This is a first attempt to record the beginning and early history of what has become the 91st SRW Association. It covers the time period from September 1987 until May 1996, i.e., from the first inkling of a gathering of the "troops" from the old 91st maintenance squadrons up to the incorporation of the 91st SRW Association. It includes the first 91st reunion, which was held at the Holiday Inn in Fairborn Ohio in 1989 and the next reunion which was also in the Dayton area, in 1996. This latter reunion was when the Association was first incorporated and was the first reunion held under the name of the 91st SRW Association. This history ends in August of that year, just a few months after the reunion.
This is a work in progress and it will be added to and fleshed out as time allows. Since it is impossible for me to write this history in exactly the same order as the events happened, there will be some time periods which I will skip over, to be filled in at a later time. When I do this, so that you understand better what's going on, I will insert a comment of the form [....] containing a very short note about what is happening.
Any comments you have about this effort may be sent to me.
The following two photos were taken while my wife Inge and I (Jim Brennan) were returning to Columbus on our way home after attending the first 91st Pig Roast at Angelo De Felice's hunting lodge just south of Chillicothe, OH. We were heading north on South High Street in our rental car on our way to Port Columbus when I spied the Claremont Inn and Suites on our right, as you can see in the first photo. I wanted to show Inge where this whole organization got started. In the second photo I am standing/pointing in the general direction of the room in which the first step was taken that eventually resulted in the 91st SRW Association.
It was 1987 and Tom Griggs and I had finally convinced ourselves that we should visit Columbus and Lockbourne AFB before it got to be too late to enjoy the trip. We had both been discharged from the USAF thirty years earlier, and we both had been heavily involved with our families, jobs, and education in the intervening years. So in September of '87 we packed up and hit the road west again, bound for Ohio, for the first time since 1957. Needless to say, it was quite an experience to be back in the Columbus area again after so many years. We spent two or three days looking around the city and the Air Base, mostly trying to indentify places we had known and frequented during our Service years, e.g., Beverlys on South High, Stone's Cafe on Front Street, etc. Finally we had had enough of that and decided to go on to Dayton, to visit the Air Force Museum. So we rented a room in the Claremont for our last night in Columbus. While sitting in the room, trying to decide where to go for dinner and having an early evening libation, we were wondering if we could locate any of our old friends who still lived in the Columbus area. So we searched the phone book and found Stan Kopala's name. We called him and had to remind him who we were. Once convinced we were not part of some con game, he became as enthused as we were to see some old buddies from a long time past. So he came to our room and we spent the rest of the night reminiscing about the "old days" in the 323rd SRS and 324th SRS while killing a fifth of Jack Daniel's Bourbon.
The date was September 16, 1987. On that date, in a hotel room on South High Street in Columbus Ohio, unbeknownst to the three of us, was planted a small seed which eventually grew and blossomed into the 91st SRWA. That was the start of it all.
As I said, we spent the rest of the night talking about people we had known at Lockbourne during the time that we three were there, which was between August 1953, and January 1957. Since Tom and Stan both were in the 324th and I was in the 323rd, they did most of the talking. For some reason I started writing down all the names I was hearing on the note paper that the hotel had left in the room. There was no particular reason for my writing all these names, maybe I was just getting bored. I certainly had no inkling of how important that scribbled list was going to be in our subsequent efforts to locate people for a reunion.
I said that Tom and Stan did most of the talking, but that is not really true. Each one of us did about one-third of the talking, and as a result there were many names of guys on my list who were in the 323rd, guys who Tom in particular and Stan to some extent knew. I knew most all of the 324th guys whose names came up that night. This was an unusual situation, for people in different squadrons to know each other as we three did. It was more common for guys to mainly know and hang around with others in the same squadron. I will explain how this came about.
It started at Amarillo AFB. The people involved here (and many more) were attending the Aircraft and Engine Mechanics school at Amarillo. In the beginning, we were learning about fighters and other relatively small aircraft. About two-thirds of the way thru this program, volunteers were solicited to switch over to a new program about maintaining large aircraft, namely, the B-47. All of the people involved in this history made that switchover. At the end of the course we were allowed to select which base (of a list presented to us, no guarantees of course) we wanted to transfer to. Again, all the players here chose Lockbourne AFB. So in early August 1953 we all left Amarillo, some of us to meet again at the end of August at Lockbourne.
