2004 Night Rustic Reunion Review
by Don Mercer – Rustic 41
The first Night Rustic reunion was held October 20-25 beginning with a pool party and dinner on Wednesday evening, October 20, at the Wyndham Fort Lauderdale Airport Hotel hosted by Bob Harris – Rustic 33. The party moved inside for awhile due to thunderstorms in the area and resumed at the pool later in the evening.
Dave Dekoker – Rustic 32 – had worked diligently for close to a year along with Dick Roberd’s (Rustic 21) wife, Marcy, to coordinate a 5 day - 4 night cruise on the Royal Caribbean International ship Enchantment of the Seas. Bob Harris had coordinated with a staff reporter, Ken Kaye, at the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, who wrote an article about our reunion after having interviewed several of us by phone in the preceding weeks. The article, published on October 20, awaited us as we arrived in Fort Lauderdale.
Sixteen Night Rustics and their ladies boarded the ship on Thursday, October 21, beginning at 2 PM. All sixteen were very thankful to have Lynette Hagle join us in honor of her late husband, Don Hagle (Rustic 40) on the First Night Rustic reunion cruise! By 5 PM we were departing the port at Fort Lauderdale. Shortly thereafter we were all treated to the results of tremendous efforts expended by Dave Dekoker and two pilots of “Warbird” O-2A aircraft.
As we headed for the open sea, two restored O-2s made a twenty-minute flyby of the ship that provided quite a thrill – and surprise – for all the Night Rustics as well as many of the others on board. The coordination required in these days of Homeland Security and FAA vigilance, along with other related issues, was immense and kudos especially go to Dave Dekoker.
After their flyby, the O-2 pilots then headed for Key West, which was the first destination of our cruise. Don and Noreen Mercer hosted a “Bon Voyage” party in the lounge atop the ship on Thursday evening.
On arriving in Key West on Friday morning, the pilots, with assistance from their accompanying maintenance team – Denny Labbe, Don Neiser, Larry Good and Mark Oliver – provided rides to many in our group. After some 33 years it was grand to fly down the channel by the ship at 500 feet with Key West in the background and take a few pictures. Following the flights, a rendezvous was held at Jimmy Buffett’s restaurant and bar, “Margaritaville.”
Friday night brought with it the formal dinner followed by the presentation of the Air Medal for a mission flown on July 5, 1971, and Aircrew Member Badge – “wings” – to Don Dorr, our intelligence officer on the night shift at Bien Hoa. As with other recognition for which we have succeeded in obtaining approval, this was long overdue and well deserved. Dick Roberds officiated at the awards ceremony held in a conference room on board as we were underway for Cozumel, Mexico. O-2A owners Don Neiser and Denny Labbe offered thoughtful comments at the conclusion of the ceremony, which were greatly appreciated by us all.
Once in Cozumel on Saturday morning some headed into town while a sizable contingent gathered on a catamaran at a nearby dock to snorkel. Those having a higher level of intelligence (translated as thirstier as well as those having a respect for man-eating things) stood shark watch and protected the beer and margaritas – not necessarily in that order. After snorkeling (or standing guard) for a half-hour, we then sailed to a beach for an additional hour of basking in the sun before returning to the ship.
Those on board – some 80+ in all together with the crew – were treated to our group’s performing on the catamaran’s deck to the tune of “YMCA” with valiant (but unsuccessful) attempts at coordinating the arm movements. This scene was accompanied by a conga line that proceeded under the cruise director, sitting atop the bar, who was pouring margaritas – that is, aiming for open mouths – as each person passed by. Needless to say, it was a most enjoyable excursion. We did forego carrier landings thankfully. However, some pictures of this trip and other activities are “classified” so I’ve been told.
By 8 PM Saturday evening we were casting off for the return trip of 36 hours at 20+ knots to Fort Lauderdale. The ship, a 74,000-ton vessel of Norwegian registry, was a superb host for our reunion. Everything from a casino, shops, buffets at all hours, a couple art auctions with champagne provided and grand views along the way – sunrise over the mountains of western Cuba and the moon setting over Key West on the return – provided a fantastic reunion and trip.
On Sunday evening, a brief business meeting was held to discuss the feasibility of future gatherings. Lynette Hagle also treated us to 20 minutes of film that Don had taken while a Rustic and on his TDY in support of Lam Son 719 over Laos. Steve Hopkins (Rustic 45) provided Reunion caps with reunion t-shirts provided by Dave Dekoker and Don Mercer.
Those in attendance were: Dick & Marcy Roberds; Jim & June Hetherington; Drake &
Suzi Greene; Mick & Mary Gibbar; David & Linda Hull; Dave & Sue Dekoker; Bob Harris and Jeanie Ralston; Mike & B Thrower; Larry & Pat Driskill; Frank & Maggee Sovich; Merle & Margaret Shields; Jack & Judy Strickland; Don & Noreen Mercer; Steve & Karin Hopkins; Damon & Mary Gonzalez; Don & Jan Dorr; and Lynette Hagle. The O-2 crews who joined us in Key West for the remainder of the cruise were also accompanied by their wives: Connie Neiser; Gail Labbe; Joyce Good; and Karen Oliver.
It just doesn’t get any better!!!!!!