On the last weekend in March, the folks at the USS Hornet Sea, Air & Space Museum in Alameda will dress up in party attire. Although we recently took a leap forward to comply with Daylight Savings Time, visitors to the ship can turn the clock back during two special events.
On Saturday, the show “Spring into the New Year!” NYE Gala Do Over!” is a clever revision of the museum’s annual fundraising tradition that has taken place since the ship’s opening as a museum in 1998. do it again on weekend evenings.
Director of Marketing and Outreach Russell Moore says it’s the Hornet’s gift to a community that has been under significant stress over the past two years. Highlights will include entertainment from classic 16-piece big band 3 O’Clock Jump, a cabaret, three dance floors, a silent auction, cash bars, food concessions and free parking.
Those who choose to party — or young guests not included in the second take of the New Year’s Gala — could attend National Vietnam War Veterans Day festivities this Sunday. The lineup will include presentations by Vietnam War veteran Bill Green and Marilyn Breen, one of 13 Flying Tigers contestants participating as special guests. The Flying Tigers Attendants worked as non-combatants serving America on the Flying Tiger Line, the first major American freighter line founded in 1945 that carried cargo on Canadian turboprop aircraft. During the Vietnam War, the airline converted to a hybrid: still under contract to carry cargo but also to transport American troops to and from Vietnam.
“On my very first flight in 1964, we were flying CL-44s, spin-tail turboprops,” recalls Breen, 82, of San Francisco. “It was noisy and we had to put paper towels in the door to stop the shouting. I went to Honolulu and back. This was before Vietnam, so we were just flying regular military. My first flight to Vietnam landed in Saigon before the war started. We were flying in ‘advisers’, but I think they were actually fighters sent to train the South Vietnamese army.
Breen was 24 when she joined the Flying Tigers and soon found herself mentoring young men still or just out of their teens.
“We started flying from Tacoma to De Nang. When I saw the fear on the faces of these children and had to sign for body bags to be placed in the belly of the plane, I began to understand that this war was not good. It wasn’t about fighting communism, as I had thought – and that wasn’t going to be won. It was obvious, but we continued to reinforce the troops.
Breen says that whenever the plane landed in Vietnam and the soldiers came out, thanking the attendants for their service, she hid in the cockpit.
“All I could think was that those kids might not come back. I would tell the navigator or a flight engineer to go say goodbye. I cried a lot when the door to the cabin opened up and the whole space became humid and hot in 20 seconds.These kids had no idea where they were going or what they were going to do.
Breen, who flew for the airline for 30 years, says sharing the full story of Flying Tigers and attendants — not just the dark parts — is crucial.
“It’s a glamorous, fun story of an airline and how they scratched and scratched and found a lucrative customer in the military. You can’t paint it as all gloomy. We’ve travelled, had great benefits. Everyone looking for work was an adventurer, we explored Alaska, Japan and the Philippines.
Most important of all, she said, continues to honor Vietnam veterans and their families.
“We have not forgotten those children who were in Vietnam and the protest groups that took them in when they returned home. There is a service to humanity when you fight to maintain the freedom of your country. We must honor them.
Chuck Meyers, 84, of Alameda, is a Navy veteran whose five-and-a-half years in the military gave him a desire to continue serving his country as a docent on the Hornet. In an interview, he talks about Ukraine and regrets that his age prevents him from engaging and actively participating in efforts to maintain the country’s fragile democracy. Even so, he says, “I can be a better guide to help people understand the war.”
Meyers led tours and was the volunteer representative on the Hornet’s board of directors for 12 years. A long career in computing after his stint in the navy leaves him most fond of the ‘wow’ factor in the ship’s combat information center.
“When you turn off the ceiling lights, the blue lighting of the screens appears.”
Radar display panels of the 1970s required soldiers to stand behind screens and write information upside down with a yellow grease pencil.
“Another place where you see that ‘wow’ reaction is looking through escape hatches that come out of engineering spaces,” he says. “If a steam belt jumped, the soldiers climbed a vertical ladder. When looking down, people see the steep three-story drop.
Meyers says older visitors often realize the importance of sharing the Hornet’s story and sometimes interest in military service is sparked in a youngster when in a video of visitors, a young boy asks his father, “What is Pearl Harbor? Asked about the importance of the Hornet, Moore adds that although the new ships are more technically sophisticated, the experiences of the average sailor or airman aboard an aircraft carrier during the Vietnam War compared to today are not so different.
Upon learning of the role the Hornet played in the recovery of Apollo 11 and 12 astronauts, he said, “You can see that a Navy ship is more than just a military weapon. It is a technological marvel that often has humanitarian and scientific missions.
And this weekend, the Hornet will be a time capsule filled with celebration and meaning. For more details on this weekend’s events, visit uss-hornet.org online.
Lou Fancher is a freelance writer. Contact her at [email protected]