Saunie Gravely weds Lydia Amadio1943/09/03
My Mom & Dad, Lydia & Saunie, get married.
I am tickled to show you the Saunie-Gravely-weds-Lydia-Amadio announcement in my Mom’s hometown newspaper. I stumbled on this clipping today in the Carteret (NJ) Press, September 3, 1943.
CARTERET (NJ) – Announcement has been made of the marriage of Miss Lydia Amadio, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Patrick Amadio of McKinley avenue (sic), and Sergeant Saunie Gravely of West Virginia. The wedding took place in the rectory of St. Johseph’s Church with the Rev. Joseph McLennan officiating. Sergeant Gravely is stationed at Tyndale Field, Panama City, Fla.
[Dear Reader, if you can, notice upper right corner. Certainly it doesn’t say Price Three Dollars; so it says Price Three Cents, right? Part of the fun of this project surfaces in discoveries of things I’m not looking for! Actually, I can’t even remember what “key word” I was searching when I found this announcement. After I clicked on the article and saw the content, I got totally detoured!]
Isn’t this photo beautiful? It was not part of the newspaper clipping. But it’s certainly part of my treasure trove.
Mom & Dad’s anniversary was July 5. So this is a late announcement.
It mentions Dad was stationed at Tyndal Field, Panama City, FL. I had forgotten about their Florida “honeymoon.” As a married soldier, they had off barracks housing — in a trailer park.
One morning after Dad had left for the base, Mom awakened to the trailer rocking vigorously — left to right, right to left. She grabbed her robe and, before she had it totally wrapped around herself, she was OUT of the trailer. Pounding almost hysterically, she bashed on the neighboring trailer door for help. Fortunately, the man-of-the-trailer was home and went to investigate while my Mother was calmed down by his wife. My Mother was not amused when he came back laughing. “What?” she demanded. “Well, Lydia, it’s a family of wild pigs scratching their backs against the bottom of your trailer.”
That’s as far as this story ever got retold, because the accompanying laughter drowned the rest out!
Then there was the story of the “gila monster” Mom sucked up into the vacuum cleaner in Phoenix. But I’ll save that for another time. Let me just say that Saunie Gravely weds Lydia Amadio resulted in much more than an airline adventure named Veterans Air Express and a DC-3 named GAYE LYN.
Going public. Veterans Air first stock offering.1945/11/09
Veterans Air first stock offering
The stock certificate for the company’s first public offering was printed for Air Express Company. Before it was issued November 9, 1945, as an afterthought, “Veterans” was added to the official name. Look closely at this certificate belonging to Jack Stettner, an original founder and Veterans pilot and manager. “V E T E R A N S” is typewritten at top of Veterans Air first stock offering, signed by Nellie Brenner, Secretary Treasurer and Saunie Gravely, President.
The story goes that the founders altered the name because they were proud of who they really were. Plus, they hoped Veterans in their official name might help win cargo contracts with private business — and the government.
(To date, family and historical records on Nellie & Arthur Brenner remain elusive. They both played such vital, active roles in the founding of Veterans Air, finding information on them would be treasure.)
Robert Chambers “Running Log” reveals Veterans Air first DC-3 revenue cargo flight1945/11/16
Newspaper clippings and DC-3 Chief Pilot Robert Chambers' "Pilots Running...
Saunie Gravely. Founder, President, Chairman. Meet my Dad!1945/11/27
Saunie Gravely, President of Veterans Air Express and Veterans Air Line — and my Dad!
He was twenty-two years old – yes, 22 – when he founded an all-veterans commercial 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 weeks 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 ask my Dad 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 between cities up & down the East coast, across the southern States, and along the West coast to Seattle.
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 two civilian executive and finance v.p.’s. 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.
Saunie Gravely founded an all-veterans commercial air service in 1945...
1946 Veterans Air Express operations base #2 sets up at Sebring Air Terminal1946/03/28
Three telegrams in three days kick off 1946 Veterans Air Express operations base in Florida.
Based on their growth plans, Florida does seem an ideal location for the company to have considered opening a secondary location. A Veterans Air Express operations base for maintenance and major repair. By mid-January 1946, they were already running ads in The New York Times for passenger flights in a DC-3 between Newark & Miami. (Marilyn Gries, our first unofficial ground hostess, can tell you all about that!!!) And they were lining up business for fruit and other perishable cargo from Florida to northern and mid-western states.(1)
Hendricks Field military base to become civilian Sebring Air Terminal?
