Military News

Monday, October 05, 2015

RAF Mildenhall joins 100th BG Veterans in New Orleans reunion

by Senior Airman Victoria H. Taylor
100th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

10/1/2015 - RAF MILDENHALL, England-- -- Aug. 17, 1943, nine aircraft, 90 men lost at Regensbuerg, Germany.
Oct. 8, 1943, seven aircraft, 72 men lost in Bremen, Germany.
Oct. 10, 1943, 12 aircraft, 121 men lost in Munster, Germany.
March 6, 1944, 15 aircraft, 150 men lost in Berlin, Germany.
May 24, 1944, nine aircraft, 90 men lost in Berlin, Germany.
July 29, 1944, eight aircraft, 72 men lost in Merseburg, Germany.
Sept. 11, 1944, 12 aircraft, 100 men lost in Ruhland, Germany.
Dec. 31, 1944, 12 aircraft, 111 men lost in Hamburg, Germany.

They weren't the first to arrive in the United Kingdom during World War ll. They didn't fly the most missions over Europe, drop the most bombs from their B-17 Flying Fortresses or, as many believe, suffer the greatest casualties. They obtained awards and earned recognition, but other groups won more.

Numbers alone did not make the group one of the most notorious combat units in the history of the U.S. Air Force. However, eight significant missions did, earning them the name "The Bloody Hundredth."

Nearly 72 years later, 27 veterans of the 100th Bombardment Group, alongside their families, historians, volunteers and enthusiasts joined together for a long weekend Sept. 24 to Sept. 27 in New Orleans, La., but dropping bombs was not on the reunion's itinerary.

"[We all] have a personal story to tell," said Dan Rosenthal, 100th BG Foundation president and son of World War ll veteran Robert "Rosie" Rosenthal. "Whether it's a first-hand account or an experience recanted by our fathers and grandfathers; whether we uncovered a box of medals in a bedroom bureau or a forgotten journal in the attic; all these things create a tapestry of our shared history. And these stories, both real and intimate, must be kept alive."

Held in a different location every other year for more than 40 years, the reunion gives the opportunity for vets to tell their stories, visit old friends and share a few laughs while participating in an eventful schedule.

Even the New Orleans muggy heat didn't stop the veterans and families from sporting their leather flight jackets to the kick-off event. Members were able to tour not only a KC-135 Stratotanker assigned to RAF Mildenhall, but also the B-17 Flying Fortress "Movie" Memphis Belle, both sporting the distinct Square D tail flash.

The Bloody Hundredth's past and present was represented by more than just aircraft. A group of Airmen currently stationed at RAF Mildenhall attended the event, and were afforded the opportunity to spend time with the legacy members.

"It was an extremely humbling experience," said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Michael Faux, 100th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron KC-135 Stratotanker flying crew chief. "Being able to speak with the individuals and their children and grandchildren about the things aircraft maintainers and pilots had to do back then and things we do now was amazing. It was a lot of fun comparing our daily duties from then to now."

Faux said he met a crew chief who had worked on both B-17s and KC-135s, and the stories he shared left the staff sergeant astonished.

"The things crew chiefs did during his service made my jaw drop," Faux said. "One story was him removing skin from one B-17 to put it on another that had encountered battle damage." It isn't a task that has to be done these days.

Despite the difference and decades separating their service in the Bloody Hundredth, there was an undeniable connection between members of the historic unit.

"Every single person I met at the 100th Bomb Group Reunion inspired me to keep our traditions alive and never forget where we came from," Faux added. "More importantly, the men and women who've paved the way for all of us still flying the Square D."

New Orleans is also home to the National World War ll museum, where the visitors were able to spend time absorbing the vast amount of information and artifacts spread about the three separate buildings, and enjoy an evening symposium recounting the first airborne humanitarian food aid mission in history.

Although the weekend's main focus was the get-together amongst the veterans, Ryan Neel, 16, nephew to World War ll veteran Clay McIver, was astounded by everything he was taking in.

"It's an honor to meet all these amazing men. Hearing their stories and just trying to imagine what they must have seen when they were just about my age, I didn't realize how much it was going to impact me emotionally," said Neel. "I've been learning things that you can't read in history books, and it's an experience I'll never forget."

Without losing steam, the events ran throughout the weekend. From business meetings to presentations, to music and dancing after an extravagant dinner, the occasion never had a dull moment.

"Why do I keep coming back to these reunions?" World War ll veteran Frank "Bud" Buchmeier asked with a huge smile growing larger on his face. "To see how much older all these guys got since the last one!"

More than 300 people accepted the invitation for the reunion and though it was meant to be a long weekend, most felt that it ended too soon. All exchanged their goodbyes ensuring each other they would meet again in two years' time, but hold dear the experiences they shared.

"My father has been gone for precisely 15 years," said Chip Culpepper, son of World War ll veteran Conley E. Culpepper. "But because of the 100th Bomb Group veterans, reunion organizers, volunteers and presenters, I truly felt that I was able to spend an entire weekend with him. For that, I'm humbly grateful."

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