What's New - President's Messages
News Flash – March 25, 2020.
Praying this FLASH message finds you all well — dealing rationally with the crisis the world is facing, and taking all the necessary precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Change to Board of Directors
We are sad to announce that President Jerry Hester had to resign from the President position due to health and other issues. During a teleconference Board meeting, the Board understandingly accepted his resignation. Jerry did an outstanding job dealing with Association business since the previous reunion in Salt Lake City, successfully tackling some tough challenges like improving our website management, rebuilding our treasury, re-energizing our Outreach, and creating a super online repository for all our Oral History Videos. We thank him for those! The Association is in great condition, and we will continue to move forward with our goals and objectives. Following Jerry’s notification, the Board took action to fill the President’s position. As a result, Mike Drzyzga will step back up into the position, and Wayne Laessig will fill the Prior President’s position, which was vacated by Mike. Jerry and Ellen are doing well in TX and we look forward to seeing them at Reunion XXI in Ft. Walton Beach, FL in October.
Reunion XXI Planning for FWB
This year’s reunion is still a GO! By October, we are confident that the hard choices being made now will successfully win over the COVID-19 pandemic. Reunion XXI will be a very-much-needed fun time. Coordinator Gus Sininger has done a great job planning the Fort Walton Beach Reunion. The Association is working to publish a detailed April Firing Circle Newsletter, which will present specific information about special topics, such as: the raffle of a custom Kimber 1911 .45 ACP hand gun, the wide selection of reunion T-shirts that are available now, and several cool new items in the Association’s Quartermaster web page. I encourage you to make your Reunion XXI plans now: first the on-line Reunion registration, and then book a room at the Four Points in FWB.
Everything you need to know about the Reunion and to register is easily found on the Association’s web-site at: https://www.ac119gunships.com/reunion/upcoming-reunion/
All the best to you and your families, be smart, stay well!! See you in October.
Back as President
President’s Message – October 2019
Greetings from TX!! Having only been on the Board for a year as the Association’s Vice President, my election came as quite a surprise! I may have been a bit reluctant to accept the position, but with the support of the Association Board and the entire membership, I’m sure we can keep the Association moving forward in our efforts to promote the history and legacy of the AC-119 Program. Although I have only been on the Board for the past year, I’ve been with the Association since the very first Reunion. I admit I missed one of the reunions, but I feel like I made up for it by hosting our 2013 Reunion in San Antonio (with a lot of assistance from our family). I hope the attendees all enjoyed our TX hospitality!
For those who were unable to attend this year’s Reunion in Salt Lake City, UT, you missed some special moments in our Association’s history. This reunion was special, because we celebrated the 20th Anniversary of our Association, as well as the 50th Anniversary of the AC-119 Gunships’ arrival in Southeast Asia. Although the turnout was a bit less than expected (159 attendees), we may have set a record for “first timers” (27 attendees). Another first for this Reunion was our new Sponsorship Program that raised almost $3,000 to help defray some of the costs for the Reunion (see the Sponsorship article in this newsletter for more information).
The most significant change this year was the Regular Members voting to give our Associate Members the right to vote and to hold office. After Mike Drzyzga stepped down as President (replacing Larry Fletcher as the Board’s Past-President) and I was elected President, we needed a new Vice President, so Roy Davis was elected to be our VP. Two other Board members stepped down for personal reasons, so Andrea Drzyzga was elected to replace Ralph Lefarth as Secretary, and Jenna Laird was elected to replace Cash McCall as Member-at-Large. This made Andrea and Jenna our first Associate Members to join the Board. Our remaining Board Members (Treasurer – Doug Wohlgamuth and Members-at-Large Jim Dunn and John Wolff) remained in their same positions.
The Reunion also had a special personal memory for me during our optional visit to the Hill AFB Aerospace Museum. One of their display aircraft was my C-7A Caribou (tail number 63-9757) that I was crew chief on in 1969 when I was assigned to the 537th Tactical Airlift Squadron at Phu Cat AB, Vietnam (before I joined the Gunships). After extensive advance coordination, the Museum Curator got permission to open the aircraft so I could show it to my daughters and grandchildren who were at the Reunion (my wife decided it was a bit too crowded, so she waited outside).
