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FLIGHT LINE
Archive: Issue 1 Editorial

Charlie's 53 rd FMA
Reunion in St.Augustine

By Charlie Welling, First Lieutenant
and Senior Columnist

A day late and a dollar short but it was a great reunion. Reunions, you know, are where people gather like flies around a honey bucket and attempt to regain their youthful joie de vivre.

The Flying Midshipman Association did it one better by holding theirs in sight of The Fountain of Youth and staying in the Radisson Ponce de Leon in St. Augustine. As I let my ancient shipmates quaff my share of rum, I feel youthful today by comparison with them.

There is one constant at most reunions: the other spouse is usually bored to the death by mold-covered stories of the other's youthful perambulations. Mary, in fact, opted to stay home as did some other wives who had heard the old war stories one time too many already. I shan't bore you with any today, either.

There is always a glue that bonds reunion-ers together -- school, college, corporation, battle and so forth. In our case, we came from many schools and colleges and, latterly, many corporations and entrepreneurial endeavors, but the glue that holds this group so tightly together was best expressed by John Gillespie Magee, Jr. many years ago:

"Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered Wings; ...."

We share the struggle to win Navy wings; a struggle not as many finished as started. And many who did succeed are not with us today because mechanical screwups got them or weather tossed them from the sky or, more often than not, they forgot the first thing their first instructor told them as they strapped in for the first time: "Keep you head well ahead of this wondrous bird because, if she gets hers ahead of yours, shit will follow as surely as night follows the day."

Together we learned how to roll and spin, and split S and how to scan a panel full of gauges that would let you fly when the ground disappeared and there was no horizon. We learned how to land aboard a carrier, fly formation, use our bird as a gun platform against other planes and, of course, how to drop a bomb where it would do the most damage. And when we were through and the captain handed us our wings and said, "Congratulations. Well done!" we had learned that. "Flying is not inherently dangerous, but to an even greater degree than the sea, it is mercilessly unforgiving of human carelessness or neglect."

I find it fascinating that so many of these men who have achieved high military rank and/or corporate stature and/or individual business success and even piled degree upon degrees and doctorates upon doctorates still regard that little letter of designation as a Naval Aviator as THE defining moment of their lives. It's a shared experience not many men and women may share and this reunion was testimony to that fact. Why even ex-President George Bush wrote us a nice congratulatory note explicitly thanking us for serving and implicitly congratulating us for being so astute as to pick Naval Aviation for our service to the country.

An added bonus to our trip 'nawth' was a Southern Country Boil put on by Tom and Ann Jones for four of us Thursday night. It definitely rivals a New England Clambake and the St. Augustine oysters are a real treat just as Tom claimed they would be. Just to give you an idea of the attraction, eight of us consumed two bushels of oysters, pounds of shrimp and enough corn on the cob and potatoes to keep Ponce de Leon's crew alive for weeks.

I also slipped in another reunion with Sally and Delevan Baldwin from Jacksonville. He and I had spent the summer of 1944 at Bolles Academy on the St. Johns River -- he to graduate early before he was called up for the draft and me to spend a summer "down South" where my southern-born mother hopes some gentility might rub off on this crass Yankee. You all may judge the success of that venture. For my part I fell in love regularly with those sugar- tongued Southern Belles such as Martha Early and Halle Webster and, of course, Delavan's sister, Sheldon.

It'll take about a week to get the hangar doors closed again and that long for me to become incensed over some idiotic political event, one that will sufficiently grind my grits to wring out some high octane blather.

Until next time, have a nice week.

Charlie

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