Batcat
The United States Air Force
553rd Reconnaissance Wing
at Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base

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* * * Reunion Report! * * *
"Shared Memories"
June 28, 29, 30 July 1, 2001
Tinker AFB, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Reunion

Reunion area added 05/23/00, Last updated 02/27/17.

The combined reunion of the 551st and 552nd Airborne Early Warning & Control Wings, 552nd Air Control Wing, and the 553rd Reconnaissance Wing, took place at Tinker AFB, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, U.S.A., occurred on June 28, 29, 30 and July 1, 2001. Each of these three USAF wings flew versions of the Lockheed EC-121 Super Constellation.

Brigadier General Ben T. Robinson, Commander of the 552nd Air Control Wing (ACW), Air Combat Command (ACC), Tinker AFB, Oklahoma, graciously agreed to host the combined reunion of all personnel formerly assigned to the 551st Airborne Early Warning and Control Wing (AEW&C), Otis AFB, MA; the 552nd Airborne Early Warning and Control Wing (AEW&C), McClellan AFB, California and the 553 rd Reconnaissance Wing of Otis AFB, MA and Korat, Thailand. Also welcomed were all members of the 552nd ACW and all former and present members of the Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) community.

Here is a photo of the reunion Co-Chairman, A.J. Northrup is on the left, Dean Boys is on the right, photo taken at the reunion.

The Combined Reunion

Thursday June 29, 2001 - The Reunion began as attendees arrived throughout the afternoon and evening of June 28. Reunion lodging was at the Embassy Suites in Oklahoma City, where they went all out to provide a pleasant environment. Several of these signs to annouced the Reunion were displayed in the hotel. Various personal displays were placed near the hospitality suite giving information about each wing. Memorabilia was also offered for sale; more of the memorabilia below. In total about 550 people attended the Combined Reunion. So many that all available hotel rooms were taken at the Embassy Suites, and some attendees lodged at the Hampton Inn next door to the Embassy Suites.

The Memorial Plaque Dedication

Friday June 29, 2001 - The reunion attendees received a welcome at the Tinker AFB theater from Brigadier General Ben T. Robinson, 552nd Air Control Wing commander and his staff. The 552nd now flies the Boeing E-3A AWACS aircraft from Tinker AFB, Oklahoma.

After the welcome meeting, reunion attendees were provided USAF Bus transportation to Connie Park. Remarkable how little the USAF buses have changed! One difference between the Tinker AFB buses, and those used at Korat, was the Korat RTAFB buses had the entry doors on the left side. Actually I'd forgotten about the left side entry until Ron Bogota reminded me.

Arrival at Connie Park found EC-121D Serial Number 53-0552 proudly displayed. Note the aircraft serial number - 552. Note the clouds in this photo. It first appeared as if it would rain, but during the morning the clouds cleared up. Some images may appear darker than others because of the changing cloud conditions.

One major reason for having the reunion at Tinker AFB, was to place a Memorial Plaque at Connie Park honoring the 50 Officers and Airmen killed flying active Air Defense Missions with the 551st AEWC Wing from Otis AFB over the North Atlantic in the Lockheed EC-121H aircraft. When I first learned of the reunion and the plaque honoring the 551st losses, I'd hoped that it would be possible to have a separate plaque to honor those killed in the 553rd Reconnaissance wing crashes at Korat, but the money just was not avaialble. All money for the 551st plaque was privately donated or raised through the sale of memorabilia and books.

This is a view of the audience for the Memorial Plaque Dedication ceremony. In addition to the reunion attendees, many current members of the USAF 552nd ACW also attended the ceremony. The Master of Ceremonies for the plaque ceremony as TSgt. John Loftus, USAF Retired. Lt. Col. Joseph L. H. Guenet, USAF Retired, sole survivor of the loss of 53-0549, talked of the Otis AFB losses. SMSgt. Les Robbins, USAF Retired, who flew as part of both crews lost by the 553rd Reconnaissance wing at Korat RTAFB, talked about those losses. Here is an image of SMSgt. Les Robbins, USAF Retired as he gives his remarks about the Batcat losses.Here is the text of the Batcat losses Speech by SMSgt. Les Robbins. Guest speaker at the Memorial Plaque Dedication ceremony was General Ralph E. "Ed" Eberhart, who is the Commander In Chief North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), United States Space Command, and Commander Air Force Space Command will be our Guest Speaker at the Memorial Ceremony. Here is an image of General Ralph E. "Ed" Eberhart speaking at the Memorial Plaque Dedication. After the ceremony General Eberhart talks with attendees including on his left (right side of the photograph) Diane Barbolla and her son Andy. Diane Barbolla was wife of Captain Mike Barbolla who lost his life on July 11, 1965 in the North Atlantic along with 15 of the crew - three survived.