Finally, I’d like to give a great big THANK YOU to:
- Chuck Williams, our Reunion XX Coordinator at Salt Lake City, UT, for all of the time and effort it took to put this Reunion together (having done this before, we know how much work takes).
- All the Regular and Associate Members who helped with various key aspects for the Reunion, including the on-line registration/payments, the Park City Tour, the live auction at the banquet, the silent auction in the Hooch, the Golf Tournament (sorry if I forgot anyone here).
- The Little America hotel and catering staff for the exceptional support they provided.
- The Utah Military Academy for providing cadets to serve as our color guard and National Anthem singer at the banquet and to assist in the Hooch throughout the Reunion.
- And a special THANKS to everyone who helped create the “Our Story” video shown at the banquet (a link to an extended version is available on our Association website).
I’d also like to wish the best for the hosts for our next two reunions: Gus Sininger (2020 at Fort Walton Beach, FL) and Jerry McDonald (2021 at Branson, MO). Both of them have done this before, so I’m sure the reunions will be terrific!!
Jerry Hester, President
Outgoing President’s Message – October 2019
My three-year term as Association President ended with the Salt Lake City, 20th anniversary reunion. It has been fun, at times stressful, but most of all it has been “rewarding”. I’m so proud to be part of the Association, and to have had your faith and encouragement to keep it going. And that we did!
One of the most “interesting” events for me this past year, was during the two-hour Membership Business Meeting on Sat. morning in SLC. We had the “spouses” join the “guys” – we were all in one room. The Board had talked since last year about changing the Association By-laws so that Associate Members (spouses and immediate family) can hold Board positions and vote. After I discussed this situation at the meeting, we had a vote. It was not unanimous, but a vast majority agreed. Our Associate members are now able to take direct action to help the Association thrive. Near the end of the meeting, we had to elect new Board members to fill-in the now open President, Secretary and one Member-at-Large positions. Not unexpected, V.P. Jerry Hester stepped up to President (now opening the V.P. position), and TWO Associate Members were voted in: Andrea Drzyzga as Secretary and Jenna Laird (Jerry’s daughter) as Member-at-Large. Without forgetting the V.P. position, Roy Davis accepted the nomination and was voted in. We have a full and well-staffed Board of Directors. Whew! I ended the meeting feeling really good. I’m still on the Board, now as “Prior President” (letting Larry Fletcher off the hook) and will continue to aid the well being of the Association.
We did some special things this year at the Sat. evening Awards Banquet: One was a special “Toast” offered by former Stinger NOS/NAV and author Larry Barbee to our family members who are veterans and/or currently serving, and to our Associates Members who support our efforts. The other special event was a 15-minute video presentation put together by Coordinator Chuck Williams and new V.P. Roy Davis. It was awesome, our history and mission and a memorial to our brothers lost in combat. There was not a dry-eye in the audience! Yet, one of the most difficult tasks I had arrived at the Awards Banquet. I presented this year’s “Above & Beyond Award”, posthumously, to a dear friend and hard-working Life Member, Robert LaRosa. Bob had died this past summer quite unexpectedly. I only hoped that his son, Tony LaRosa, was able to join us and accept his dad’s award, yet he could not. But, as good fortune still shines, Jerry Hester will deliver the Award to Tony in Arkansas as the Hester’s travel across that state.
One last noteworthy: Many attending this reunion took the 25 min drive to visit the Hill AFB Air Museum. It is a well-run, well-staffed, and apparently adequately funded facility. Many unique and detailed displays. YET, from some of us who voiced an opinion, they missed the mark. The AC-119s were NOT represented at all, and the story of the side-fining gunships was missing. I heard from Craig Corbett, former Stinger Gunner, that he talked with the museum curator and explained who we are and what we believe is missing in the facility. Well, the following day during my visit, I found the “Authorized Personnel Only” door and kind-of barged in on the museum director. After some minutes of explaining our story, he said something like “you guys are very serious, I had another bunch here yesterday (Craig’s group) saying the same stuff you are.” I left him my Association Business card, and wrote a two-page letter on Association letterhead to follow up. I’m pushing one of our Association’s goals: to better mark the place of the AC-119s in the history of the Vietnam War.
