TWENTY YEARS OF THE
In 1980, Bill Demint put into action an idea he'd had for some time. He'd seen many ads pertaining to pilot reunions - P-38, P-51 and other such groups, and wondered about a Sabre pilot reunion. Along with his buddy Frank Satterfield, they decided to go for it! They enlisted the aid of Warren Thompson, a writer and aviation historian who had collected information from many pilots for a book he was writing. Warren provided Bill and Frank with a contact list and planning began for our first reunion. The response was very enthusiastic.
In October 1981, the first reunion was held in Little Rock, Arkansas, Bill and Frank's hometown. Thirtyfive Sabre jocks attended. Warren Thompson hosted the second reunion, June 1982, in Memphis. Lloyd Irish hosted Reunion 3 in St. Louis in October 1983. Membership by then was about one hundred.
To make membership affordable, annual dues were set at $10, and this barely covered administrative costs. Warren Thompson was rewarded for his vital assistance by being appointed as the first Associate Member. Bill Dernint was the first President, serving from January 1980 to October 1983.
The second President was Dick Keener, from October 1983 to July 1985, followed by Jim Gregg, from July 1985 to April 1986. Reunion 4, co-hosted by Ed Hosbach and Bob Grozer, was held in Dayton, Ohio, with the highlight being a visit to the Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson. Records pertaining to these formative years of the association are sparse, making it difficult to outline each administration's accomplishments and/or problems. However, the difficulties are easy to visualize. Care had to be exercised in the expenditure of every dime, plus maintaining contact with a highly mobile membership.
Reunion 5 coincided with the Air Force Association's 1986 "Gathering Of Eagles" celebration in Las Vegas. There the membership wisely voted to hold all future reunions in Las Vegas. In retrospect, this decision was right'. After all, in 1954 alone, over 300 F-86s were assigned to Nellis AFB, 'Home of the Fighter Pilot'. Besides, Las Vegas is a great place for a reunion. Jim Campbell was elected President, and Dick Keener was Treasurer. Jim served until May 1988, and made giant strides in establishing our association as one of the premier fighter pilots organizations. He increased the membership and reunion attendance; and started work on an F-86 memorial at the Air Force Museum.
Jim donated much of his companies assets, including secretarial help, bulk mail account, and toll-free telephone access. He designed a new membership card. Don McNamara produced a gold plated F-86 lapel pin for issue to all members. Both items are still included in our new member package.
Reunion 6 was held in April 1988 at the Sands Hotel. For the first time, organized tours of Nellis AFB and a RED FLAG briefing were offered. The attendees elected Don McNamara as President, with Dick Keener returning as Treasurer. Jim Campbell continued to support the association for two more years. During Don's Presidency, the F-86 memorial in the Air Force Museum became a reality, being dedicated on 15 October 1988 in a ceremony attended by twenty-three association members.
Reunion 7 was held at the Desert Inn Hotel in May 1990. Highlights included a two day golf tournament and an F-86 display courtesy of Combat jets'. Guest speaker at the banquet was Brigadier General Robinson "Robbie" Risner. As Don McNamara's term in office ended, membership had increased to 560 Sabre jocks.
Hank Buttlemann, youngest ace of the Korean War, was elected President, and Way Carson became the new Treasurer. Hank served until April 1994. In 1992, Flamm "Dee" Harper joined Hank's administration as Secretary. The membership roster stood at 560.
Under Hank's leadership, all association records were transferred to Las Vegas, a bulk mail account was opened, and a new association address was established in Las Vegas. He initiated a membership drive and by April 1992 the total membership stood at 700.
Reunion 8 was held in April 1992 at the Sahara Hotel. Guest speaker at the banquet was Colonel Alton Whitley, Jr., Commander of the F-1 17 Stealth Fighters in DESERT STORM. Yet another recruiting campaign was launched and by April 1994, the roster showed 1275 members.
By the end of 1996, the membership had grown to over 1700 members, including more than eighty-five flag officers, four of whom were full Generals, a U.S. Senator, a U.S. Congressman, three Astronauts, several North American Aviation test pilots, - and most of the surviving Korean War aces. We had also become an international organization, with members from Canada, Great Britain, South Africa, Jordan, Pakistan, Philippines, and Taiwan.
