Saunie Gravely. Founder, Board Chairman, President. My Dad!

Saunie Gravely, President of Veterans Air Express and Veterans Air Line — and my Dad!

Happy Birthday Sweetheart!

He was twenty-two years old – yes, 22 – when he founded an all-veterans non-scheduled air service in 1945. They flew freight and passengers out of Newark Air Depot (NJ) and Teterboro under two names….Veterans Air Express and Veterans Air Line. For easy reference, I call them both Veterans Air. The adventurous troop of mostly men and a few women which my Dad assembled for this endeavor are the object of my research.

The DC-3 named GAYE LYN

And so is the fleet of military surplus aircraft they purchased. Meet my favorite – the DC-3 named GAYE LYN! Her turned-up nose taxied around hoisting my name within days of my birth in November 1945.  That proud Papa is sporting a cigar pointed at the nameplate from the cockpit.  You think this is a treasure for me???

As has happened to so many of us, I didn’t know to query my Dad, to ask him to tell me more about his airline when I was a kid. So now, this site will chronicle my efforts and catalog my findings in hopes you know someone or something that I need to know.

Freshly discharged from the United States Army Air Corps, I do know Saunie lacked even two nickels to invest. But he met lots of other vets like himself…new pilots needing work and wanting desperately to keep flying. They motivated him and, from what I’ve read, his enthusiasm did likewise for them.

Cargo to Europe & passengers in the US  – 1945 / 1947

His initial “squadron” of veterans helped form, fund, fly and operate the air carrier through 1947. They flew cargo to Europe and passengers in the U.S. The plan was flights between cities up and down the East coast, across the southern States, and along the West coast to Seattle. Records and flight logs may or may not reveal if they materialized that goal. materialize

From 1945 through 1947. Doesn’t sound like much duration, does it? But I’m betting it felt monumental to this all-veteran organization and the civilian board members and finance folks. They marshaled many moving parts (no pun intended) into a company that grew to 104+ employees by July 1946 when George Herrick, aviation journalist, wrote a feature article for Air Transport magazine.* Herrick’s story is an invaluable cornerstone of my research.  So is his captioned list: “They Founded An Air Service By Working Three Months For Nothing.”

Know something about someone on my list?

Engage with me here. I’m very new to this…only five weeks, with a long way to go. But I’ve already spoken personally with sons and a daughter of two Veterans Air pilots. An unfathomable thrill for me! Much of what I continue to dig up will require verifying. So if you know someone or something, please feel free to jump in. And, thank you, in advance.

Gaye Lyn

3 thoughts on “Saunie Gravely. Founder, Board Chairman, President. My Dad!”

  1. Richard Walker

    Hello, Cooper Walker was my uncle. I would be happy to share info if you would like to email me. The following is an obituary I recently found.

    Morgan Cooper Walker, 81, trans-Atlantic adventurer By Fred Rasmussen Baltimore Sun

    Morgan Cooper Walker, a Baltimore businessman whose appetite for adventure led to his participation in a race commemorating the 50th anniversary of the first nonstop trans-Atlantic flight, died Wednesday of heart failure at Greater Baltimore Medical Center. The Ruxton resident was 81. The first nonstop trans-Atlantic flight was in 1919, when two British airmen, Sir Arthur Brown and Sir John Alcock, flew their Vickers-Vimy biplane 1,960 miles, taking off from St. Johns, Newfoundland, and landing in a peat bog in Clifden, in County Galway, Ireland, 16 hours and 12 minutes later. Mr. Walker, an Army Air Corps ferry pilot during the early days of World War II, decided on a lark to enter the 1969 race sponsored by the London Daily Mail, along with his business partner, Ogden Gorman. Mr. Walker was determined to compete in style and at his own pace. “We decided to go for it. Ogden for the fastest elapsed time by commercial aircraft and I for a typically British category, ‘the meritorious nonwinner,’ ” Mr. Walker wrote in an article in the Sun Magazine. To achieve a historically accurate and suitable 1919 look, he cultivated mutton-chop side whiskers and a mustache, packed his great-grandfather’s carpet bag with six paper dickeys and collars and his cherry cane, and sported a greatcoat with cape and a vintage motoring duster. On the morning of May 4, 1969, Mr. Walker went to the Empire State Building, where the time cards were punched and the race officially began.

    “The checkout point on the observation deck of the Empire State Building was bedlam,” Mr. Walker wrote of the start of the race. “For all but me, it was the time clock, mad corridor-running, elevator-button punching, motorbikes, helicopters, race cars, you name it. One hapless fellow lost his balance, skidded hard into the elevator cab ribs first and punched the down button while lying flat on his back.” During his leisurely journey, Mr. Walker traveled in a 1919 Stutz Bearcat, a Rolls Royce, an Irish International Airlines jet, a 1910 Adler, a hot-air balloon, a bicycle and a rowboat before reaching the end of the race on the steps of the Government Post Office Building in London. After 144 hours and 51 minutes, Mr. Walker, a modern-day Phineas Fogg, arrived at London’s post office in time for tea, a full day behind the next-slowest loser. “For a while, I thought I might have figured in ‘the most meritorious nonwinner category.’ It was like being on death’s row waiting for the chaplain’s measured tread. The award was 5,000 pounds. Well, I didn’t win,” he wrote. He was described by John West, a friend for 60 years, as a “free spirit.” “He certainly got a lot of fun out of life,” Mr. West said. One day Mr. West told his friend, “I’m going to put on your tombstone the famous quote from Somerset Maugham: ‘He found in the world more to smile at than to weep.’ ” Mr. Walker was born in Baltimore and raised in Govans. He was a 1933 Gilman School graduate and received a bachelor’s degree from Yale University in 1937. He took flying lessons at the old Curtiss-Wright flying field on Smith Avenue during the late 1930s. After teaching English for two years at the Hotchkiss School and reporting for The Sun, Mr. Walker enlisted in the Army Air Corps as a pilot in the Air Transport Command in 1942. He was discharged as a major in 1946, then flew planes for the State Department, delivering supplies to Europe from 1947 to 1948.

    He was a real estate developer from 1948 to 1960, when he started Walker-Wilson Travel Agency, whose slogan was, “To avoid the cost of a return ticket, go ’round the world.” He was president of the agency until he retired and sold the business last year. He was a former president of the Gilman Alumni Association and a trustee of the school. He was instrumental establishing the Gilman Fund, predecessor of the school’s Annual Fund. He was also a member of the Elkridge Club and the Jupiter Island Club in Hobe Sound, Fla. Plans for a memorial service were incomplete. He is survived by his wife of 54 years, the former Anne Harrison; a daughter, Martha Rinker of Ruxton; and numerous nieces and nephews. Pub Date: 5/31/97

    1. Richard, hello!

      What a great surprise. And thanks for the obituary.

      Your uncle Cooper Walker played a major role in the most challenging of Veterans Air Lines flights. To Prague in April and May of 1946, Warsaw also in May, and Athens in August, 1946. I hope you navigated through the website and found stories of his adventures. Speaking of the website, please let me know how you found it?

      I will be in touch via email, as you requested and look forward to any information you can share about your uncle.

      Thanks so much for your message.
      My best,
      Gaye Lyn

  2. Thomas W Waller

    Can you email me at your story is inspiring. I was close personal friends with Michael Frome, and remain close with June, via phone.
    Can we correspond?
    I would like to talk as well. If you are open to corresponding I could share my phone number via email.
    Tom Waller, Frome Student 1989-1991

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