

Having planned military reunions and conferences in over 150 cities for over thirty years we will guide you to military-friendly hotels with the best rates.  Pick up the phone and TALK TO TED at 1800-562-7226 or email me at ted@afri.com.

For this month’s Featured Veteran we are paying tribute to one of our nation’s greatest heroes – Lt. Gen. Lawrence F. Snowden USMC, who passed away February 18, 2018. Gen. Snowden was one of our first interviewees in early 2015, and was a great supporter of AFR. We just recently planned the 75th anniversary reunion for the surviving members of the Battle of Iwo Jima which was held in Washington DC over the dates of February 26 to March 1. Gen Snowden was sorely missed but remains in all our hearts to this day.

The Top Destination this month is Washington DC.  Most reunion groups have visited our Nation’s Capital at some point, and many have visited multiple times for good reason.  AFR has planned so many reunions and major events in Washington DC since 1988 it is hard to count them all.

The Must-See Museum is the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico, Virginia. The Museum opened its doors in 2006 as a lasting tribute to U.S. Marines – past, present and future. Situated on a 135-acre site adjacent to Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., the Museum’s soaring design has welcomed more than five million visitors since its dedication.


VETERAN OF THE MONTH

Lt. Gen. Lawrence F. Snowden USMC
Hero at the Battle of Iwo Jima

Immortalized in Joe Rosenthal’s photo of five U.S. Marines and a Navy hospital corpsman hoisting the American Flag on Mount Suribachi, the battle for Iwo Jima remains one of the most iconic and bloody fights of World War II. February 19, 2020 marks the 75th anniversary of the start of the five-week struggle. Lt. Gen. Lawrence F. Snowden USMC (Ret.), who passed away on February 18, 2018, was a 23-year-old Captain and commander of Company F, 2nd Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division. He was among the first waves of Marines going in and recalled: “When we landed, there were three colors: black and gray, from all the exploding ordinance; the third color was red – blood.”

“The fighting was fierce and there was tremendous carnage on both sides, but it was for a very important strategic need,” said Snowden, 93, who lived in Tallahassee, FL. “Iwo provided the proximity for our new B-29 bombers to reach mainland Japan. It also became crucial for emergency landings of 2,400 of the planes. Of key importance was that it marked the first capture of Japanese homeland and the psychological impact on them was tremendous.”

Iwo Jima was the largest Marine amphibious operation of the war, and the costs of victory were extremely high. With nearly 27,000 Marine and 23,000 Japanese casualties, it was the only battle of the war where the Marines suffered more losses than the Japanese. The struggle was described as “being something out of Dante’s Inferno” in Hyper War: Closing In: Marines in the Seizure of Iwo Jima by Col. Joseph H. Alexander, USMC (Ret.).

In 1950 Snowden helped create the Marine Corps Development Center in Quantico, which charted operations and concept development for the future. He served as a Major and Battalion Executive in the Korean War, and in Vietnam he commanded the 7th Marine Regiment. “We did a lot of anti-Viet Cong missions, chasing guys who were farmers in the daytime and Viet Cong at night” Snowden said. “It was pretty horrific; we lost a lot of arms and legs because of their trip wires. Now we call them IEDs.”

Snowden received five Legion of Merit awards over his thirty-seven years of service, two for combat. He was Chief of Staff of U.S. Forces in Japan from the early to mid-1970s. He was promoted to Lieutenant General on 1 September 1975 when he assumed the billet as the Marine Corps Operational Deputy to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He received a second Distinguished Service Medal for his service as Chief of Staff and retired in 1979.

“I changed my mind in Korea about who our enemies were,” he said. Forty years after the battle, Snowden and other veterans of the struggle decided to visit the island. On the 50th anniversary in 1995 he and the group officially established The Reunion of Honor. “We didn’t and don’t go to Iwo Jima to celebrate victory, but for the solemn purpose to pay tribute to and honor those who lost their lives on both sides,” Snowden said. “It is a real alliance between the two countries. What I hope is that everyone understands that enemies can become friends, and that there is no more important bilateral relationship than between the U.S. and Japan.”

