Calendar | Reunion Photos | 1999
Cruise Video | 80th Anniversary Links
by Lt. Jim Stanley,
VF-14 Public Affairs Officer
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.
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". 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. 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
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. 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.
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. 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. 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.
Current and former Tophatters mix and share sea stories in Hangar
You can also
see our 80th Anniversary Reunion Photos!