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80th Anniversary Reunion:

Reunion Calendar | Reunion Photos | 1999 Cruise Video | 80th Anniversary Links

TopHatters turn 80

by Lt. Jim Stanley,
VF-14 Public Affairs Officer

Former Commanding Officers!

Tophatter skippers meet at the 80th reunion dinner: (l-r) Cmdr. Luke Parent, retired Cmdr. Mark Checchio, Capt. Jon Snyder, Capt. J. J. Morrow, retired Cmdr. Ted Kujawski, current VF-14 Commanding Officer Cmdr. Ted Carter, Capt. Dan Chopp, retired Capt. Bud Dougherty and retired Capt. Ken Stafford.

Months of planning culminated Nov. 4-6 for the Tophatters of Fighter Squadron Fourteen as they played host to over 300 alumni and friends at their eightieth anniversary reunion.

The Tophatters officially started their reunion on a chilly morning Thursday, Nov. 4, at the Aeropines Golf course onboard NAS Oceana. Initially delayed due to the ground frost from overnight temperatures below 32 degrees, the tournament began at 9 a.m. with a quick welcome from Cmdr. Ted Carter, the commanding officer of VF-14. Fifteen four-man teams competed for prizes in a "best-ball" tournament that had the winning team 9 under par. Former Tophatters were teamed with current Tophatters to give everyone a chance to share sea stories as well as golfing advice. Unfortunately, no one was able to make the elusive hole-in-one on the 8th hole to win a brand new Chrysler Sebring convertible, but there were some close shots. The "closest to the pin went to Cmdr. Alton "Roscoe" Ross from the VF-101 Grim Reapers. The members of the winning team were Tophatter alumni NAS Oceana Executive Officer Capt. Shawn Smith, retired Cmdr. Ed Miller and retired Lt. Cmdr. Ronald Nash and Lt. Cmdr. Marcel Padilla, VF-14 safety officer.

click for photo!The following day, VF-14 opened the doors of its hangar to alumni and friends for an afternoon open house. Lt. Chad Spencer was the first to welcome them at the check-in table and the squadron First Class Association, led by AD1 Shirley Nicholson, provided delicious homemade food and refreshments. Alumni and friends were able to get a close-up view of the F-14A Tomcat flown in Operation "Allied Force". click for photo!Aircraft 201, loaded for combat with a GBU-24, sat inside the hangar near a historic F4U Corsair, flown to Oceana specifically for the Tophatter reunion. The Tophatters flew the F4U Corsair in the late 1940s and early 1950s, a time period that was well represented at the reunion by numerous alumni.

Upstairs in the Ready Room, Tophatter pilot Lt. Brian Gallagher stayed busy giving "briefings" to the alumni on the various missions flown during the course of their last deployment. Gallagher used charts depicting the Kosovo region and the country of Iraq, the two major theaters that the USS Theodore Roosevelt Battle Group operated in during the deployment, to explain the types of missions flown by the Tophatters. Get the 1999 Cruise Video Tape!In addition, he showed the Tophatter Cruise Video, produced by Lt. Kelly Federal, which features numerous shots of aircraft the squadron has previously flown, interviews of several aircrew, as well as flying and bombsight footage from Operation "Allied Force". Needless to say, the aviators of VF-14's past were impressed with the newest capabilities of the Strike Tomcat.

click for photo!To complete the afternoon at the squadron, Lt. Joe Alcorn and Lt. Greg Johnson, from the VF-101 Tomcat Demonstration Team, "borrowed" aircraft 200, the Tophatter 80th Anniversary jet, for a flight demonstration. click for photo!The show was spectacular and the alumni were duly impressed. After the show, alumni and Tophatters retired to the Oceana Officers' club for a cocktail party, where the last Tophatter was seen leaving the club that evening as the lights were being turned out.

click for photo!To complete their weekend event, the Tophatters decorated the officers club with every "lid" in the Hampton Roads area and hosted the alumni at a reunion dinner. click for photo!When the keynote speaker, retired Rear Adm. Frederick L. Lewis, took the microphone, he succinctly put the age of the squadron into perspective with this comparison: "Prohibition began in 1919," he said. "Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks were the King and Queen of Hollywood, and Woodrow Wilson, who was President, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for the League of Nations. If you went shopping for a luxury car in 1919 you would choose between a Packard, a Pierless or a Pierce Arrow."

The most memorable part of his speech involved audience participation to see what decades of Tophatter history the present alumni represented. He began with the 1990s, and a large number of Tophatters stood up, bolstered by the current-serving members of the squadron. But for each subsequent decade, another large group of retired aviators stood up, from 1980 all the way back to the 1940s. click for photo!In one short moment, the proud traditions and history of naval aviation and the effect these have on those who serve, was demonstrated to this hushed crowd, especially as Lewis recognized the two oldest Tophatters in the room, Earl Boison and retired Lt. j.g. Bob Holmbeck, 77, both of whom served in the squadron in 1945.

After Lewis' address, all the Tophatter alumni took the remainder of their time left together to reminisce about the "good-old days" and tell a few more sea stories. They thanked the current Tophatters for a great weekend, saying that they looked forward to the next reunion, in 2004. Although no one can say for sure where the 85th reunion of the Navy's oldest squadron will take place, all the alumni seemed proud to know that their service helped make the Tophatters the "Oldest and Boldest" squadron in the United States Navy.

see more Reunion Photos!
Current and former Tophatters mix and share sea stories in Hangar 200.

You can also see our 80th Anniversary Reunion Photos!

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VF-14 "The Oldest and Boldest"
Copyright 1999 VF-14 Tophatters