In April 1994, during Reunion 9 held at the Sands Hotel, a static display F-86E was dedicated in Freedom Park at Nellis AFB, fulfilling a long time goal of the association. Over five hundred members and guests attended the event. Special thanks are due Hank Buttlemarm and Lt. Gen. Thomas Griffith, Commander of the USAF Weapons and Tactics Center for their perseverance in attaining this goal. Many obstacles were overcome by these two men. The association footed the bill for transportation of the Sabre from Buckley ANG Base in Colorado, to its new home at Nellis.
"Dee" Harper was elected President for a term until the 11th reunion in 1997: Secretary was Gerald Weiland and Dick Geiger became Treasurer. Members authorized a Lifetime Membership for $200.00, and established a Board of Governors and by-laws to run the association. The first Board of Governors included: Chairman, Jim Campbell; and Directors John Gimudo, Alonzo Walter, Don McNamara, Robert Carter, and Secretary Howard "Ebe" Ebersole.
Reunion 10 returned to the Sands Hotel in September 1995, and was a smashing success. Guest speaker Maj. Gen. Richard Betherum, Commander of Weapons and Tactics Center at Nellis, recognized our group as pioneers who passed on a proud legacy to todays fighter pilots.
During Dee's term, he tightened up administration of association affairs and instituted several innovations. The association Headquarters was moved from Michigan to Nevada. Our roster published in 1995 became the envy of other associations. A colorful membership certificate screamed "Frame and hang me!", was sent to all members in late 1994. In early 1995, the Sabrejet Classics magazine became the association's literary link to members and friends. About this time, the Sabre Pilots Association was included on the "Fighter Town" page on the world wide web (Fightertown), thanks to webmaster and Sabre ace Lt. Gen. "Bones" Marshall.
A 'country store' operation was started by Mike Freebairn after the 10th reunion, and continues to this day. Admimstratively, Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) were developed and published to cover all association activities. In late 1996, the association purchased a new computer, and our records have been maintained on it ever since. One benefit to tightening control of our administration was that during 1996, over 90% of our members dues were current. In past years, the norm was that 50% were delinquent in payment - a major improvement.
The dramatic increase in new members (1190) added to our ranks during Hank and Dee's presidencies (1990-97), can be attributed to their leadership, cooperation from our membership and Col. Charlie Carr, Chairman of our Recruiting Committee. Our thanks go to all involved in this great effort.
Approximately one thousand members and guests attended Reunion 11, held 22-26 April 1997 at the Monte Carlo Hotel. Held in conjunction with the "Air Force Fifty" celebration sponsored by the Air Force Association, this event attracted over 100,000 people and included the "Golden Tattoo" USAF air show at Nellis, which included several mock air battles, including a Sabre once again on the butt of a MiG (Report & photos was included in vol. 5, no.2 issue of Sabrejet Classics.)
Guest speaker was Congressman Sam Johnson (R-TX). An association logo decal developed by Jim Campbell, was part of each reunion welcome' package. We now carry the decal in our Country Store. All attendees agreed the reunion and the air show was a classy affair and everone had a great time. Bob Ashcraft was elected President, and Dee Harper became Chairman of the Board. Dan Druen, Alonzo Walter, Bruce Hinton, and Glenn Nordin completed the Board. The membership was advised that the legal headquarters of the association had been established in Nevada. A new constitution governing the association's affairs was then approved unanimously by the attending members.
On 27 January 1998, Bob Ashcraft, President of the Association, died after a short illness. On 15 February, the Board of Directors appointed Hank Buttlemarm to fill the position of President. However, Hank was forced to resign for personal reasons on 15 May. The Board then appointed Bruce Hinton to the Presidency, serving until the 12th reunion in April 1999.
Tragedy struck again on 2 May when the association's Secretary, Gerry Welland passed away following a long fight. His wife Diane volunteered to stay on as our Sectretary, and she has done a superb job in that position. Jerry Johnson became the Staff Executive Officer, and Glenn Nordin became the Vice President.