At the conclusion of the speeches, the Memorial Plaque is Unveiled. Shown at the podium is TSgt. Loftus, Master of Ceremonies, on the left side of the plaque is Lt. Col. Joseph L. H. Guenet, and on the right side of the plaque is CMSgt. Jim Lawler, USAF Retired. Here is a close up of the plaque. Unfortunately my scanner didn't do as well as I'd hoped in scanning this photograph. The actual photograph shows the names and words quite clearly. There were so many people around the plaque after the ceremony when it was unveiled, that I came back the next day to take this photograph. Here is a view of the Memorial with A. J. Northrup, who is the author of the books Fifty Fallen Stars and Fifty Fallen Stars and Beyond which detail the three EC-121H losses from the 551st AEW&C Wing at Otis AFB, which killed 50 officers and airmen of their crews, and which this memorial commemorates. Update - A.J. Northrup passed away on October 4, 2015, and these books are no longer available. Added 09/29/01, updated 02/27/17.

Touring the AMC Depot

In addition to being home base of the USAF E-3A AWACS, Tinker AFB also is home to an USAF Air Material Command Depot. Reunion attendees were given a tour of the depot facilities. Actually there were two different tours, one of the main facility known as building 3001, and the second of the E-3A depot service.

What is now building 3001 at Tinker AFB, was originally built during World War II for the production of Douglas C-47 Skytrains. This is a massive structure, 7/10 mile long, 5/10 mile wide, with 62 acres under one roof. A tremendous amount of repair work goes on here. This is an image of a KC-135 Tanker Undergoing Depot level maintenance with a second view just a short way down the "production" line of a different KC-135 Tanker image undergoing Depot level maintenance. In addition to the KC-135's in house (literally), there were also several KC-10 Extender tankers in house. Building 3001 also houses jet engine overhaul and repair, along with many other aspects of depot level maintenance.

After touring building 3001 we were given a tour of the E-3A AWACS depot level service. On the tour I took the tour guide requested that no photographs be taken of the E-3A's undergoing service. This image shows Les Robbins in front of E-3A 75-0559, which has all the exterior service complete (so a photograph was approved). We had an opportunity to see the interior of the E-3A, but again no photogrphs were allowed because the interior had panels removed for service. I did find an E-3A AWACS Interior View on Internet and include it here so you can get an idea of what the interior of the E-3A AWACS looks like.

Saturday and the Reunion Dinner

Saturday June 30, 2001 - Saturday morning was spent at the hotel around the displays talking with friends. Shown here is my 553rd Patch Display. Special thanks to Chuck Silverstein who loaned me his 553rd FMS and 551st FMS patches to display. I also brought a series of photographs of the EC-121R, and of Korat RTAFB. Unfortunately the plexiglass in the picture frames reflected so they didn't come out that well. As well as my own photographs, my thanks to Bill Holbrook, Mike Yates and Jeff Glasser who all provided photographs.

Attending the reunion were about 50 members of the 553rd. Shown here is former 553rd Wing Commander Ted Ostendorf on the left, center is Lt.Col Retired Joseph "Leo" Guenet, the sole survivor of 53-0549 which crashed off Nantucket killing the remaining 15 members of the crew on April 25, 1967, with Paul Downey on the right.

Shown here on the left is Dave Smith, with Larry Westin (who maintains this Homepage) on the right, Dave Smith is a survivor of the Sept. 6, 1969 Batcat crash at Korat (photo by Les Robbins). Both Dave Smith and Larry Westin were 554th Reconnaissance Squadron. Also at the reunion, I talked with, but failed to get a photograph of, Bill McCormick, and his son Dan. Bill is the son of Lt. Col. William C. McCormick, navigator on the April 25, 1969 loss.

Cost of the reunion was covered by the sale of memorabilia and other donated items. Bill and Vicki Holbrook built and donated 3 magnificently detailed 1:72 scale EC-121 models for auction at the reunion. Bill was an instrument repairman with the 553rd Electronic Maintenance Squadron at Korat. Shown here is the Lockheed EC-121R Super Constellation model Bill made and donated to the reunion fund. Notice the detail, even the full range of antennas are included. Bill also built EC-121D and EC-121H versions. I believe that Juan Bazan won the auction for the EC-121R. A number of people asked me later if additional EC-121R models are available. Bill Holbrook told me the difficulty is in getting the 1:72 scale Lockheed Super Constellations as the base. I wanted to get a photograph of Bill and Vikki with the model, but there were too many people examining the models at the time, so here only the model is shown.

