Thursday, September 15, 2005

Reunion brings pilots together

Published in the Current

CAPE ELIZABETH (Sep 15, 2005): A retired Air Force pilot held a reunion at his Cape Elizabeth home Sunday, for members of his flight school class from 1969.

Fred Robinson and his wife, Janet, hosted the third class reunion, which was attended by men who flew for the Air Force during the Vietnam War.

The group met in April 1968 at Laughlin Air Force Base, just outside Del Rio, Texas. “Pilot training is 53 weeks and in Del Rio there is nothing” to do, said Fred Robinson. “We made our own fun.”

They did so again this weekend, with a tour of the Cape Elizabeth Lighthouse – the east light of Two Lights – and a lobster bake for dinner at the Robinsons' home on the coast.

The longtime friends caught up on the news of kids, grandkids and retirement adventures, and reminisced about old times, too.

“A lot of guys started families while they were there,” Robinson said. Many of the men got married, and 17 children were born – all of them girls, according to one woman who married her husband and had a child there, Janice Danahy, the wife of retired Maj. Gen. John Danahy.

They became friends during the class, and in subsequent survival schools before being sent “in the pipeline” to fly cargo planes, forward air spotters or fighters in Vietnam.

“After the Vietnam War we had quite a few guys that stayed in” on active duty or in the reserves, as did Robinson for 21 years, while also working in the airline industry.

Some members of the group flew in the first Gulf War.

The group began meeting again in 1999, after a chance meeting between Robinson and class member Bobby Fullerton. Robinson was flying for the United shuttle when an American Airlines pilot came aboard and asked if he could ride in Robinson's “jump seat,” a spare seat in the cockpit where airline pilots often fly free of charge, as a professional courtesy.

The American pilot looked at Robinson and said, “I think I know you.” Robinson recognized Fullerton, and the pair began planning to get their pilot class together.

They were able to find many of the class with old addresses, military and commercial pilot connections, and even a federal database: One of the class, Tony Liguori, works for the Federal Aviation Administration, and searched names for the group.

They have met every three years since 1999. Members of the group came from as far as the country of Norway, though most came from across the United States, including Arizona, Minnesota, Florida, Cape Cod, Delaware and a couple from Louisiana who had “just the most beautiful weather” at their home while Hurricane Katrina ravaged the coast.