Thursday, October 20, 2011
Korean Conflict vets hold reunion
By SUE WATSON
It was a happy occasion at Fitch Farms recently as four of the last 11 or so veterans of the VF51 Navy Squadron, who served on the USS Philippine Sea (CV-47) Aircraft Carrier, met for their last reunion.
The reunion first met in 1995, at W.O. Fitch’s home in Holly Springs, the same year the squadron was disestablished – March 1995.
There were 118 Navy men in the squadron, one of three that were assigned to the aircraft carrier, the men said. About 30 living members of the squadron met annually, first with themselves and in later years they brought along their wives.
Fitch hosted the reunion a number of years and it was also held several times in San Antonio, Texas, in Louisville, Kentucky, at Virginia Beach, Virginia, in Nashville, Tenn., and in Las Vegas, Nevada.
“This is the last one,” said Fitch, “We’re worn out.”
The group typically met for a three-day weekend where they retold their stories to each other, enjoyed various entertainment venues offered in the areas, and played in general.
“We’ve known each other since 1952 or 1953,” Fitch said. “We’ve been friends for a long time.”
The men were just kids, about 18 to 21 years of age, when they volunteered to serve in the Navy.
They said if they had it to do all over again, they would sign up for duty again.
“It made us all grow up and become better citizens,” Fitch said. “I deployed in March 1954 and again in November 1954. They gave me double duty.”
Alvin Bravenec, of San Antonio, served as aviation machinist mate. Joe Fischer, of Maryland, was a plane captain – he took care of the aircraft. About 80 planes, some fighter jets, other surveillance aircraft or seaplanes, were attached to the carrier. Fitch started out as a mechanic and later served on flight crews.
Jack Meidl, of Wisconsin, was in aircraft maintenance. Seabie Rucker, of Florida, was an aviation ordinanceman who maintained the guns.
Rucker stayed on in the Navy.
“I didn’t even know I was bald until I tried to let my hair grow out,” he quipped.
Rucker was one of the last ones to be found by the group organizing the reunion.
Bravenec said the reunion started in Holly Springs when Pogo James came through and talked to Fitch about getting a group together.
“So, Bill said, ‘Someone needs to call Chuck Fortner,’” Bravenec said.
James and Fortner are both deceased.
It was decided to hold the first reunion at the Fitch home. Then a list of names was made and each person who was located got in touch with those they knew how to contact.
“Fortner found my name in the San Antonio phone book and then, I somehow through the Internet, got on a search and advertised the reunion in a Navy publication,” Bravenec said. “Rucker got a hold of it and sent me a letter. Word spread from one to another.
“We were just a bunch of 118 kids who went over there. We answered the call to defend our country.”
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