April 16, 2014 Edition

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Melissa Logan (from left), Billie Lane Brewer, Shelly Logran, all of Minnesota, and Karen and Jan White of Michigan traveled in to attend the 16th annual Airfield Reunion over the weekend. The visitors took a tour of the airport, Williams Baptist College and other sites across Walnut Ridge on Friday.
TD Photo ~ Megan Heyl

Airfield Reunion draws many visitors

Megan Heyl
Staff Writer

Several traveled in from out of state to attend the 16th annual Airfield Reunion at the Walnut Ridge Regional Airport over the weekend. In addition to exploring the airport and Wings of Honor Museum, they also took in a tour of the surrounding area, including Williams Baptist College and Beatles Park.

Recalls time of war

Billie Lane Brewer came in from Minnesota with her two daughters, Melissa Logan and Shelly Logran, to revisit the place where she spent her youth.

She was a junior in high school when the Second World War started. She spoke about how her little town, which she figured only had a population of about 1,500 at the time, was suddenly overrun with thousands of men.

She said the city had rallied together to provide housing for the increased population.

"Everybody's life changed when the war started," Brewer said. She herself started attending dances in the USO and danced with the soldiers stationed here. She said it wasn't something she thinks any girl that age would expect to do.

She had even bought a special dress to dance in. She recalled working at Sterling's, where she would earn a dollar for a nine-hour day. She would then take that money to make payments on the dress.

"I'd work every Saturday at the store, go home and take a quick bath and go out and dance until 12 that night," Brewer said.

She said she has enjoyed revisiting the area. She recalled different properties her grandfather, William Lane, used to own, including his house, which is now the Cox-Fears Funeral Home.

She said she missed the old town but hopes the recent efforts to revitalize the area will continue.

Remembers fallen uncle

Jan White also came in for the reunion. He and his wife, Karen, traveled in from Traverse City, Mich.

Jan said his uncle on his mother's side was based in Walnut Ridge for flight training. Eugene Lenz was born in 1924 and, like many at the time, joined the army after graduating from high school.

It was in 1943 that he enlisted in the Army and began basic training, and in February of 1944, he was transferred to Walnut Ridge for flight training.

In April of that year he went on a routine flight with his commanding officer. They lost control of the plane and both lost their lives; Lenz was 19 at the time.

"It was devastating for Mom's family," Jan said.

Due to the rush to train soldiers during the war, many lost their lives in this way and others were sent out with minimal training.

Jan said he's enjoyed learning about the history of the area and had his camera on hand while he toured the airport and city of Walnut Ridge.

"I've always wanted to come down here and picked this year to take the plunge," he said.

Many gather to celebrate freedom

In addition to Brewer and Jan, many gathered to participate in different activities over the weekend at the airport.

Friday's theme was "Celebrating Our Freedom," and 55 people attended the annual reunion dinner that evening. Over $1,000 was raised for the Wings of Honor Museum at the silent auction.

"Honoring Our Warriors" was the theme on Saturday, and about 60 pilots attended the safety meeting and 45 planes participated in the fly-in that afternoon.

Harold Johnson, museum director, said, "It was a great weekend and we were thrilled with the attendance, and we just hope for bigger and better things next year."

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