In early February 1946, the City of Sebring (FL) had been granted “interim,” “revocable” permission by the War Assets Administration to transition the well-known military training base Hendricks Field to civilian use. They operated initially under a government “right-of-entry” permit to Hendricks Field and in early June, 1946, were still doing so.(2)
So, when these telegrams put Saunie and Allen C. Altvater, Airport Manager, together, the creation of the future Sebring Air Terminal as a municipal airport was already in the works…but still in question. The telegrams were exchanged between March 28, 1946 and March 30th.(3) [If you click or expand the first telegram, you can page through (and actually read!) all three, plus the other images in this Post.]
Two months ago (August 2015), I spent several hours with Allen C. Altvater, III — grandson of the man that my Dad did, indeed, meet with several times over the next months of 1946. Small world when you explore it!
Allen III was a fabulous host and huge help. We walked the airport, and he took me to The Sebring Historical Society where we spread out and dug through some documents. These three telegrams were part of our booty. Allen sent me home with enough materials that Delta considered recalculating the aircraft weight & balance. (That’s a little aviation humor — for those who have no idea what I’m talking about!)
Veterans and The Eighth to be first tenants
Veterans and a second company, The Eighth Air Depot, figured substantially in the City of Sebring’s calculations and plans for their airfield start up.(4) However, the timing and staggered approvals of permanent licensing by the Army of the air field from military to civilian greatly restricted the activities of both companies. And, ultimately, the delay caused unintended outcomes for both – most especially Veterans. But I’m getting ahead of my story.
Details, details: Hangars. Cold storage. Personnel. Equipment.
Setting up operations required a number of flights to Florida and lining up personnel both locally and back in Newark. It took a couple months before Veterans began any work.
By May 16, 1946 when this photo in front of Veterans Air DC-3 was published, my Dad had flown in for another meeting. And key personnel were ready for Sebring action. R. B. Collins, Veterans Air Line Manger. J. R. Taylor, Assistant Superintendent of Maintenance. Robert (Bob) Krohm, District Manager. All names found in press coverage of the day (5) and/or confirmed in the AIR TRANSPORT article oft mentioned on this site.(6)
On June 4, 1946, fifteen Veterans’ tech team members arrived in Sebring to begin the interior overhaul and repaint of the company’s second DC-4, NC57777. She would no longer be a “war bird,” but a civilian flying boxcar.(7) That aircraft conversion was completed within approximately 13 days! And the DC-4 was christened THE CITY OF SEBRING on June 20th — with orange juice! (8) (I’d of brought champagne for Mimosas if I’d been invited!!! But, no, not likely…I was barely 7 months old at the time!)
The Mayor of Newark (NJ) was the recipient of this DC-4’s first cargo which my Dad personally delivered in his role as Veterans’ Founder & President. It was a “gift box” of Florida oranges from groves belonging to Guignard Maxcy. By late June, other perishable fruits and vegetables were being transported outbound from Florida.(9)
Army’s timing controls outcome of Veterans’ plans
In his March 1946 telegram, Saunie described the plans & dreams of Veterans’ fledgling endeavor. By June that year, the fleet numbered five, as chronicled in Allen Altvater Sr.’s gathering of press clippings and historical data. My own corroborating records show three DC-3’s and two DC-4’s. [Tracing these aircraft is tedious and confusing, but very doable. Much has been completed, but put aside temporarily to concentrate on finding more of our Veterans. Our aircraft are secondary to me at this point in time.]
But those “25 plus” aircraft plans for Sebring did not materialize. And, at this point, I’m shy on explanations — other than reference in this “termination” letter dated July 3, 1946 and signed by Nellie Brenner, Vice President Finance. The letter to Altvater, Sr., gives “the insurmountable problem of logistics” as reason for Veterans’ departure from Sebring.
Somewhere along the line, I must determine the rest of this story. I’m guessing (and that’s definitely not my job) that it was a combination of the Army not moving forward fast enough and as-yet-unknown (to this Researcher) changes within Veterans. What I do know is that less than one week prior to the date of this letter, the first DC-4 overhaul was completed at Sebring and the press reported a second aircraft was expected “this week for major overhaul from Newark.”(9) That did not materialize either.
All newspaper article titles are in quotation marks and are from The Sebring American [Sebring, FL]. It should be noted the paper was renamed (a number of times) during 1946 by the owners, The Perry Group – which explains at least one photo caption reference to The Highlands County News.
(1) “Veterans Air Line to Carry Highlands Truck.” 27 June 1946.
(2) “Airport Companies Start Active Work.” 7 June 1946.
(3) Altvater, Allen C., Airport Manger Sebring Air Terminal 1946-1959. From personal files & collection of papers & documents.
(4) “City Starts Airfield Operations: Eight Air Depot and Veterans’ Airlines Expected to Begin Operation.” 2 May 1946.