Carry on brothers . . . . Hope to see you all in Fort Walton Beach in 2020!
Mike Drzyzga, Past President
President’s Message – August 2019
“Time passes quickly if you are having fun”! Wow, ain’t that the truth! We are only a few weeks away from our special 20th anniversary reunion in Salt Lake City. The crunch is “on” with a load of last minute details to coordinate. Needless to say, with all that happened, my third year as President passed quickly. It was busy, but very rewarding to see what we have done. For all of you coming to SLC, I am so much looking forward to spending time with you. Also, we have over 11 new attendees who are our special 1st-timers!
Who all is Coming? Here’s the latest list; come join us:
Mario & Thelma Alfaro with Guests Anthony & Jessica Perez
Jim & Judi Alvis
Larry & Debbie Barbee
Frank & Shirley Bartlett
Jack & Carolyn Bastin
Tad & Tricia Berkebile
Liz & Dan Buss (Webmaster)
Bruce & Jo Anna Byrd
Pete & Brother Dean Chamberlain
Bob Connolly & Cathy Henry
Don & Peggy Craig
Dennis & Judy Davis with Daughter & Son-In-Law Sheri & Brett, & Grandsons Nane & Ben
Roy Davis & Paula Pascoe
Mike & Andrea Drzyzga
Dan & Kay Eramo
Allen & Judy Evans
Jim & Tina Farrell
Larry & Sue Fletcher
LeRoy & Rose Frahm
Lloyd & Mary Ellen Froelich
John, Victoria, & John Funk Jr
Ron & Patty Gilbert
Joe & Jan Goryl
Vern Hansen with Son Chuck
Jerry & Ellen Hester with Daughters Becky, Jenna Laird, & Granddaughters Amber & Aubrey Laird
Al & Helen Heuss
Ron & Carol Hinton
Baby Huey Hunter
Jake & Charlotte Jacobson
Wayne & Lynette Laessig
Ralph & Joyce Lefarth
Col Mac & Nancy Mac Isaac with Son JP
Dale & Jeanette Martin
Cleo & Joyce Mason
Charles & Elisabeth Meir with Son & Daughter-In-Law Louis & Andrea
Larry & Susie Ryslinge Mersek
Jim & Elaine Montgomery with Guests Bruce & Marlene Artis
John & Lynn Morrow
Larry & Lorrie Nelson
Dan & Geri O’Leary
Dan & Jacque Olson
Kenny & Judy Preston
Vern & Betty Raveling
Bob Reess with Guest Terry Brandfass
George & Becky Renfroe
Al Reynolds with Guest
Gary & Becky Rubingh
Jim & Christine Shope
Frank “Ski” Sledzinski & Yami Lust-Sledzinski
Jim Stewart with Guest
Greg & Lois Terral
Bill & Wilma Tyler with Daughter Cheree & Steve Bachmann
Loren & Judi Van Duyn
Dave & Mary Voisey
Chuck & Stefani Williams with children KateE, Hannah, Jack, James, Charlie, Alex, Matthew, & Elesa (Williams) Huibregtse
John & Laura Wolff
Hans & Karen Wurfel
Jim Yanacsek with Guest
Bill & Paula Zito
Here are a few items for your information.
- Due to personal matters, John and Laura Wolff have withdrawn their proposal for a reunion in 2021 in Omaha, NE. If the Association wants to continue this special event that gathers so many friends, families, air crews, and maintainers, we will need a proposal for reunion 2021, hopefully at this year’s Sat. morning business meeting in SLC.
- The 20th reunion T-Shirt program is a guns-hot success. The ordering window closed on August 7. There were more than 150 ordered on-line with a simple process established by Roy Davis. Job well done Roy! I’ll be wearing mine in SLC.
- Larry Barbee, Stinger 41 NAV/NOS, wrote a book years ago: “Gunship Chronicles – Stinger 41”. The book is now published, available on the Association’s web site in the “store” (yes we have a store) – Quartermaster’s page. I have not yet read it, but those that have said it is an engaging story – highly recommended. Larry will have them available in SLC, where I’ll buy one for my collection (and, Larry is donating all profits from these sales to our AC-119 Gunship Association) Oh, this project is also achieved by the effective skill and energy of Roy Davis.