Another item which I want to mention, Tom Bickley, a 553rd OMS crew chief, brought along a cockpit video of the Lockheed 1049G Super Constellation flown by Save-A-Connie in Kansas City. On the video case was the telephone number (816) 421-3401. It is a rather interesting video and gives a good idea of the procedure used to fly the Super Constellation, and the coordination required between the pilot, co-pilot and flight engineer. Dean Boys had some other videos specifically about the EC-121H, but I don't know what the source is for his videos.

The conclusion of the reunion was the Reunion Dinner held at the Tinker AFB Officers Club on Saturday evening. Reunion host General Ben Robinson is shown here in the center of the photo just before the dinner. General Robinson is shown with 965 AACS (Airborne Air Control Squadron) commander Col. Robert Nuanes (right side of photo) and his wife Cindy (left side of photo). During an after dinner talk, General Robinson told the reunion that this was the largest gathering the Tinker AFB Officers club had ever accomodated - more than 500 people.

Letters from President George W. Bush and General Ryan, USAF Chief of Staff were read after the dinner by Dean Boys.

I took this photograph (left to right) of Bob Keeyes, Arlene Keeyes, Greg Krzyzak and Flora Krzyzak just before the dinner began. Bob Keeyes and Greg Krzyzak were with the 553rd FMS at Korat. Greg Krzyzak provided an excellent photo of the 553rd FMS environmental shop at Korat which I now display on the main Batcat Homepage.

I took this photograph (left to right) of Mike Jones, Penny Jones, Joyce Green, Hank Green, Liz Arth, and Don Arth, Mike Jones, Hank Green and Don Arth were all on the same air crew, the first crew 5, 553rd Reconnaissance Squadron at Korat. I believe that this was the largest turnout of a single air crew at the reunion. Hank Green was a navigator at Korat and corrected an error I had in the Pink orbit. A new image showing the corrected orbit is now on the main Batcat Homepage.

Sunday - Day of Departure

Sunday July 1, 2001 - Sunday was the time to return home. My flight from Oklahoma to Maine departed at 06:20, and I was at the airport by 05:20, so I didn't have any information about what may have happened Sunday morning.

This last reunion image shows a 553rd Batcat Korat Hat brought to the reunion by William "Bud" Creek. He was wearing it most of the time, but removed it to let me photograph it. Try as I might, I cannot remembe what I did with my Batcat Korat Hat.

553rd Recon Wing "Batcat" Attendees

Several people asked me to include a list of all those from the 553rd Reconnaissance Wing who attended the reunion. There approximately 550 people attending the Combined Reunion. I am aware of about 50 people who attended who were from the 553rd. Unfortunately I didn't get to meet each one. It was my pleasure to meet you all. Here is the List of 553rd Recon Wing Personel who attended the Combined Reunion (which is now Rev. B). If I missed you please let me know and I will add your name. Since I have the wife's name for only a few of those attending, there is no doubt many to be added to this list.

Reunion 553rd Batcat Memorabilia

More than a year ago I first sent out an e-mail to all who had shown interest with Batcat, that a combined reunion would occur. Other e-mails I sent out asked about who wanted what for memorbilia. Two of us from the 553rd, Mike Jones and myself (Larry Westin) decided we would purchase 553rd memorabilia for the reunion. We settled on 6 items, Larry Westin purchased 553rd Recon Baseball Hats, 553rd Reconnaissance Wing "Batcat" Patches, and 8x10 inch Lockheed EC-121R Super Constellation photographs of the EC-121R inflight over Thailand. Mike Jones purchased 553rd Recon Wing Mousepads, Gusweiser Beer Labels and 553rd Batcat Enameled Pins. The quantities Mike and I purchased were based on two basic criteria, how many e-mails we received about what was desired, and how much money we could personally afford to spend.

Once at the reunion it became clear that I didn't purchase enough 553rd Recon Baseball hats. In fact I am seriously thinking of having some more made, I'd really like my wife to have one. I'll send out an e-mail advising of the possibility of having another batch made, but will order only for those who tell me they will buy them. I cannot afford to have them made on spec. Patches sold well, and of 10/22/01 none remain, they are all sold. Unlikely to have more made now as a minimum order for patches is 50. The EC-121R inflight photographs all sold, but I still have the negative if more are desired.

Mike Jones tells me he has no more memorabilia items remaining. Mike Jones memorabilia information updated 04/04/05.

If you have any additions, criticisms or comments for me, Larry Westin, as maintainer of this Homepage, please e-mail me at westin@westin553.net or contact me via postal mail at:

Larry Westin
22721 Verde St.
Tehachapi, California 93561 or telephone me at (661) 823-4707

Hope you enjoyed this information. I look forward to hearing from you.

Thank you - Larry Westin

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