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Las Vegas, NV--July 5, 2002

The Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association(VHPA) held its 19th annual reunion in Las Vegas, NV from July 2-7, 2002 at the Riviera Hotel/Casino. Over 1200 pilots and approximately the same number of guests attended the reunion for a wonderful time. A special mini-reunion of former Thunderbirds was also held in Las Vegas on July 5th. There were about 36 former Thunderbirds who were in Las Vegas. And amazingly, every year of the 9 years the Thunderbirds were in Vietnam was represented! Finally, if some of them look a little older, just remember.....that was from 31 to 40 years ago!!!


(Photo courtesy Jack Swickard)
Back Row(L to R): Lonnie Schmidt(67-68), Jim Ellis(65-66), Raul "Pete" Smith(68-69), Charlie Spillner(70-71),Rudy Perale(63-64), Norman Carter(63-64) , Glenn Clark(69-70),Les Valouche(63-64), Dennis Gulich(70-71).
Middle Row(L to R): Bob Brandt(62-63), Jim Dailey(62-63), John Mickey(66-67), Jack Swickard(67-68), Charlie Williams(68-69), Don Olsen(62-63), Tommy Cruz(62-63), Tom Watson(63-64), Donald Chadwick(63-64), Don Abrams(70-71).
Front Row(L to R): "Fox Peter" Cullen, Jr.("Hero" 62-63), Ben Luck(62-63), Gil Ferrey(66), Reed Kimzey(66-67), Tom Payne(66-67), "Ole"Dick Olsen(62-63), Chad Payne(62-63), Dale Moore(69-70).
(Not shown but at Las Vegas: John Clark (65-66), Frank Maus(63-64), Duane Speirs(69-70), Richard Glasgow(62-63), John Ness(62-63), Richard Loynachan (62-63), Wally Larson (62-63), Angus Desveaux(66), Lee Beavers (68-69)
Note--If I have incorrectly identified anyone please notify the Webmaster


Some Original Thunderbirds

L to R: Richard Loynachan, John Ness, Richard Glasgow
and Tommy Cruz, all members of the original Thunderbirds.
They arrived in Vietnam in Sep 62 and flew exclusively
the CH-21.
(Photo courtesy Tom Payne)

Party at Tom & Charmin Cruz's Las Vegas Home!

Front Row(L to R): Tommy Cruz, Don Olsen and Jim Dailey
Back Row(L to R): Dick Olsen, Wally Larson, Bob Brandt,
Dick Loynachan, Richard Glasgow and John Ness
(Photo courtesy Dick Olsen)

Look alikes?

Several of the former Thunderbirds had a difficult time
telling these two fellas apart. On the left is Gil Ferrey(66)
and on the right is Richard Loynachan(62-63). Amazing!
(Photo courtesy Jack Swickard)


Each former Thunderbird present at the mini-reunion was asked to tell one story about their tour with the Thunderbirds and then tell what they have been doing since Vietnam. As you might expect, it took a little time to do this, but was well worth the time. The photos below were taken during that time by Jack Swickard. Thanks Jack!

Ben Luck(62-63), Wally Larson(62-63), Jim Dailey(62-63), Tommy Cruz(62-63), 'Ole' Dick Olsen(62-63)

Don Olsen(62-63), 'Fox Peter' Cullen(62-63), Bob Brandt(62-63), Chad Payne(63-64), Tom Watson(63-64)

Norm Carter(63-64), Rudy Perale(63-64), Frank Maus(63-64), Don Chadwick(63-64), Les Valouche(63-64)

John Clark(65-66), Jim Ellis(65-66), Reed Kimzey(66-67), Tom Payne(66-67),John Mickey(66-67)

Lonnie Schmidt(67-68), Raul 'Pete' Smith(68-69), Charlie Williams(68-69), Dale Moore(69-70)
Glenn Clark(69-70),

Don Abrams(70-71),Dennis Gulich(70-71),


Reunions are strange occasions. Some men approach them with dread....some with expectation. Everyone approaches them with nervous anticipation. No two people approach reunions in exactly the same frame of mind. However, once reunions are over, hardly anyone leaves not wanting to return. Yes, reunions are strange occasions

Fred "Fox Peter" Cullen, Jr., one of the original Thunderbirds, who travelled to Vietnam from the U.S. on the USS Croatan with the H-21's in August and September of 1962, has written a little piece that seems to say some of the things we all feel, especially at reunions.

A Soldier's Song
It is not an easy thing to do,
Purge your spleen, yet try to hide,
What friends and comrades might construe,
As a wimpy whine of wounded pride.
But enough has been said of airport spit,
The dearth of bands and Mailer's shit,
No need here to libel Henry's girl,
What image of mine could trump a urinal?
Let me sing instead of joyous things,
Beer, fluff, reunions, shiny wings,
Past friends we love and wedding rings.
All smile! Embrace! Whatever life brings.
Now to all by whom this hymn is heard,
My heart abides always with the "Thirty-Third"

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