Wishing you all a best of mid-summer 2019.
Mike Drzyzga, President 2016-2019
President’s Message – July 2019
Greetings fellow gunshippers, friends and family,
Happy summertime to all! I know there has been so much nasty springtime weather across the USA. Many of our associates felt some set-back from the weather. Hopefully your summertime will be enjoyable.
Excitement is growing for our reunion in Salt Lake City. Andrea and I have our flight reservations from Newark, NJ to Salt Lake City. As many email threads and Facebook posts demonstrate, we are looking forward to a special time with those that can attend. If you are already registered, and you do not see your buddies name on the Who’s Coming list, get on the phone and encourage them to attend. Our 20th anniversary will only happen once!
New Member of the Zipper Club. On June 4, I had five arteries by-passed during open heart surgery. All went well, and I am on the road to full recovery. I discovered that many of my friends and associates in this Association, and the American Legion, and the Senior Club in town, have a long incision down the chest that looks like a zipper, hence the “zipper club”. For those of you who caught this news on our Facebook Page, and sent lots of love, prayers and well-wishes – thank you! It has been difficult working while on pain meds, and I feel that I am falling behind. Nevertheless, your Board and all its committees are working full throttle to keep the Association moving in the correct direction. On a side note, it pains me to see in the past month so many of our senior members and families – serious illness, medical set-backs and losses. This is clearly a sign of the aging of our Associates, and in my mind, a very compelling reason to make it to the Salt Lake City reunion in Sept!
Successful “outreach” efforts. One of our very “busy” Associates is Ev Sprous. Ev took the initiative and has successfully located folks that we lost contact with. He started with the 71st SOS and unfortunately learned that the reason we lost contact is that our guys have passed. But, on a way happier note, he also made some contact with guys who didn’t know about us or reconnected with some who hadn’t updated their personal contact info. I spoke with a 71st/17th SOS Pilot who is thrilled we found him, and is coming to SLC (his 1st reunion), AND he is signed up to do a personal history video. Great job Ev, Thank You.
Personal Interview (Oral History) Videos. Here is a very newsworthy update. Almost all of the personal video interviews are easily viewed from an easy to get-to link: https://island-escape.com/AC119/. The Association’s web site is gaining more and more functionality, and it needed a reorganization to put all our history book stories, interviews, and other stories on one page. A big Thank You goes to Roy Davis, with help from Everett Sprous and Jerry Hester to attain this achievement. Also remember that the Association is supporting new video sessions at the SLC reunion. Many reunion registrants have signed up already. I encourage you to help tell the story of the AC-119 gunships – do it not for yourself, but do it for your family’s history.
T-Shirts for 20th Anniversary Reunion: Since this is a special reunion, we decided to make a special t-shirt. These t-shirts can be ordered on-line until August 7th. The T-shirt orders are going strongly – as of this note, more than 80 are ordered. Woo-hoo!. The cost per shirt will be approximately $18.50 plus tax. There will be a small upcharge for shirts larger than XL. The shirts will be available for pick up at the reunion. If you’re not planning to pick up your t-shirt at the reunion, you will have to pay for shipping when you order. If you have any questions call Roy Davis at 253-549-2044 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. LAST DAY TO ORDER IS AUGUST 7TH. Link: https://www.customink.com/g/wvq0-00bu-h3fe You can also find a link to this Order Form on the Association Web-site under the Quartermaster’s page
July 2019 Firing Circle: We are working on a full-featured July Newsletter. One of the featured stories is the 50th Homecoming Anniversary celebration of the 71st SOS reservists return to Columbus, ID. Thank you to Jim Alvis for writing a super summary of this very special event. Keep scanning your inbox!
