Bloody Hundredth shares proud heritage as 100th ARW Airmen join WWII heroes at 100th BG reunion

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  • By Karen Abeyasekere
  • 100 ARW/PA

Square D pride filled the air as U.S. Airmen past and present gathered together for the 100th Bomb Group reunion in Dallas, Texas, Oct. 28 to 30, 2021. Seven 100th Bomb Group veterans formerly stationed at Thorpe Abbotts, Norfolk, England, during World War II, joyfully met with some of today’s Airmen from the 100th Air Refueling Wing, Royal Air Force Mildenhall.

Hosted by the 100th Bomb Group Foundation, the reunion has been regularly held over five decades for members of the original 100th Bombardment Group and their families. Everyone treated each other like they were one big family, and those from RAF Mildenhall were welcomed with hugs and warm conversation.

The veterans in attendance were John “Lucky” Luckadoo (the oldest veteran at age 99, yet still sharp as a tack and walking tall), Al Lochra, Al Arreola, John Clark, Jim Rasmussen, Joe Urice and Hank Cervantes.

“When the veterans first came over to RAF Mildenhall in 2012 when I was there, they captured my heart and I was just motivated to learn more about their stories and got to know them at a deeper level by coming to reunions. Then in 2019 they asked me to serve on the board,” said Tom Torkelson, 100th BGF board of directors member and former 100th ARW commander. “Now I feel like it’s even more of a responsibility to help extend their legacy, primarily to the active duty. I’m one of the few on the foundation board who isn’t a direct descendent of a 100th Bomb Group vet, and I was asked to help, to keep the connections with the active duty military, particularly the 100th Air Refueling Wing.

Torkelson recalled that the veterans’ visit in 2012 was memorable because it was then that the 100th Operations Group auditorium was renamed the “Rosenthal Auditorium” in honor of Lt. Col. Robert “Rosie” Rosenthal, the 100th BG’s most legendary B-17 Flying Fortress pilot, who flew 52 missions out of Thorpe Abbotts during World War II. Also, one of the KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft was given the nose art “Wolff Pack,” after Robert “Bob” Wolff, also a B-17 pilot at the 100th BG.

“I count that as my first 100th Bomb Group experience, and after that is when I started going to the reunions,” he said. “It took me too long as an Airman to understand the significance of what it means to serve; back in my early career I was very selfish-minded – I loved to fly, travel and move to these neat places, but that’s kind of a selfish perspective of what it means to defend our nation. So when I heard about real stories of sacrifice from the World War II era, it made me appreciate our uniform more, and the sacrifice of those men who came before. You can’t treat it casually – it’s about extending their legacy and making their sacrifice mean something. It helped me commit to what it means to serve.

“It’s amazing to see Airmen from RAF Mildenhall here at the reunion,” remarked Torkelson, who is now retired. “Selfishly it makes me feel young and connected, and brings me right back to when I was wearing those uniforms and those patches. Even more importantly, watching the vets appreciate their presence, and to see young Airmen looking at them with respect – that connects the long blue line. You can’t discount what you’re doing now – those veterans view you as an extension of their sacrifice. When I first met veteran Frank ‘Bud’ Buschmeier a few years ago, he was in a wheelchair and I was in service dress. I told him, ‘Sir, I just want to meet you and introduce myself. I consider you a hero and airpower legend’ – he got all teary and grabbed my service-dress sleeve and said, ‘You guys are the heroes! You are MY hero! I didn’t expect that, and it was a lump-in-the-throat moment. So remember, these veterans view us as heroes, and you’ve gotta own that and embrace it, and not discount it.”

The reunion included historical exhibits and visits to the Frontiers of Flight Museum and Cavanaugh Flight Museum in Dallas to see a variety of historic aircraft and WASP Symposium. The symposium celebrates the Women Airforce Service Pilots, and their important role in winning World War II. It brought together the extended “family” of those who share a love of the B-17 aircraft, 100th Bomb Group, and the squadrons within.

At past reunions, the 100th ARW has taken a KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft as a static display for attendees to look around, but due to mission requirements, it was unable to happen this year.

The 100th ARW Airmen listened in awe as the 100th BG veterans regaled them with war stories and their memories of life before, during and after World War II. As emotions ran high and eyes glistened regularly as the survivors brought their stories to life, the genuine pleasure and respect on both sides was obvious to see.

“I feel incredibly honored being here amongst the World War II survivors and living legends,” said Lt. Col. Thomas Risner, 100th Operations Support Squadron operations officer. “Even before I got to RAF Mildenhall, I was very fascinated with World War II history and always considered them the Greatest Generation. They all volunteered to go and defend their country and fight against tyranny and for freedom; coming to Mildenhall I’ve become more and more fascinated with learning more about it. It’s amazing to meet these men and their families – not just the names I’ve heard at Mildenhall, such as Crosby and Rosenthal, but also having this opportunity to meet some of the other vets who participated in such dangerous missions and actually meet some of them and sit down and talk with them; it’s an incredible honor.

“It’s important for the 100th ARW to have Airmen be part of the reunion because we are part of the Bloody Hundredth,” Risner remarked. “We continue that legacy and I think it’s very important that we participate and help to share those stories to keep the pride in that greatest generation, and that we keep it alive and keep it going. I think that’s one of the important things of these reunions in general, to continue those memories, even after the veterans are no longer with us. We stand on the shoulders of giants – their sacrifice and what they did is so incredibly important, and I think it’s vital we continue to honor them by doing the best that we can and to keep that going.”

The 100th Bomb Group earned its nickname of “The Bloody Hundredth” after enduring heavy losses during daylight bombing raids over Europe from June to October 1943. The 100th ARW took on the nickname to honor its proud heritage and the brave Airmen from Thorpe Abbotts who fought in World War II.

“I’m real happy to see the Air Force people here; I’ve been having a talk with them and I think they’re happy to be here,” said retired Tech. Sgt. Al Lochra, World War II and 100th Bomb Group veteran, and former radio operator gunner on a B-17 Flying Fortress. “I think it’s very important that Airmen today make a connection with the 100th Bomb Group, and they certainly have.

“I say to them, ‘Thank you for your service!’,” said the 96-year-old veteran. “People thank me for my service all the time, but that was 76 years ago! I just want to thank those who are engaged in serving our country today.”