Thursday, January 26, 2012

Recipient of 2011 Lifetime Achievement Award Shares his Experience

Below is an excerpt from the December 2011 edition of Flightline, the official Newsletter of the 780th Bomb Squadron of WWII. We wanted to share this specific article with you all because it holds a very special place in our hearts as it was written by a recipient of AFA's 2011 Lifetime Achievement Award. George Kuchenbecker, along with four other men, representing the heavy bombardment crews of World War II were the recipients of one of AFA's most esteemed awards! This particular award recognizes not a single achievement, but a lifetime of work in the advancement of aerospace.

His article captures his experience, his excitement and his gratitude of being honored at the annual ceremony that concluded the 2011 Air & Space Conference. Enjoy!

Saluted by Four Star Generals: ‘Cookie’ Receives Lifetime Achievement Award by AFA on Behalf of 15 AF Flyers

by George Kuchenbecker

In July I was asked by the Air Force Asso­ciation to speak at their annual conference and trade show and to be awarded their “Lifetime Achievement Award” in recognition of my WWII service as a bomber crew member in the 15th Air Force. The conference was held September 19-21, in Washington, D.C., at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center. 

The invitation included Gloria with all our travel and hotel expenses paid by the AFA. That was a great benefit as the room rate at the Gaylord is $299 a night. Most of our meals were also covered by the AFA. All we had to pay for was incidental food and some keepsakes for us and the gifts we bought for the grandkids. 

We left Seattle early on September 18th and spent our first night in the Gaylord. Monday the 19th the rush of activities started with get­ting our name tags from the AFA suite and meeting all the AFA people we had worked with to get to the event. Then the endless pa­rade of new faces. Not possible to remember faces and names. 

This year the AFA was giving its Lifetime Achievement Award to the heavy bombard­ment crews of WWII, “recognizing a lifetime of work in the advancement of aerospace,” ac­cording to their letter to me. Four WWII Army Air Corps veterans were invited - one from each major theater of combat. A pilot from the 8th Air Force in England represented Northern Europe, me from the 15th AF in Italy for South­ern Europe, a 13th AF B-29 pilot who flew out of Tinian in the Pacific bombing Japan and island bases on the road to Tokyo, and finally a B-24 ball turret gunner who flew in the CBI, flying missions in Burma and Southeast Asia.

Our first scheduled event Tuesday was a fo­rum with the four of us speaking to the entire group in attendance. A large number of those we spoke to were U.S. Air Force personnel, all in their dress blues. There were more four-star generals than I had ever seen before, and all wanting to shake our hands. Some of the fe­males were in their formal uniforms with long blue skirts. Quite a sight. The forum lasted about an hour and a half and then it was din­ner time. We dined at McCormick & Schmick's, right on the banks of the Potomac River. Our host was Doug Birkey, the AFA man who set up the whole event, and some of the AFA peo­ple that worked with him. Bunch of really great people. 

Wednesday started with a stop at the Jos. A. Bank store to pick up our rental tuxes which the AFA paid for. We spent most of the day explor­ing the Gaylord and some of the D.C. sights. Then the big event - a huge banquet for about 1400 guests. Formal attire for all. Great food and very well served. Then the awards presentation with lots of Air Force brass, many high-level executives from Air Force suppliers including Boeing and Air Bus, plus many smaller compa­nies that supply most of the nuts and bolts that make the Air Force run.

After dinner was the awards. After many speeches and rec­ognitions of dignitaries it was time to present the Lifetime Achievement Awards. There were five to be presented. My group was next to last and the four of us took our place on the stage. The perpetual tro­phy for the award is a large crystal ball engraved with the AFA logo and several turns of silver cord around it. Our names will be placed on its pedestal. Unfortunately, there were no small replicas for the recipients. 

Then the party began. In that huge ballroom many came up to shake our hands and say thanks for what we had done so long ago. There were five four-star generals in the group and each sought us out indi­vidually, came to attention in front of us, popped a brisk sa­lute and shook our hand. They spent a few minutes asking the what and where questions about our service, thanked us for our service and made way for the next person to speak to us. It's hard to imagine a lowly staff sergeant being saluted by a four-star general!

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