Veterans Air Express Reunion a special celebration

Veterans Air Express Reunion with Jack Stettner & his Family in Florida.  Aug 6-11, 2015.

Jack Stettner hugging Gaye Lyn Gravely, namesake of a DC-3 Stettner piloted for Veterans Air Express 70 years ago.

Jack Stettner & me…perfect together! Notice our matching Veterans Air Line attire…and my business card that Jack engineered to the front of his shirt.

 

Loss for words is not a customary state for me. But spending incredible quality time with Jack Stettner and his family last week leaves me staring at my website screen today, hovering over the keyboard, wondering where to start! Veterans Air Express Reunion. That’s what they named our first-ever get together! That makes me smile.

And “Smiling Jack” is what Jack calls himself.

Dorothy Stettner "dancing" with Fred Astaire on a clever poster "photoshopped" by her son for her 70th Birthday.

Vivacious Dorothy Stettner is NOT really dancing with Fred Astaire (though gleefully “photoshopped” appearing to do so). This was her 70th Birthday Surprise Party card/poster.

Rightly so.  This is a man who is blessed, loved and loves. (There is good start, Gaye.)

Blessed in many ways. Healthy survivor of 44 combat bombing raids in China during WWII as a B-24 pilot. Healthy and survivor despite a bail out, at night, near enemy territory.  “Taking flack” more times than the odds usually favor.  Coming home and meeting Dorothy, the lovely woman he married and whom his children cherish deeply.

Then Jack met Saunie

Jack eventually met up with my Dad (who we believe is the glider pilot Jack refers to – a story for another day.) and helped found & fly for Veterans with “a bunch of cocky kids, having just completed our part of the fight for peace and now about to build our place in that peace”*

The Stettner Family and I have become “we” – already!

A Stettner gathering (from left) eldest son Al, Gaye Lyn, Veterans Air Express pilot & co-founder Jack, and youngest son Scott.

First dinner. Al, me, Jack, Scott and Kitty (taking the photo). Great, fun evening. Our first Veterans Air Express Reunion gathering. Sweet!

In the previous paragraph and in my next post (which I’ve already drafted) you will find telling references to “we.”  When I discuss my unexpected “discovery” of our Veterans Air’s third DC-3 in Jack’s logbook,  I wrote “So, we began trying to prove (or disprove) it…”

Kitty and Scott Stettner, taking a break. Scott is Jack Stettner's youngest son.

Scott and Kitty…just had to get her out from behind the camera so you could meet her.

Locating Jack Stettner meant finding the entire, engaged and engaging Stettner family – daughter Ellen and her husband Ron, eldest son Al and his wife Wendy, and youngest son Scott and his wife Kitty. “We” have already become a team of undreamed of warmth and dimension.

The Stettners all seem as excited about my research project as I am – and I didn’t think that was possible.

Ellen Stettner at breakfast with Gaye Lyn Gravely, both daughters of 1945 Veterans Air Express founders.

Ellen and I diving into breakfast granola bowls. Yum. “We” did a lot of eating and going for ice cream!! [Jack has a sweet tooth! And we could NOT have him go to Ben & Jerry’s alone, now could we?]

I “found” Ellen first through my zig-zag research path. And once we connected, the entire family welcomed me…with emails like Scott wrote:  “We are all thrilled to see you” …and beau coup phone calls long before the Thursday I flew to Florida. They have taken me in like family.

Jack’s books incredibly valuable to me

Around 1999, the family prompted Jack to capture his memories about his war and post-war experiences.  As a result, Jack wrote three books, two that turn out to be irreplaceable for me.  They include not only many new details, but the Spirit and Character of the Veterans Air Express that Jack obviously loved!  The books provided many of my quotes here and elsewhere on my website.  (I  provide their full citations below in MY SOURCES.)

Armchair aviation sleuths

Stettner Veterans Air Express Reunion. The smiling faces in the "mirror selfies" tahen by Al Stettner (far left), next to Gaye Lyn Gravely; Al's dad Jack & sister Ellen Stettner.

Great, quality times together over five days. Lots of laughter & hugs. Lots of historical treasures discovered. And plenty of assurances we’re gonna stay in touch and cross paths again soon. By now, you recognize us … Al, me, Jack & Ellen.

 

Some years ago, son Al had done research on Veterans Air for awhile.  And it seems my project has reignited his interest. (Did I mention that Al is a docent at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington??!!  Ya’ think he knows something about aviation and has some idea about aviation research?) And then one night while I was there, he enlisted Wendy to brief me (over the phone from Virgina where they live) on a few more research techniques.  (Wendy is a genealogy researcher — and, like Al, worked for The Library of Congress!)

Scott, too, is an aviation buff, jumping in to noodle-out our findings.  Plus, he arranged fabulous accommodations for my stay in Florida, then met me upon my arrival to say “hello.”  See what I mean about finding an entire family.

Monday I got to meet Ellen and Ron at dinner. But Ellen and I were already friends – having spent precious phone time & email exchanges getting to know each other. We greeted for the first time as though our last meeting was the day before.   [My apologies to you, Ron…I sat thru that entire dinner Monday night so caught up that I took NO pictures…thus, no digitized Ron to share. Next time for sure!]

Ellen proclaims she doesn’t know much about aviation, that she leaves that to her Dad and brothers.  That may be, but she’s an organizer like Jack and made this Veterans Air Express Reunion come together. Everybody’s involved!


 

Click to see MY SOURCES...


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Then & There…

A RECOMMENDED READ and irreplaceable for me: "Memories of the Jing Bao & Beyond," Authors Choice Press, 2001. Written by our own JACK Z. STETTNER - Veterans Air Express Co-Founder, Investor, Pilot and Operations Manager. As well as his considerable WWII experiences, Jack's book revealed new details about Veterans Air Express...plus the spirit and character of this organization that Jack obviously loved!