Courtesy United States Air Force Memorial
Ted Dey well remembers the first memorial service held in conjunction with a military reunion at the newly opened United State Air Force Memorial in Arlington, Va.
Dey, founder of Armed Forces Reunions in Norfolk, Va., helped plan the event four years ago.
About 100 veterans and their guests were seated beneath the memorial, three stainless steel spires that twist into the air, the tallest 270 feet, on a promontory adjacent to Arlington National Cemetery, overlooking the Pentagon.
The Air Force Band played. The seated veterans faced the Potomac and views of the National Mall across its waters.
“It was 70 degrees and all of Washington, D.C., was in the background,” Dey said.
A perfect day; a perfect setting for a ceremony that is an essential aspect of many military reunions
In 23 years of planning military reunions, Dey has staged military memorials in many settings. The fantails of former battleships, now permanently docked in coastal cities like Charleston, S.C., Wilmington, N.C., Mobile, Ala. and Norfolk.
National icons such as the Tomb of the Unknown in Arlington and Mount Rushmore, near Rapid City, S.D. Museums dedicated to the military, such as the U.S. Air Force Museum in Colorado Springs, Colo. Places devoted to the nation’s commander in chief, including the Truman Presidential Library in Independence, Mo., and George Washington’s tomb on his Mount Vernon estate.
Even local military parks and memorials add power and impact to military memorial services.
In Buffalo, N.Y., memorial services can be held at the Buffalo Naval and Military Park, home to two decommissioned Navy warships and a submarine as well as memorials and monuments to Western New York soldiers. In Wichita, Kan., groups can use Veterans Memorial Park, where 14 memorials pay tribute to servicemen, and volunteers keep the park pristine.
And although many reunions opt to hold services in the ballroom of their hotel, those that venture out and use a venue tied to the nation’s military typically find much assistance in doing so.
Such venues often have a supply of chairs, a podium, recordings of the National Anthem and other patriotic tunes, and access to military honor guards, chaplains, bands and buglers that play important roles in the solemn ceremony. As Paul Galloway, director of the Airborne and Special Operations Museum Foundation in Fayetteville, N.C., points out, “We’ve got the contacts.”
Here are a few ideas for military meeting planners.
A perfect position in Arlington, Va.
When the Air Force Memorial was being designed, creators hoped it would become a place where veterans would return to remember.
“We thought, wouldn’t it be nice if Air Force alumni reunion groups would want to come up there and in some way, remember their friends and loved ones?” said Col. Pete Lindquist, managing director for the Air Force Memorial Foundation.
That is exactly what happened. The memorial’s dramatic position and views of Washington are one reason. But Lindquist’s desire to assist groups and to make the site work for them is another.
“We make it pretty easy on folks. We have chairs and bleachers, if needed, and sound systems, a podium, an Air Force CD with recorded music, flags.”
Because the memorial has no indoor space, adaptations are made for inclement weather. On rainy days, Lindquist has had motorcoaches pull next to the memorial’s Glass Contemplation Wall, so that veterans can sit aboard and watch as one member lays a wreath at the memorial. He’s erected tents, small and large, in the driveway or near the contemplation wall.
Mount Rushmore and more
Rapid City is a destination rife with venues for memorial services, according to Lisa Storms, sales and servicing director for the Rapid City CVB. At Black Hills National Cemetery, military reunion groups can plant a tree or dedicate a granite memorial. Chapels, the officers club and a museum are options at Ellsworth Air Force Base. Use of the sites, except for the museum, is subject to military activities at Ellsworth, an active base.
The area’s best-known venue for military reunions and memorial services is Mount Rushmore, where military reunion dinners can be held in the monument’s restaurant, followed by a commemorative service. Park rangers help organize the events.
“You can’t get much more American than the four presidents,” said Storms.
Flying high in Florida
The Valiant Air Command Warbird Museum in Titusville, Fla., would make a good backdrop for military memorial services.
With its 30 aircraft and other memorabilia, the museum “evokes memories of veterans’ service in the military,” said Col. Terry Yon, the museum’s director.
Founded by 11 volunteers who had a passion for vintage warbirds, and now supported by 1,400 members, this month the museum opens a new hangar that will make it a better venue for military-reunion events, including memorial services.
The new hangar will enable the museum to better arrange its collection of warbirds now “wing tip to tip” in their hangars, said Yon. “We will also be able to stage it by era,” he said.
About 20 percent of the museum’s planes are from the Vietnam War.
The museum could use its planes to work to create a meaningful backdrop for a military reunion and memorial service. “We could make a staging display with some of our aircraft from a particular era or we could have the aircraft as dais,” he said.
A flyover in a missing man formation is another possibility. Most of the museum’s members are pilots with their own planes; when their flight planes and training allow, they might do flyovers for military groups. Costs for setting up events at the museum are based on their complexity and the amount of labor needed to move airplanes, Yon said.
Special Ops makes events special
For convenience and cost, there might be no better venue for military memorials than the Airborne and Special Operations Museum, 11 miles from Fort Bragg and adjacent to Interstate 95 in Fayetteville.
Fayetteville and Fort Bragg are a known entity to many military personnel.
“With Fort Bragg and Fort Pope, here, 80,000 soldiers went through here to go to Vietnam,” said Galloway. “There is a good chance they went through here on their way to war.”
Galloway does his best to keep memorial services free to veterans groups.
“We don’t do it to make money, we do it because it is so important to do. I’m a retired soldier myself so I understand.”
He has equipment on hand that groups can use; when groups opt to purchase a paver or a monument to place at the museum as a permanent remembrance, the memorial service and dedication are complimentary.
In addition to the museum, there is ample grounds around it, with a city veterans park on one side and a soon-to- open $15 million state veterans park, which will have an amphitheater, on the other.