Because both Bruce Hinton and Glenn Nordin both resided outside the Las Vegas area, Jerry Johnson, as Staff Executive Officer, provided the single point of contact between the two major officers and the staff in Las Vegas. This coordination insured the command element was fully supported with the information needed to be effective in their respective positions. During the first half of 1998, the administrative staff in Las Vegas proved their mettle by retaining a steady hand during the most crucial era in the association's history - Good Show gentlemen and ladies! We are grateful to one and all.
It was back to the Monte Carlo for Reunion 12, conducted between 18 and 22 April 1999. The following slate of officers were installed - President, Glenn Nordin; Vice President, Alonzo Walter, Chairman of the Board, Jerry Johnson; with Directors Dan Druen, Bruce Hinton, Bob Matasick, and Tom Griffith. Because of his long, faithful, and productive service to the organization, Dee Harper was named Chairman Emeritus of the Board. Dick Geiger and Diane Weiland continued as Treasurer and Secretary, respectively, and Larry Davis was enthusiastically renewed as editor of Sabrejet Classics.
As the handout (i.e. 'freebie") for the 12th reunion, all attendees were given a duplicate of the Mach Buster pin, Mach Buster certificate, and Mach Buster decal, previously awarded to F-86 pilots by North American Aviation. Mike Freebairn spearheaded this project, including getting copyright permission that allowed us to proceed; and near perfect duplication of all three items.
Mike and his lovely wife Ardith, have been instrumental in making our reunions a big success, year afteryear. Among many other things, Ardith has managed the Treasure Hunt for our ladies, stuffed 'Welcome' packages for attendees, and registered attendees and guests, not a small job and done to perfection. Mike accepted the responsibility for setting up and management of our Country Store, donating numerous hours to assure that this enterprise is a highlight of our reunions.
In October 1999, Bill Weiger established an F-86 Sabre Pilots Association web site on the World Wide Web (SABRE-PILOTS.ORG). It has been a real benefit to the organization, and receiving over 13,000 hits' since it was first posted. The site provides information about the association, membership applications, listing of deceased members, articles from Sabrejet Classics, reunion information, letters from readers, advertising for Flight Line Sales, pictures and other good stuff.
Reunion 13 returned to the Monte Carlo Hotel on 16-20 April 2001. Four hundred eighty-five members and guests had a great time. The 50th Anniversary of the Korean War formed the backdrop, and Sabre pilots who flew in that war received the Korean War Service pin awarded by the Republic of Korea. Several mini unit reunions were held within the scope of our reunion. The Freebairns hit mother 'home run' by providing blue golf shirts (with pocket!) for the men and lap robes for the ladies. They also arranged, through their friendship with show producer John Stuart, a special "Legends In Concert" show honoring Sabre pilots.
At Reunion 13, newly elected officers were: Presidentj Jerry Johnson; Vice-President Alonzo Walter; Chairman Dan Druen; with Directors Bruce Hinton, Glenn Nordin, Bob Matasick, and Lloyd Ulrich. Appointed positions confirmed included Secretary Diane Weiland; Treasurer Dick Geiger; Sabrejet Classics Editor Larry Davis; Web Master Bill Weiger; and Flight Line Store Sales Manager Mike Freebairn
. The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum is building a new facility, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, to house additional artifacts. It will feature a walkway lined with large tablets engraved with the names of associations and individuals that contribute to the completion of the new facility. Attendees at the 13th reunion voted unanimously to contribute $10,000.00 to have an "F-86 Sabre Pilots Association" heading on one of the panels. Association members who contribute $100.00 will have their names displayed "der our heading.
The last announcement at the 13th reunion agenda was the announcement that Dee Harper will head a new recruiting campaign. The goal is to establish a membership of 3,000 by the 14th reunion in 2003. Sabre pilots with airlines, ANG and AFRES, and foreign nationals will be targeted. Our membership today exceeds 1800 members. If everyone recruits just one new member during the next two of years, we will easily exceed our goal. Let's GO FOR IT!!
No portion of this article may be used or reprinted without permission from the President of the F-86 Sabre Pilots Association or the editor of Sabre Jet Classics magazine.
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