November and December 2017 Newsletter
Vol 4, Issue 10
The Nation’s Reunion Bureau
Having worked with the Norfolk Convention Bureau in the 1980s I know the value of using the resources of industry experts. In 1988 AFR was founded to serve reunions in finding perfect destinations from coast to coast. After three decades of working exclusively with military reunions AFR is truly the nation’s Reunion Bureau. Pick any city in the country and AFR will guide you quickly to the perfect reunion-friendly hotel to host your group. What hotels offer good rates, include breakfast, and give free meeting rooms where groups can provide their own refreshments? Just ask us. If you want recommendations on what cities offer interesting tours for reunion groups – just ask us. We will also negotiate a simple reunion-friendly hotel contract for you…at NO COST to your group. Call the Nation’s Reunion Bureau at 1-800-562-7226 and get a professional on your side!
The Top Destination this month is the Hershey Harrisburg Region – home of the National Civil War Museum and central to great tours: Gettysburg, Amish Country, and Hersheypark. AFR hosted four reunions in Harrisburg this year and all raved about the reunion-friendly hotels and tours. Our Featured Veteran this month is Dick Ford, a member of the 315th Troop Carrier Group. AFR planned the 315th reunions for years. Now they meet in conjunction with the 8th Air Force Historical Society. In the photo Dick and twin Bob are with me at the National WWII Museum. The Must-See Museum is the Battleship Wisconsin in Norfolk, a perennial top reunion destination for groups of all service branches. Go below deck to explore previously sealed off areas of the Battleship.
You don’t have to be a historian to be fascinated by America’s military past, and if you’re celebrating strong bonds with your military comrades what better place than the Hershey Harrisburg Region? From the tattered buttons and bayonets of the Civil War to breathtaking photography and first-hand accounts of the War on Terror, all can learn about our nation’s military history in the Hershey Harrisburg Region. Harrisburg is home to the National Civil War Museum, the perfect place to start your journey back in time. The museum has two floors of exhibits, with thousands of three-dimensional relics including uniforms, weapons, and personal effects of the fallen.
After you’ve learned about the Battle of Gettysburg, which raged on for three days in 1863 just 40 miles south of Harrisburg, walk in a soldier’s boots at the Gettysburg National Military Park. Before you step onto the battlefield, stop at the Gettysburg Visitors Center to explore the Museum of precious artifacts and watch the film, A New Birth of Freedom, explaining how the events at Gettysburg shaped Civil War and American history. Surround yourself in history at the world-famous Cyclorama painting, a light and sound show illustrating the Confederate Army’s ill-fated Pickett’s Charge offensive that cost the lives of thousands and led to the defeat the southern forces. Lastly, the Cupola at the Seminary Ridge Museum offers a 360-degree view of the battlefield and sits above three floors of exhibits at the site of one of the battle’s largest field hospitals.
While our army was once divided, the history of the United States Army in the decades that followed the Civil War through present day is preserved in spectacular form at the United States Army Heritage and Education Center in Carlisle. Here, visitors can learn about the U.S. Army’s role in the wars that redrew world maps and forever changed the way we look at combat. Don’t miss the outdoor, mile-long Army Heritage Trail, featuring full-scale military exhibits: a recreation of a Civil War encampment, a World War I trench system, and World War II obstacle course, just to name a few!
Spending a day immersed in the military history of the region is a wonderful way to say “thank you” to our veterans, and will leave you feeling proud of our nation.
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.
Earlier this year, the Branson Veterans Memorial Museum restored the Huey UH1-C helicopter upon its retirement from the 118th Thunderbird 3rd platoon ‘Bandits’ and relocated it to its permanent resting place at the Branson Veterans Memorial Museum. This display continually attracts visitors of all ages to view and learn more about the history of the very aircraft renowned for a countless number of rescues of U.S. military warriors during the Vietnam War. On March 9, Lt. Payne – the pilot of this very aircraft from 1966-1968 – reunited with the Huey which he flew during the war, and veterans travel from across the country to admire the helicopter that brought them safely back to the homeland from war.
City of Branson Mayor Best shared “Branson is known for its community character, one that exhibits commitment to family, faith, friends, flag and future. I am honored to represent one of the few cities in America that Veterans call their ‘second home’ because of the community-wide demonstration of support, recognition and appreciation we collectively show in honor of those who fought – and continue to fight – for our freedom. Our military servicemen and women pay an unimaginable price many of us cannot even fathom, and it is my honor and privilege to not only memorialize their work by the display of the Huey, but to host events that communicate how much Branson appreciates their devotion to serve our country.”
