John "Dugan" Doyle of Lincoln, Neb., looks at a Life magazine photo that shows Doyle's former gunner, Rafe King, who was killed over Luzon Island in the Philippines.Michael Schumacher / Globe-News
By LIZ EVERETT
Globe-News Staff Writer
They hail from Georgia, Maine, Connecticut, Florida and points in between.
About 26 members of the U.S. Carrier Air Group 80 Dive Bomber Squadron VB-80 are in Amarillo for their 57th reunion at the Ambassador Hotel.
Organized in 1943, Carrier Air Group 80 served aboard the carrier USS Ticonderoga in 1944 until the flattop was put out of commission by two kamikaze attacks in the Formosa Straits on January 21, 1945. Then the Air Group transferred to the carrier USS Hancock until it completed its first tour of Pacific duty, according to a news release.
The three-day event, which started Wednesday, included tours to Palo Duro Canyon, Bell Helicopter, Cal Farley's Boys Ranch, the American Quarter Horse Museum and Heritage Center and Route 66 in the San Jacinto neighborhood.
An array of World War II memorabilia, including photos of fallen heroes, various naval aircraft and ships and bombing missions lined the tables and walls in the hotel meeting room.
The former pilots and air crewmen reminisced about the war and times when they were in enemy territory, wondering if they would survive.
Retired Judge John R. "Dugan" Doyle of Lincoln, Neb., was one of many airmen who had a brush with death.
Doyle said he and others were "shot down while diving in a bomber run" over Luzon Island in the Phillippines.
"They hit me, and we flew around for a while. We were on fire," he said. "There was a hole in my wing as big as that (hotel) door. We landed, wheels up, in the water. I hardly got wet."
Doyle said he and the other fliers "sat out a couple of days waiting for the submarine to pick us up. We waited all night."
He said after two days, they were rescued and met some Filipinos "who took care of us. They were wonderful."
"I thought it was exciting and patriotic," retired Capt. Don Monson of Palm Desert, Calif., said of his military experience. He said, however, "I was scared to death when we were trapped in the ready room (on the Ticonderoga), and we were hit by two kamikaze planes."
Some of the sailors who died were buried at sea, Monson said. He and others were transferred to the USS Hancock to finish their tour of duty.
The retired veterans said they don't make a fuss about whether they and millions of other veterans receive appropriate recognition during veteran-centered holidays.
"During World War I and World War II, our purpose was to win the war against those enemies. Not a single one of us regretted being where we were," said Amarillo attorney and reunion host Tom Morris."We don't feel like we need to be patted on the back; we have already received our honors."
Dive bomber pilot George Center of Orange Park, Fla., said the government can't sign them up anymore, "but we'd be ready to go if called."
Capt. Bill Klenk of Pittsburgh said his main concern is that the government keep the armed forces strong, and "don't let the services run down like they did before World War I and World War II.
"At the beginning of World War II, we were in pretty bad shape," Klenk said. "I'm afraid it could happen again."
"Those people who come out of West Point, Annapolis and other military schools are the future strong leaders," said Lt. Cmdr. George Walsh of Connecticut.