Armed Forces Reunions planned the 75th anniversary reunion in DC last month. The remaining veterans along with friends and dignitaries dearly missed Gen. Snowden and he was in the thoughts and prayers of all who attended. He was one our nation’s greatest heroes, and a dignified and humble man.

Scott McCaskey is a contributing writer for BMR.com, Account Director at Goldman & Associates Public Relations and a former staff writer for the Virginian-Pilot newspaper.


TOP REUNION DESTINATION – WASHINGTON, DC

Most reunion groups have visited our Nation’s Capital at some point, and many have visited multiple times for good reason.  AFR has planned so many reunions and major events in Washington DC since 1988 it is hard to count them all. In 2014 we hosted the Korean War Veterans Association and the Korean War Ex-POW Association for the 60th Korean War anniversary celebrations on the Mall.  That was quite a feat with the complete lockdown of the mall due to President Obama’s presence at the Korean War Memorial, requiring multiple meetings with White House Secret Service.  Thankfully the Mall opened back up to the public later that same day as we moved in over 1,000 vets and family members for the 196th Light Infantry Brigade’s memorial service at the Vietnam Memorial.

In 2012 we planned the Centennial Celebration of Marine Corps Aviation, in conjunction with an event we have long planned – the Marine Corps Aviation Association’s Annual Symposium.  This June the National Museum of the United States Army opens at Fort Belvoir.  We expect a flood of Army reunions to visit the Museum in the next few years.  We booked the 1st Signal Brigade for September of this year and have already booked the Americal Division reunion for 2022.  If you would like to book your Army reunion in D.C. AFR can lead you to the most reunion-friendly hotels.  The year after the World War II Memorial opened we hosted 18 reunions in DC – that was the peak year in our thirty-plus years of planning reunions in DC.  No matter what branch of the service your group is let AFR guide you to the perfect reunion in our Nation’s Capital.


MUST-SEE MUSEUM

The National Museum of the Marine Corps opened its doors in 2006 as a lasting tribute to U.S. Marines – past, present and future. Situated on a 135-acre site adjacent to Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., the Museum’s soaring design has welcomed more than five million visitors since its dedication. The 120,000-square-foot structure features world-class interactive exhibits that use the most innovative technology to immerse visitors in the sights and sounds of Marines in action. Semper Fidelis Memorial Park, adjacent to the Museum, features more than one mile of interwoven pathways that run along remarkable features such as the Semper Fidelis Memorial Chapel, and monuments erected to honor various Marine Corps organizations and courageous individuals who have earned the title, Marine.

The Museum’s current galleries tell the stories of Marines from 1775 – 1975.  During World War I the Marines fought the advancing Germans using everything from aircraft to their bare knuckles and succeeded in stopping the German advance on Paris – helping end the bloody carnage of World War I.  Uncommon Valor highlights the heroic efforts of Marines on the ground and in the air in the World War II gallery. The gallery is populated with period aircraft, tanks and weapons. Visitors board a Higgins Boat for their assault on Iwo Jima.

In the Korean War gallery see how the Marine Corps saw the first use of USMC helicopters and jet powered aircraft in combat. Special exhibits explore the desperate defense of the Pusan Perimeter, the bold landings at Inchon, the bitter fight around the Chosin Reservoir, and the “see-saw” battles for control for the city of Seoul.

The Marine Corps fought in Vietnam from 1965 through 1975 – longer than in any other conflict. This gallery brings to life horrific scenes of close combat and small moments of compassion on the field of battle at such places as Howard’s Hill, Marble Mountain, Quang Nam, Khe Sanh, and Dong Ha. Wall murals and dioramas deliver stories about combat operations, significant contributions to the war, individual Marines, special units, morale, and air support.

The Final Phase historical galleries, scheduled to open in phases through 2023, will include a continuation of the existing Legacy Walk, from which visitors will enter galleries that talk about common Marine structure and missions (e.g., NEOs, HA/DRs, MSG, etc.), the period from 1976 to 9/11, 9/11 as a standalone exhibit, 9/12 to present, the home front, and the Corps’ future. Not every Marine serves in combat, but the Museum recognizes that every Marine is vital to the mission and will honor all Marines.