The 50th anniversary of class 53 Fox
Monday 20 October 2003
Pierre-Paul Struye represented the Silver Wings at a big reunion held in Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio, USA from 16 till 19 October 2003.
Our American friends of class 53 Fox have organized a big reunion for all pilots of the class on the grounds of Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio, from 16 to 19 October 2003. We were three Europeans to attend the meeting: Arne Just, a Dane living in Canada, Jo Golvan, a Frenchman and member of the APNFA (Association du Personnel Navigant Formé en Amérique) and Pierre-Paul (Pipo) Struye, a Belgian living in France and member of the "Silver Wings".
We were hundred and fifty, with our wives, and it was moving to meet again old friends from fifty years ago. By chance the three Europeans were from the same Primary base: Bartow. Two Americans from Bartow were also present: Rudy D'Urbano and Smitthy Harris. Smitthy made a great impression on all of us. He had been a POW (prisonner of war) in Vietnam during eight years! He told us how he could psychologically survive imprisoned alone in a cell, thanks to communications with the other prisonners by knocking on the walls according to some prisonners code. Although he suffered torture, he did not keep resentment or hate against the Vietnamese. He said how much he now appreciates freedom and his family.
The first evening, a banquet took place in a unique place: the tables were dressed in the middle of the Air Force Museum, around dozens of airplanes. We were assembled by Primary bases. We noticed a table dressed for only one person but with the seat remaining empty: it was the table in memory of the deceased of the class.
General pilot Adams, from 53 Fox, was the speaker at the banquet. He explained how the USA and Nato allies have been able to contain the soviet imperialism by building an extraordinary defence wich has been very expensive. We saw some evidence of that military effort walking through the Air Force museum (the biggest in the world, of course), where hundreds of planes are exposed, going from the small photo-reconnaissance airplanes without pilots till the large B-52 and other giant planes. Some of these planes were only prototypes, others have been built by the thousands. It was very impressive and remarkably well presented (the Americans have money and they know how to use it).
The next days a "memorial service" was celebrated in memory of all dead comrades of class 53 Fox, whose names were called on. A marber bench engraved «USAF PILOT TRAINING CLASS 53-F, dedicated 17 october 2003 » was offered to the Air Museum.
The last evening, the farewell banquet took place at the Officers Club at the end of which some people adressed the assembly. Jo Golvan and Pierre-Paul (Pipo) Struye were called in front and Pipo made the following speech :
"When we, foreign students from Europe came to America, it was the first time that we flew over the Atlantic Ocean, and we were eager to discover the United States.
We still had memories of the war, of the GI's who came to liberate us from the German occupation, of the pilots of the Army Air Force who flew and fought, together with the Royal Air Force, in the skies of Europe. For many of us, it is from these days on that our will to become pilots started...
The first discovery of the USAF training program was tough: the Pre-Flight during which we were just "nothing", as our upperclassmen were so happy to tell us. It was hard: wake up at 4.30 AM, physical training, ground courses,... but it did not last long. After a few weeks we were on the flight-line and started flying the yellow bird, the T6.
Everything changed at once: the sky was blue, the instructors friendly, the T6 impressive but quickly tamed. Our English improved. In the barracks we were mixed with US cadets, so we quickly made friends. We discovered that they were different from us in many aspects, but we also noticed differences amongst them: a Yankee spoke differently than a Rebel, a Middle West guy did not look like an East coast fellow..., but they were all Americans, and together we were all allies in NATO. Together we learned the brotherhood of flying men.
After Primary, we went to Advanced training and there we discovered the jet, the T33.
I remember our squadron commander in James Connally AFB, Waco, Texas, captain Holloway, opening the session, telling us enthusiastically: "You'll see boys, flying jets is better than sex!". Well, this statement might remain object of discussion, but I shall not submit the question to vote tonight...
The T33 was marvelous and so easy to fly that we've got our wings with no sweat. How proud we were when we received our silver wings! Next was the gunnery in Williams and Luke: so exciting! Flying our F-84G Thunderjets and firing air to air on these targets, towed by courageous twin engine pilots, or air to ground on old trucks scattered in the Arizona desert. Then we went back to our various countries after 18 months of training in the US, to rejoin our own Belgian or French Air Forces.
Remembering all of this, we are very thankful to America for having trained us and I want to take this occasion to tell you that "old Europe", as your secretary of defence named us, is and will remain America's friend. We like America very much. Nevertheless good friends may have different opinions on various problems, but they remain good friends. We have common values. We remember the GI's fighting to liberate France and Belgium in World War II, as you remember Lafayette coming to fight with you for your independance 200 years ago.
God bless America and Europe !"
Pipo then called Don Condra, the president of the 53F reunion, to come in front of the assembly, to thank him for having organised that wonderfull reunion. Jo Golvan presented him the badge of the APNFA and Pipo gave him the badge of the Silver Wings. This gesture of sympathy received a large applause by all the American comrades.