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On Tuesday, 23 September 2003, twenty eight former crewmembers of the USS Surfbird and their guests gathered at the Settle Inn at Branson, Missouri to attend the first reunion to ever be held for a ship with a very long record of service in the U.S. Navy.  In the following paragraphs, I will attempt to document the activities that took place for three action filled days of visiting the sites around Branson and getting to know one another.

As I said earlier, the reunion was held at the Settle Inn.  The hotel is centrally located and very near many of the shows and sites.  The staff at the Settle Inn went out of their way to make sure our first reunion was a successful one and we appreciate their efforts.  Before I get too much further I also want to thank Ozark Mountain Sightseeing who was responsible for putting this reunion together and coordinating it.  They provided us with our very own coordinator/tour guide, Jim Dougherty and he did an excellent job of getting us to the different activities on or before the time we were scheduled and solved many problems long before we even knew they existed.

Day One

Although the reunion did not get underway until 2:00 PM when the Registration desk opened for early arrivals, many attendees arrived over the weekend and were sitting around the lobby getting to know one another. However, once the Registration desk and hospitality room opened, many others found their way there.  

I tried to get a picture of everyone that attended when they registered, but had to catch some of them at later events.

After registering, many shipmates gathered in the hospitality room to have a cool drink, meet new shipmates and renew old friendships.

At 6:30 PM everyone gathered in the hospitality room for "Get Re-Acquainted Social and Meal followed by some time for crewmembers to share some of their experiences on the Surfbird.

Day Two

At 9:00 AM on  Wednesday, we boarded the bus that would transport us to the various events scheduled through the day.  Our first stop was at the Branson Veterans Memorial Museum. If you haven't been to this museum, it is a must see if you are ever in the area.

Our next stop was for shopping, browsing and just sitting around shooting the breeze at Engler's Block.  This was billed as a stop for the ladies, but I noticed many of the guys doing a little shopping themselves.  Great place if you are the crafty type.

After lunch at Pie-Annies, we were treated to a great show at the Jim Stafford Theater.  Jim is every bit as talented today as he was back in his heyday and his family is following in this footsteps.  Like most of the shows we attended in Branson, our group was singled out for recognition.

After the show we returned to the hotel long enough to get freshened up, then it was back on the bus at 6:30 PM for the trip over to Table Rock lake for a memorial service and a dinner show on the Showboat Branson Belle.  After stopping for a quick group picture, we moved over to a beautiful park-like area near the Branson Belle pier for the Memorial service.  A color guard of veteran volunteers were already in place when we arrived and the service began as soon as everyone was in place.  At this point we were treated to a stirring tribute to our fallen shipmates given by one of the Surfbird plankowners, Ed Fournier.  Titled "A Tribute To The Crew & Their Ship", it was written by Ed with help from his brother who is a retired Coast Guard Captain. WELL DONE Ed!

After pausing near the Branson Belle gift shop area for some pictures we boarded the river boat for some excellent food, entertainment and fellowship.  For several years running, the Branson Belle has won the award for best dinner show in Branson and it doesn't take you very long to figure out why!

Day Three

After such a busy day two of the reunion, it was nice to just hang around the hospitality room for most of the day.  At 2:00 PM several of us attended an optional show (Shoji Tabuchi Show) and arrived back at the hotel just in time for a group photo's of the crew in attendance and another of the crew and the ladies.

At 7:00 PM our Master of Ceremonies Gary Geist opened our reunion banquet by ordering the posting of the colors by members of  a local American Legion Post.  After the colors were posted, they treated us to a great ceremony that explained what each fold in the flag represents as it was being folded.   Edward Williams then delivered the invocation.

After the flag ceremony, Larry Bennetts read an explanation for the Missing Man Table that had been set up on the podium.

An excellent meal was then served to a hungry crew and their guests.

After dinner, Ed Fournier spoke about what he went through to track down what happened to the Surfbird after it was sold.  He was followed by Commander Edward Williams who addressed the crew and their guests.  Jeanie Stout then took to the podium to conduct the drawings.

At 8:30 PM the first business meeting of the Surfbird Reunion Association was opened by yours truly.   After the decision was made to form an reunion association and to elect officers to plan and coordinate future reunions, the meeting was turned over to incoming President Waymond Sanders.  Minutes of the business meeting were taken and have been posted on the web page.

During the business meeting, a drawing for a Surfbird plaque was conducted and won by former Command Officer Edward Williams.  Commander Williams noting that he already had a similar plaque, donated it back to the association.  It was decided by those present that the plaque would be designated the Presidents plaque and would be held by the Association President until the end of his term, then be passed on to the new President.  Our sincere gratitude to Senior Chief Pam Velardi ETCS (Ret.) for her donation.  In an email I received from her, she said that she was "pleased that it will be in the right hands now" and that she was "delighted to put it in it's rightful place".

After the business meeting many hung around to visit with one another and to talk about future reunions. 

Now a few words from your Committee Chairman.  When I started to put the WEB page together almost six years ago, I did it only to see how many former crewmembers might be out there. In those days I thought I might find enough of you guys to get together in Reno or someplace else to swap sea stories and have a few drinks.  Year after year as the popularity of the internet grew, more and more of you found the web page and began to ask when we were going to have a reunion.  After it was obvious that it was time,  we conducted a few polls on the web page and you came up with Banson in September.  It was a step in faith and as usual the Surfbird crew came through.  

My thanks to my fellow committee members, Wes Chapman who has done this many times before and provided invaluable advice, Ed Fournier who gave moral support thoughout the planning and participated in several key areas and last but not least, Jerry and Jeanie Stout who did a super job coordinating our activities in Branson.  I think those that attended will agree that it was an action packed three days that we will remember the rest of our lives.

I also want to thank Larry and Dee Dee McMaster, Larry Bennetts and Tom Dannatt who were always there to lend a helping hand when we needed them.  To Gary Geist for agreeing to be the Master of Ceremonies for the banquet on extremely short notice and to Edward Williams who filled in everywhere we asked for his help.   To all the rest of the guys, too many to list here, that offered their help, thanks for offering.  The Surfbird has always had a reputation for having a tight crew and I see that over the years nothing has changed.  If I missed anyone, please forgive me.

We now have formed an association and elected officers.  I know we can once again count on you to get behind Waymond, Larry and Tom as they plan and carry out the activities of the association leading up to our next reunion in 2005.  You will find email addresses for each of them under the Association section of this web site.  Drop them a line to wish them well.  I know they will appreciate it.

To those that attended, thanks for was a blast!  To former crewmembers throughout the world, I leave you with these few words..........

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