Sailors, vets finding Waterloo friendly port for reunions
Waterloo-Cedar Falls (Iowa) Courier
WATERLOO, Iowa --- Veterans of the USS Robinson were scratching their heads when Waterloo was proposed as a reunion site for them two years ago.
“We said, ‘Waterloo Iowa? What could we possibly do there?’" said Art Bowne, secretary of the USS Robinson Association.
They were singing a different tune when a Korean War-era shipmate who made the suggestion, Paul Reuter, who is from Waterloo, explained his sales pitch further.
“When we found out the history and how the five Sullivan brothers were from here, we were all very familiar with that," Bowne said. “And now here we are. It knocked out some other pretty prominent cities for our reunion.”
USS Robinson crew members are in town through Saturday for their annual reunion. The destroyer was commissioned during World War II, in early 1944 and saw combat in the Pacific at Tinian, Pelelieu, Leyte Gulf and the Philippines. It was called back to active duty during the Korea War, where it supported naval operations off that peninsula, helping rescue downed fliers and even serving as a flagship.
About 55 sailor-veterans plus families are participating in the reunion. Their itinerary includes tours at the Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Museum and the Grout Museum and visits to the Iowa Army National Guard air aviation support facility on Big Rock Road and John Deere tractor assembly operations East Donald Street.
The group will have a memorial service Saturday at Veterans Memorial hall downtown. Kelly Sullivan Loughren, a Cedar Falls schoolteacher and granddaughter and grandniece of the Sullivan brothers, will speak at a Saturday night banquet.
The association has had reunions on both coasts, Denver, Colo., Covington, Ky., and Branson, Mo. “We go to cities that are military friendly, such as here,” Bowne said. “You can feel it right here.”
The Waterloo Convention and Visitors Bureau continues to seek military reunions, said Lonnie Elmore, director of group sales. That effort began when the Sullivan museum opened in 2008.
The area’s connection with the Sullivan brothers continues to be a draw, Elmore said. The National Guard aviation facility, a helicopter installation, also is a popular attraction. It allows reunion veterans a chance to visit with present-day soldiers, exchange stories and gives the older vets a chance to sit in modern helicopter and get a feel for current equipment and weaponry.
Elmore said the Convention and Visitors Bureau has mailed 1,500 postcards through a military veterans reunion network to various groups. Several similar events are planned over the coming year.
A big one, scheduled a year from now, is a reunion of crew members of the massive aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, potentially bringing hundreds of sailors and families to the city.
Mike Butler of Waterloo, who served on that carrier from 1972-75, said the Sullivan museum and John Deere facilities were major attractions in bringing his old shipmates here. The association of USS Enterprise veterans recently reaffirmed plans to come here next fall.
Also, U.S. Navy Rear Adm. James D. Ramage, a highly decorated native of Waterloo, commanded the original USS Enterprise’s dive bomber squadron during World War II. Ramage passed away in August 2012.