(5) “Air Depot Starts Work at Hendricks: Veterans’ Airlines Heads to Arrive Tomorrow to Start Operations.” 9 May 1946.
(6) Herrick, George. “Veterans Air Line. Flies…Anything. Any Place. Any Time.” Air Transport July 1946: 36-38.
(7) “Start Active Work: Two Planes Arrive This Week For Conversion at Hendricks Field.” 7 June 1946
(8) “First Plane Christened on Monday: Veterans Air Lines completes Conversion of First Plane At Hendricks Field.” 21 June 1946.
(9) “Hendricks Activity Is Increasing: City Acquires Use of Third Hangar.” 28 June 1946Timing is everything. Veterans Air Express needed a major maintenance...
1946 Veterans Air Express crew1946/04/23
UPDATE NOTE 9/19/2016:
Photo-caption update (at very bottom of this Dec 2015 Post) identifies Constantine J. Keloss.
First-hand details & photos from 1946 Veterans Air Express crew members.
Two weeks and four days ago today, I launched on my second-ever trip to meet Veterans Air crew
members face-to-face. I flew 3,945 air miles and drove 650 land miles
— to, from and within New Mexico, South Carolina and New Jersey for
some first-hand, unbelievable meet-and greets.
70 years ago, Broughton and Martz and Cowart were there! Together! On the same crew to Prague.
On my most recent trip, I met two of these terrific men. 1946 Veterans Air Express crew Flight Engineer Thomas Cowart and Navigator Ed Martz. And, during the same time period, I acquired some way-cool Veterans Air photographs via email from Pilot and 1st Officer Dick Broughton’s two sons, Craig and Bob. Broughton, Cowart and Martz are all in this photo captioned Clearing Customs, along with their flight Captain Cooper Walker. (Thomas Cowart will tell us about him later in another Post.)
The photo-feature ran in The Newark Evening News. Fortunately, it was clipped out by Dick Broughton’s grandmother. She cut off the masthead, but we still know what day the photo was taken, even if we don’t know the exact publication date of the story. While rummaging through Ancestry.com in search of a totally different type of document, I found a Crew Manifest. It reveals the men responsible for the first of three known Veterans Air Express UNRRA flights to Prague. And it gives us the date of their return to Newark Airport — 23 April 1946.
These men lived this history with my Dad.
They were there, making it happen. Sometimes together
as part of the same crew. And, now, 70 years later, I was there…in South
Carolina listening to Thomas Cowart and in New Jersey listening to Ed Martz
tell me about their roles in this great adventure. Thomas’ two
daughters, Angie & Joy, are hearing these stories for the first
time. So are Ed’s wife Marie and two of their four daughters, Sue and
Marie. The information and stories are amazing!
Oh! so much better than my usual solo research…
See how wondrously different this is from visualizing the internet searches I normally conduct by myself!
However…not a natural investigative reporter.
My notes from my trip are only semi-copious and sometimes illegible. And, only a few of any photographs taken were snapped by me! Try as I might, I’m not a natural investigative reporter. I am truly there to meet and share stories. I get involved in listening and absorbing the person – and I forget to write or click. You’ll just have to forgive me for missing some of the facts. But, ah! these faces and the accompanying laughter! I hope I captured even an n-th degree of this to share with you.
Thomas Cowart with Gaye Lyn, daughter of Veterans Air Express founder, Saunie Gravely, doing some research together.
Edward Martz and Gaye Lyn during her New Jersey visit to meet this man who crewed for her Dad in 1946.
Thomas Cowart and daughter Angie Cowart-Cheek on 11 Nov 2015 in South Carolina.
Marie Martz, Ed’s wife, with Gaye Lyn during November 2015 visit to New Jersey.
I’ve found ten 1945 and 1946 Veterans Air Express crew families since April.
Actually, so far, I’ve been in contact with ten families of Veterans who joined Veterans Air Express and I’ve met three of our crew members. You may recall my first “road trip” was in August to Florida to meet Pilot and Operations man Jack Stettner and all of Jack’s “kids,” Ellen, Al and Scott. On the same trip, I reveled in anecdotes from the spirited Marilyn Gries, sadly now the widow of Robert Gries, VAE General Manager. All the families have wonderfully (if not suspiciously, at first) greeted and welcomed me.
Here’s my List, in the order of my finding them: Bernard Shmanske, John Noll, Charles Eason, Robert Gries, Jack Stettner, John Greenleaf, Frederick Foster, Richard Broughton, Thomas Cowart, and Edward Martz.
Duration of the company pales compared to the size of its accomplishments!
