Branson, Missouri

October 8-12, 2012

Hello, Ozarks, here we come! The Branson Bag Drag has begun.

A few folks arrived at the Westgate Branson Woods Resort a day or so early to get the ball rolling.

After getting settled, the Hospitality Room was visited to see who was here.

The main group of rovers arrived on Monday October 8 and checked in. That evening there was a Deli Buffet in the Grand Pavilion.

Tuesday was bright and sunny although cooler than normal due to a cold front dragged down from Montana by the Hall’s. There was complimentary hot breakfast served at the end of one group of rooms and at the Hospitality Room. Around 09:00 we boarded busses to take us to the “Clay Cooper” show and lunch.

Clay put on a great show of western style music. Bob Putlock had earlier asked our Historian, K.V. Hall, to make a short video of helicopters and guys to be shown at the end of Cooper’s show, as he sometimes shows pictures of his guests to honor them. Somehow the video was thought to be for another group and was not shown. Bob and K.V. were really bummed but the show was good.

That evening we were again bussed to the “Yakov Theatre” for another show and meal. After the show we returned to the Hospitality Room to relax and visit old friends.

Wednesday morning we had another delicious breakfast and then the members held their Business Meeting. Several matters were discussed and Marc Coody volunteered to host the next Reunion in San Diego.

Russ Cayler and K.V. Hall gave a slide show presentation on the “Fall of Lima Site 85” in Laos in 1968. K.V. had flown with the 20th Helicopter Squadron in support of the top secret TACAN/radar site in 1967-68. As well as a landing

pad, the site had a radar bombing system to guide the bombers to Hanoi and pinpoint their drops. In March 1968 the site was overrun by the North Vietnamese and Pathet Lao troops and most of the Americans were killed outright.

CMSGT Richard Etchberger singlehandedly fought off the invaders with an M-16 while attending to his wounded men and calling in air strikes on their position. He helped the wounded get on an Air America Huey and after climbing onboard last, he was fatally wounded by an enemy gunner.

Chief Etchberger was recommended for the Medal of Honor but it was downgraded to an Air Force Cross due to the secrecy of the mission.

Russ Cayler, 37th Air Rescue Squadron, flying an HH-53, picked up the last survivor. Russ narrated his mission and how 40 years later he was invited to the White House for the posthumous award of the upgraded Medal of Honor presented to SMSGt Etchberger’s family.

Eleven of the 19 “sheep-dipped” AF technicians that operated the unit were killed. This was the largest single ground combat loss of USAF personnel during the Vietnam War. (see complete story KvRuss2) Well depicted in Castles book.

About 10:30 we were bussed to the “Branson Bell” Showboat on the Lake of the Ozarks for a lunch show. A beef and chicken lunch was served as the boat cruised the lake.

We were allowed to wander on deck to see the sights and take pictures. Good music and entertainment followed. Red Lemke and his new wife were taken from the crowd and onstage for some comedy. The thing Red had on his head was powered by -what ?? - 2 EGGBEATERS ! How appropriate.

That evening we went to the Hughes Brother’s show –and supper. Can’t say we got hungry while at Branson! The Hughes’ had large families and even the kids that were old enough to walk were in the show.

Near the end, the video that Bob and K.V. had conjured up was shown on the screens much to the surprise and delight of our members. (better late than never)

Thursday was Golf Day and the ladies went Downtown to shop. You could also catch the bus for the Veteran’s Memorial Museum. The guys at the Hospitality Room told bigger and better stories. That evening we had our Social Hour and own “cookout” and held the Silent Auction for several military charities. The Auction raised over $3000.

As we were eating, a tall guy in a cowboy hat strolled up on stage. It was Clay Cooper! He was asked to come over and join us in singing “America the Beautiful” and leave but he stayed for at least a half hour singing and joking with the crowd. What a deal!

Some folks slipped next door to watch the Vice Presidential Debate on TV.

The weather had very nice during our visit and Friday morning broke with thunder and lightning and rain. A quick load up and on our way home.

Two hundred and twenty six folks attended the reunion at Branson. We lost 12 members the past year. Hope the people will keep coming as long as they are able.

See Ya in San Diego !