Bruce Nordwall coordinated the planning for the 2008 pilots reunion in Santa Rosa, CA.
Shown above at the 2006 reunion discussing possibilities with Cathy Graham




Greetings Tromboners,              


As those of you who attended know, we had a grand and relaxing time at Santa Rosa.  I’ll relate some highlights to wet the whistle (of those who missed it) for the next one – San Antonio in 2010.


The Fountaingrove Inn in Santa Rosa is a lovely little resort.  Very attractive hotel – in fact the lobby was really memorable.  Rooms were nice too, the weather was perfect and the pool was a treat, as John Upthegrove can attest.


Everyone rolled in throughout Tue afternoon, Oct. 14.  Cyndi and John Upthegrove and Joceile and I arrived the day before to take care of some preparations, such as stocking the Ready Room with food and drinks.  Gordy Baker presided as the resident and “Mayor” of our large Ready Room (suite).  By the time the flight crews mustered in the RR late in the afternoon we were ready.


Attending were:  Gordy Baker, Dave Bitonti, Malcolm Gay, King and Cathy Graham, Bill and Mary Lou Kantor, Jerry and Judy Laberteaux, Bill and K. Kaye Lewis, Phil and Karen Oppedahl, Carlys Phillips, John and Cyndi Upthegrove, Rod Wharton, John and Jan Wurth, and Joceile and me.


Arrivees were greeted with a commemorative nametag and a set of portable Lexan wine glasses with VS-29 logo, just right for tailgates and picnics.  With a bounty of hors d’oeuvers and liquid refreshments, the reunion kicked off in high spirits.


Wednesday was our “flex” day for wine tasting, sightseeing or just relaxing.  Groups launched mid-morning in a number of directions – something like the old wagon wheel sector search patterns, except we used suggestions from seasoned wine-county hands and local literature.  We had another beautiful day.  Some of us went to V. Sattui Winery in St. Helena, which we’d heard a lot about.  We tasted, bought and enjoyed lunch outside before pushing off for the Castello di Amorosa that King had raved about.  It’s an incredible recreation of a medieval Tuscan castle, 121,000 sq. ft made with hand chiseled local stone,  200-year-old hand-made European bricks and beautiful frescoes and art work.  John Wurth has some great pictures, or you can Google it.


King and some others headed for the Russian River wineries, which he’d said were the source of some of the finest Pinot Noir.  Based on a smooth bottle of Rochioli that he brought back he didn’t exaggerate.


The VS-29 Ready Room was the scene for another gathering Wednesday evening, as everyone relaxed after a hard day of touristing and wine tasting.  We’d bought so much food for the first night that there was plenty for a second go-round, washed down with samples of the various wines that had just been purchased.  On his way back to the hotel Dave Bitonti had picked up some tasty barbeque, which was a nice addition to the larder.  We all assembled early to catch the televised Presidential Debate, which we’d cleverly arranged for the evening’s entertainment. Phil Oppedahl set the stage with some ground rules to keep partisan rivalries from getting out of hand and sounding like something from the JO bunkroom.  It worked.  There was plenty of good-natured ribbing but people from both camps had a good time.  When the TV debate concluded, Phil staged our own, selecting John Upthegrove to speak for Obama and Rod Wharton to present the McCain view.  Despite no advance warning, both rose to the occasion and did very well.  The subsequent straw vote came out something like 16 for McCain and 4 for Obama.


Thursday, our last day, was also one free for individual choice.  Sight seeing and visiting more wineries were popular while some lounged at the hotel and around the pool swapping TINS tales of the old days. Others connected with friends or relatives in the area.  Don’t think anyone played golf or went for a run with John U.  That evening we rendezvoused at 5:30 for our wrap-up event at the Lyon Ranch in Sonoma.  Cyndi and John U. arranged this unique location for our dinner.  The ranch is run by their friends Rob (flew F-8s and then was a Western / Delta pilot) and Robin (was a Western / Delta flight attendant.)  They have been rescuing abandoned and neglected animals for over seven years.  Five years ago they decided to take animals to nursing homes and hospitals to cheer up patients.  Starting with cats, dogs and parrots, they progressed to miniature horses and donkeys.  (More beautiful varieties of parrots than I’d seen.)  Robin talks to the animals, like Dr. Dolittle, and they respond.   After reading a report about veterinary students in New York working with a camel as a therapy project, she decided that with her bachelor’s degree in behavioral science she could train a camel to interact with the sick and elderly.  Robin now takes Kazzy, her 1,100 lb camel, into nursing homes and people love her.  Since camel hair does not have dander, people who are allergic to cats or dogs have no problem with Kazzy.   (

 The Lyons set up their “barn” for our banquet.  No longer housing animals it was an attractive and classy venue, and so clean you could eat off the floor.  The catered

6-course banquet was exceptional.    But the highlight was the tour from Rob and Robin and meeting all their exotic birds and animals.  We ended the evening sitting around a campfire.  What a terrific way to end our Wine Country reunion!  Of course back at the Fountaingrove Inn some did muster in the bar for a night-cap, but not being as young as we were in our squadron days, many just turned in. 


Friday morning saw staggered departures as some of us headed for home base, and others took circuitous routing to see more country.  All in all I think it was a successful reunion.

But we’d be remiss if we didn’t recognize the terrific work Cyndi and John Upthegrove did in finding the Fountaingrove Inn, arranging for our banquet at the Lyon Ranch, and signing up our excellent caterer, Martha  Heyerly.  Bravo Zulu Cyndi and John.


Everybody helped in one-way or another, so to all who attended, thanks for your contributions and participation. 


© Bruce Nordwall