I’m so honored. So delighted. So touched. I promise I appreciate to my core the reality of being in their company and/or talking to their families. I kept and keep saying to myself these men knew my Dad, crewed for him, helped him found the air line. All of them, not just the three I’ve met, all of them brought invaluable aviation experience to this endeavor, yes. And now I’m witnessing as well, repeatedly, first hand, the character and spirit they all brought. The “real stuff” that materialized Saunie’s dream. The duration of the company’s existence is of little consequence compared to the accomplishment that it existed at all!
I never expected such an emotional, rewarding experience when I started my research in late April this year (2015).
PHOTO UPDATE 9/19/2016:
In search of Constantine J. Keloss (or Kaless or Keloas) or Gus Kaoss
VAE Captain Morgan Cooper Walker and unidentified crewman shown with three baby cows donated by the Borden Co. for Greece war-relief effort in 1946.
Each of these names and possible spellings surfaced in researching the then-17 year old Greek-American lad assigned by UNRRA as the livestock “handler” on Veterans flight to Athens. Thomas Cowart, our flight engineer, clearly remembers Constantine (aka Gus?).
Keloss is undoubtedly the young man standing between our two crew members in this August 1946 photo with his three “charges,” the cargo passengers on this flight.
Constantine would still be the VAE crew’s youngster at 87 today!
This flight manifest revealed his name for the first time in association with the Veterans Air Athens flight. It is spelled Keloss. (Click it for a legible reading size.) Military enlistment records (which I am 98.5% certain are his) show Kaless. And so it goes. Tidbit which I’ve yet to confirm is that Constantine joined the U.S. Army the month after his Veterans Air flight to Athens. If “manifest” Keloss “and “enlistment” Kaless are the same, the story is true!
More recently, Richard Broughton’s family provided the photo.
Efforts continue to locate Constantine. One article said he was from Somerville, NJ. Another mentioned 4-H. But, he remains elusive. Could sure use your help, Dear Reader!
VAE first UNRRA delivery to Warsaw makes history1946/05/08
Making history under some pretty tough conditions.
Veterans Air Express Captain William Jakeman and First Officer Jack Stettner crew first commercial air transport flight behind the “iron curtain” that required Russian overflight permission.
Veterans Air Express Prague 1946
Upcoming 70th anniversary of
Veterans Air Express Prague flight…
In May 1946, the Veterans Air Express Prague flight was logged as its second of three UNRRA flights to that city. Each time, the DC-4 crews delivered five tons of hatching eggs to restore the country’s war-demolished hatcheries.
In May 2016, to celebrate that adventure of 70 years earlier, I will be in Prague. Saunie’s little girl, all grown up, will undoubtedly weep on the occasion of stepping off a train into Prague’s city center.
Our arrival date was not planned to coincide. I’d say it was coincidental — except I don’t believe in coincidences! Only after our route was set and EuroPass purchased did I realize the connection to the historic Veterans Air Express Prague trip.
I wish I knew where the crews bunked in 1946. Since I do not, Harry and I will stay in the heart of Old Town with the Astronomical Clock around the corner — in a sparkling apartment all to ourselves for four days.
Prague plays role in my history, too!
It seems Prague will play an unexpected second role in my own history — first in 1946 and soon in 2016.
The Czech Republic is famous for art glass production, and has been for generations. According to Air Transportation (May 1946), the return cargo from the second Veterans Air Express Prague flight was 300 pounds of sample cut glass for 40 distributors in the U.S.
During our stay this coming May, my husband and I will also make a day-trip 70 miles north of Prague by train to visit a glass foundry. Harry is in search of world-famous Czech expertise and bravado in the production of his cast glass sculptures. He’s preparing for someday, as dreamed, when we live in Italy two or three months a year. With a foundry lined up, Harry could then bring his completed wax designs to them for casting!!! We’re always plotting…
Saunie’s birthday – March 19.
While I’m anticipting Prague in May, I am thinking about my Dad’s birthday this week. He would have been 93 years old.
When he was growing up in the hills of West Virgina, I wonder if he had even an inkling of the dream he would materialize? I wonder if he pictured a daughter he had not yet dreamed of that would trace his footsteps 70 years later? Who, like Nancy Drew, would piece together the clues that were, and remain, his Veterans Air Express?
A tribute to you, Daddy. And sweet and loving wishes on your Day.
WANTED: Veterans Air information or leads.
Always happy to learn more about our Veterans Air People.
If you have any information or leads, please contact me via this page.
I may have a name or know something about a Veterans Air member, but often it is not enough!
Pieces of the puzzle, no matter how small or seemingly unrelated, can be tremendously helpful.
Please remember to use the person’s name in your message!