That’s it for now,
Yours in Service,
Mike Drzyzga, President 2016-2019
President’s Message – April 29, 2019
Greetings, fellow AC-119ers, families and friends: Happy springtime to all! Spring is finally in bloom in NJ, and the warmer weather is welcome over the gloomy, short winter days. This message is a Newsletter FLASH, a Facebook post, and an upload to the Association’s website. I feel it’s important to have the REUNION XX REGISTRATION Launch for Salt Lake City be a “focused” announcement. I know many of you wondered if you missed the announcements – nope, but the time is here. Beyond this, I will work with Editor Don Luke to send a full-featured Firing Circle soon.
Registration is live on-line!! After LOTs of work, we’re ready, and the Reunion information flyer provides EVERYTHING you need to know, plus we tweaked our website to make the process as easy as possible for you. The flyer certainly should be printed as a hard copy, for you to have as a handy reference. Wayne Laessig and our Webmaster Liz Buss have my utmost gratitude for putting in the time and effort to get it done. There were many unforeseen delays that resulted in a process that took much longer than imagined. Next year it shall be much quicker. I encourage you to go to https://www.ac119gunships.com/reunion/upcoming-reunion/ and carefully read all about the activities associated with our Reunion in Salt Lake City.
LET’S CELEBRATE: Reunion Coordinator Chuck Williams is giving us a grand event, something special to celebrate our Association’s 20th Anniversary Reunion, and our 50 years of special “brotherhood” as AC-119ers. This dual anniversary will never happen again. What I hear as I meet and talk with you, and what I see on Facebook, is that you love the bonds that we formed and the brotherhood we share. So, let’s reunite in SLC, and make this reunion something special! I am sure it will be. The venue hosted by the Little America Hotel is properly elegant for our anniversary reunion. The fresh food is prepared on the spot for us, the hotel amenities are the best, the hootch is very large and well arranged, and the hotel staff will be doing all the leg work for refreshment resupply missions. It will be a pleasure to be more “catered to.”
Publicity: Time to spread the word and gather together as many of us as possible in SLC. Board members Cash McCall and Jim Dunn sent out the reunion announcements to a dozen military related publications. Also, Chuck Williams has a very well formatted “publicity” news release that he will use throughout his military contacts, and with local outlets. Nevertheless, we (you and me) can also reach out to our buddies, former hootch and crew mates, and our AC-119 email contact lists, and make this Reunion special.
President’s thoughts regarding local social tours: The Association embraced having a “tour coordinator” create this additional reunion activity to make the reunion more interesting to everyone. It is very effective, with past reunion tours well attended and well liked. Andrea Drzyzga accepted the challenge again this year. She began at the end of February. Without venting here all the details, we faced a huge communications breakdown on three fronts. The result was that on April 15, after 6 weeks of effort, the tour for Thursday night that I have been writing about–to attend the Tabernacle Choir rehearsal at Temple Square–was CLOSED to the public. An apology came with an explanation that they were locking down to assure the security of their Church’s President visit. Therefore, without delaying the reunion registration launch any longer, we now plan on only one formal tour: a great Sunday bus trip to historic Main Street, Park City, UT. PLEASE check out the Tour flyer linked on the website reunion page. There is also much to see and do in Salt Lake City, beyond “hootch time” and our routine formal events, some of which is discussed in the reunion flyer.
Looking ahead: The Association’s Board members engage in monthly teleconferences, discussing and brainstorming current events and the future. One thing ahead is a super reunion XXI in November 2010 in Fort Walton Beach, FL. Gus Sininger indicated that our legacy USAF units at Hurlburt, the 18th FTS and 73rd SOS Shadows, are eager to have us visit. Also ahead, for me, is the end of my third year as President. As the Association’s by-laws allow, I intend to relieve Larry “Doc” Fletcher from the “Past Presidents” position, and I will start working now with the Board to seek a qualified new President for 2020. With your support, we will keep the AC-119 Gunship Association vibrant and moving forward.
“With sails unfurled,”
Mike Drzyzga, President 2016-2019
President’s Message – March, 2019. Greetings fellow Gunshippers. Hope this finds you all well.