The influx of mechanics into the 91st during the late summer of 1953 was very large. The 91st must have been badly undermanned. But that is another story. What I'm writing about are the forty or more people who were newly assigned to the 323rd and another like number to the 324th (and to all the other squadrons, probably with similar numbers). These were the people we were talking about in the hotel in Columbus and also the people who made up the major portion of the 91st SRWA in the beginning. (Note that using the name 91st SRWA is not correct - it only came later on in 1996 - but it is convenient so I will use it.) Among the new people assigned to the 323rd were Bill Connelly and Jim Brennan; among those to the 324th were Tom Griggs, Stan Kopala, and Phil Van Deusen. We were all in the same training squadron in Amarillo, many in the same barracks. Phil and I were roommates. Tom was in the next room. Bill, already an A/1C with a year and a half in the Air Force as a TI at Sampson AFB, used to march us from the barracks to the flight line and back every day in the blistering Texas heat. The point is that we knew each other long before Lockbourne. Then consider that the 323rd and the 324th shared the same barracks at Lockbourne - you can begin to see why some of us in two different squadrons knew not only the guys in our own squadron but also in the other.
OK. Enough of that. As the bourbon slowly disappeared and the hour grew late and my list grew longer, we wondered if it would be possible somehow to get in contact with some of these prople for a get-together of some sort. The question really was "how to do it". We took a quick inventory of who we all knew, and it wasn't too promising. Stan knew where Charley Quick was, Tom and I had kept in touch with Bill Connelly over the years, and we suspected that Bill knew where Phil was. But that was it. We agreed to get in touch with the few people we knew to see if they knew of anyone else, and at the very least that we three should stay in touch. Finally Stan had to go home. So we parted, pleased that we had met again and had had a pleasant evening, hopeful that something more might come of it. But our expectations were low. The difficulty of finding these people after thirty years seemed to be asking too much.
[The trip to Dayton and the Air Force Museum.]
[The 40th anniversary of the USAF air show.]
Although the 18th of September was the actual anniversary date, the air show was planned for the next day, a Saturday, so that more people could participate. Tom and I had been planning on starting back to Massachusetts on Saturday, but this air show was going to be a big one since it was a major part of the AF birthday celebration. We decided to stay one more day. We were not disappointed. It was a HUGE show. The Museum put everything that could fly up into the air. The first plane to fly over Wright Field, to officially open the air show, was a replica of the Wright Flyer. How's that for any opening act!
The flying went on for hours, all kinds of planes from the entire history of heavier than air aircraft. And of course the Thunderbirds.
On sale at the Museum that day were commerative hats. Both Tom and I bought one. I still have mine. Here is what it looks like after 20+ years of tough use.
[Locating enough people to have a reunion.]
[Organizing a reunion.]
[The first 91st reunion: September 1989.]
Tom Griggs, one of the Gang of Three, along with Stan Kopala and Jim Brennan, who, while spending an evening in Columbus in September 1987, together came up with the fragile idea that it might be possible to find some members of the 91st SRW Maintenance Squadrons and arrange for these guys to get together again for old times sake. We never envisioned how this was to be done and especially what a successful venture it was eventually to become. Photo was made in 2008.
Stan Kopala, another member of the Gang. Photo was made in 2008.
Jim Brennan, the final member of the Gang, your Webmaster, and the author of this bit of history.
Photo was made in 1961.
[The long dry spell until 1994.]
[Bill Connelly volunteers to organize another reunion.]
More to follow!
William Rolland Connelly, Jr.
He was a true and honest friend, in the finest meaning of the word.
He played the major role in the incorporation of the 91st SRW Association.
This photo was taken at the 1996 Reunion, in May of that year. He passed away less than four months later, after a long and grueling battle with cancer.
The 91st SRWA is a lasting memorial to his vision and tenacity in establishing the Association.
He has been missed very much by those who knew him well.
May he rest in peace.
Copyright © 2020 91stSRWA - All Rights Reserved.