In keeping with a long tradition of gratitude, many of Branson’s live entertainment 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 Convention & Visitors Bureau for our Military Reunion Planners Conference, Aug 14 – 17, 2017. 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. 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.
Bringing the Troops to Battle, Home and Still Representing the 315th
Assigned soon after D-Day to the 315th Troop Carrier Group, U.S. Army Air Corps, 1st Lt. and co-pilot Richard Ford spent from 1944 to Germany’s surrender dropping paratroopers, supplies and rescuing the wounded. Based in Spanhoe, England he flew scores of unarmed missions over enemy territory, narrowly surviving anti-aircraft and ground fire. “All we had were our pistols, but flew fast in a tight bombing group formation for safety in numbers,” said Ford, 95. “We flew over some pretty intense combat zones, sometimes so low we’d cut off the tops of trees and hedges to help keep the Germans from getting a good bead on us.”
The 315th primarily relied on the Douglas C-47 Skytrain and received the Distinguished Unit Citation for infantry drops during Operation Overlord, Operation Market Garden and Operation Varsity. Operation Market Garden over the Netherlands and Germany was a rough ride for Ford and the crew: “We took hits in most all operations, but through the hell highway from Arnhem to Eindhoven we sustained major damage to flight controls, with critical crew injuries, and force-landed at a former Luftwaffe airfield that was fortunately under our control. We were lucky to make it out alive.”
Ford was the pilot during the Operation Varsity mission in late March, 1945 where nearly 16,000 paratroopers and thousands of planes helped two divisions capture bridges, German cities and clear the way for the advance of allied troops. “Varsity was massive and key in expediting the end of the war in Germany about six weeks later,” Ford said. “Our unit was soon transferred from England to France, then Africa and finally to South America, where we would fly troops to Puerto Rico via Ascension Island and South America from where we would fly troops back to Miami on their last leg from Europe.
Ford received numerous medals during the conflict, including two Air Medals with four Bronze Oakleaf Clusters for 3,000 hours of air time, the American Campaign Medal, World War II Victory Medal and the European Service Ribbon with four Bronze Stars for wartime service in Normandy, Central Europe, Northern Europe and Germany. He returned stateside, joined the U.S. Air Force Reserves and went back to his pre-war job with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE), which again literally put him in the line of fire as a ranger and region chief. In the 1960s he developed a system to determine the origin and cause of wildfires that is in use today worldwide.
Ford retired as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force Reserves in 1967 and from Cal Fire in ’79, but to this day remains at the forefront of many 315th activities and World War II affairs. “I had a dual career, but my heart is with the military,” said Ford, who lives in Keizer, Oregon. “It has been a true privilege to act as a representative of the 315th Troop Carrier Group at 49 functions in the U.S. and Europe over the last several decades. I’ve also developed some wonderful friendships and had the special occasion to meet heads of state. In September of 2014 I shared a personal toast of friendship with King Willem-Alexander of The Netherlands during a private meeting with Polish paratroop veterans in Driel, Netherlands. Later that evening I was sitting as an honored guest with Polish President Bronisław Komoroski at a banquet with Polish paratroops at De Oldenburg in Driel for the 70th commemoration of the Market Garden mission. That day was both an honor and a humbling experience.”
Ford served as treasurer of the 315th, which several years ago merged with the 8th Air Force Historical Society and holds annual reunions across the country, many of which have been managed by Armed Forces Reunions, Inc. He is also is a member of the World War II Pilots Association.
“Most of my generation is unfortunately gone now, but regardless of when people served there’s a special bond when we meet, all of us sharing a common affiliation and experience,” Ford said. “But even with all the reminiscing, I think my greatest memory was flying our troops into Miami and watching their tears of joy when we’d open the cockpit door and they could again see what they’d been fighting for.”
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.
Berthed at Nauticus on Norfolk’s waterfront, the Battleship Wisconsin, one of the largest and last battleships ever built by the U.S. Navy, is now open to the public as one of the nation’s finest naval museums. A tour of its deck will take you back in time to experience this majestic ship that earned five battle stars during WW II. Go below deck to explore previously sealed off areas of the Battleship, including the Captain’s cabin, Admiral’s cabin, Combat Engagement Center, Flag Bridge, navigation Bridge and Quartermaster’s space. This fascinating tour takes visitors seven decks down in the depths of the Battleship Wisconsin, where they’ll learn exactly what was required to power this massive City at Sea. See up close the never-before-open-to-the-public engine room spaces aboard the Battleship Wisconsin!
The Hampton Roads Naval Museum is also located at Nauticus on level two and is owned and operated by the United States Navy. The museum houses a rich collection of authentic uniforms, weaponry, underwater artifacts, detailed ship models and artwork.