All is well as the AC-119 Gunship Association navigates its way through 2019. Your Board is fully engaged with a few projects, most importantly finalizing plans for our Salt Lake City Reunion in Sept. This, our 20th anniversary reunion, is expected to be more elegant, in a beautiful facility, the Little American Hotel. The Board has embarked on a plan to obtain donations and sponsorships in order to keep the costs as low as possible for attendees, to allow us to continue to offer incentives for our special families to attend, and to continue to support the Association’s primary mission. We are offering an opportunity for anyone to help out. Follow this link to learn more: Become an AC-119 Gunship Association Sponsor.
Keep scanning for an April Firing Circle Newsletter. It will be published with any and all updated information, plus new news. There will be info regarding some events with our active legacy squadrons, and info about the need for veterans to push into the VA’s benefit programs, including getting on the national database Agent Orange registration.
I am pleased to say that our Facebook membership continues to increase. Many “lost” fellow AC-119ers and family are appearing and sharing. Thanks again to the FB team for keeping it active.
See you all in Salt Lake City…..Until next time…
Mike Drzyzga, President 2016-2019
President’s Message – February 20, 2019. Greetings, fellow AC-119ers.
As expected, your Board of Directors is working diligently to tweak-up plans for the Salt Lake City, UT reunion, Sept. 3–8, 2019. We are meeting monthly by teleconference and tackling issues as they arise. Reunion Coordinator Chuck Williams is planning for a special event to recognize our 20th anniversary reunion, and wow…..50 years of brotherhood. I am expecting Reunion XX in SLC to be awesome.
The previous Firing Circle did not have many reunion details, so we are blasting out a FLASH message to provide a lot more information. I am sure many of you are waiting for the registration process to go on-line. We are finalizing a few critical components before we can. (1) We have secured an Associate Member of the Association, who helped with tours in the past, to help with making tour arranges for this year, and (2) the IT team, headed by Wayne Laessig and new webmaster Liz Buss, have to first update a few of our web site “service modules” before we can get the registration page up and running. This is an internet issue that many well-established web sites are experiencing.
Chuck is asking for a number of volunteers at the reunion to: (1) help with organizing the Sat. night auctions, (2) welcome and sign-in attendees at the hotel registration desk, and (3) “watch-over” the Hootch if/when any Association Board members may not be present. We will have sign-up sheets available for those who are willing and able to help.
In closing, I cannot help but let “some cats out of the bag.” The next full Firing Circle will have information about Larry “Doc” Fletcher’s “Association History Project,” and an outstanding return-on-investment with an outreach effort by Everett Sprous (Membership Coordinator) and new member Roy Davis. (We are in contact with many new or “lost” AC-119ers.)
“Chance favors the prepared mind.”
Mike Drzyzga, President 2016–2019
President’s Message – January 2019. Happy New Year! The New Year is starting off well for the Association. The Board of Directors is very active, using teleconference meetings combined with lots of email traffic, to keep the “pipper” on our Association business targets. We are fortunate to have a hard-working and dedicated bunch of former gunshippers to help keep us moving forward. The Association website improvements are being implemented by Wayne Laessig with the assistance of a new “volunteer” IT support specialist, Liz Buss. Of special importance, the website updates are crucial to get the reunion registrations page ready.
PLEASE make the time to visit our Web site, www.ac119gunships.com, and look at the wealth of information, as well as the Quartermaster page. Our Salt Lake City Reunion Coordinator, Chuck Williams, is busy moving forward with plans for a super Reunion XX, in Utah. We are also fortunate to have your leadership team enhanced with Don Luke, the Newsletter Editor. He published the November Firing Circle – very well done! A January Firing Circle is forthcoming and will have lots of updated information and more details for you.
Now, my shout-out for our Facebook team. There is a lot of valuable info being shared on Facebook. It is probably not appropriate to single out any one thing in particular. However, I will do so. Former Shadow Maintainer Jim Alvis did an entire series of Facebook posts describing the days of his Shadow ferry experience from St. Augustine, FL (where the “slicks” were converted into AC’s) to Nha Trang on the 50th Anniversary of the flights, very cool. I understand that there is a lot of junk (to put it mildly) on social media websites, but “OUR” Facebook page is very well managed!
Wishing “yous-guys” a great 2019. See ya in Salt Lake City in September.
Mike Drzyzga, President 2016–2019