Veterans Air outfits DC-4 at Sebring FL ops base

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, IIIgrandson 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.

Saunie Gravely (wearing sunglass) flys company DC-3 to Hendricks Field to arrange Veterans Air Operations center.
Saunie Gravely, in sun glasses (center), flew into Sebring to discuss Veterans Air Express operations base. PHOTO SOURCE: The Sebring American, Sebring, FL, 5/16/1946.

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)

Veterans Air DC-4 just transformed from military to civilian interior.
Veterans Air DC-4 (aka C-54…not C-56 as captioned in photo clipping).

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! 

Orange-juice chirstening of DC-4 at Sebring/Hendricks Field.
PRESUMED IMAGE SOURCE: The Sebring American.

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.  [No photo available.] 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 projected plans & dreams of Veterans’ fledgling endeavor to needing facilities for “major repairs and maintenance of 25 plus C54’s and four plsu (sic) C47’s…“.  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.  [Dear Reader. 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. The aircraft are secondary subject matter during this precious time frame.]

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.

Yellowed-paper Veterans Air Express letterhead with DC-3 logo dated 3 July 1945 notifies Hendricks Field Manager they are canceling their tenancy.

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 1946

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