While the sights and sounds of giant B-52s flying over Goldsboro will not be present and have not been since the 51st Bomb Squadron was deactivated in 1982, some familiar yet older faces will return for a squadron reunion Oct. 31 through Nov. 3.
The event will be the 51st Bomb Squadron’s first gathering in over four decades.
The reunion will feature welcoming receptions, dinners, base briefings, tours, golf, and many recollections and memories.
When the affectionately labeled “BUFFs” departed, the crew members were assigned to other flying and staff positions throughout the United States.
Some personnel, nearing the end of their careers, retired from active duty, flew for the airlines or found other jobs, and a few stayed locally.
In those pre-Facebook, pre-email, and pre-unlimited cell minutes days, most lost contact with comrades with whom they shared countless experiences in a unique aircraft.
They flew long and demanding missions and pulled numerous week-long alert tours, living in the “mole hole” on base and responding to the “klaxon” while never knowing if it was the “real thing” until reaching the aircraft, starting engines, and monitoring the radios.
Thankfully, it never was.
For most of the arrivals in the 51st at Seymour Johnson, it was their first assignment after flying training.
They were new pilots, navigators, electronic warfare officers, and gunners, so squadron and flying life, not to mention life in eastern N.C., was unique and had a lasting impact.
“Those of us who were assigned to Seymour Johnson before the unit was deactivated, the 68th bomb wing, that was our first assignment,” said former Seymour Johnson B-52 pilot Tom Moncure. “When we arrived we were fresh out of pilot training, navigator training, technical school, and electronic warfare officer training. We were mostly young, some people came in experienced, but most of the people attending this reunion, it was their first assignment.”
Retired Brig. Gen. Gary Ambrose has fond memories of his time at Seymour Johnson.
”Seymour Johnson is special for my family and me. I served with both the 4TFW and the 68BW in two separate assignments. We bought our first home in Goldsboro, and our first child was born here,” said Ambrose. “Through 16 assignments in 27 years, Goldsboro was ‘home,’ wherever the Air Force sent us.”
Former B-52 pilot, and reunion committee chair Greg Gorniak, hosts a Facebook page that has attracted a lot of attention from former crew members and those working in maintenance and other areas of the 68th Bomb Wing. Gorniak is also Moncure’s former co-pilot.
The wing, active from April 15, 1963, until Sept. 30, 1982, shared the base with its host, the 4th Tactical Fighter Wing.
“Clearly, the fighter and bomber aircrews were from vastly different cultures and flying experiences, but there were a lot of Vietnam veterans in both wings,” said Gorniak. “Located on different sides of the base, there wasn’t a lot of interaction between the bomber and fighter worlds, except when occasionally vying for priority on Seymour’s single runway.”
The reunion it kicks off with hotel registration and a social on the afternoon of Tuesday, Oct. 31.
On Wednesday and Thursday, there will be a variety of presentations and tours conducted by representatives of the 4th Fighter Wing, the 916th Air Refueling Wing, and Boeing, who built the B-52 of 1982 and the KC-46 of 2023.
Additionally, there will be tours of base facilities both familiar and new to the reunion attendees, a tour of the KC-46 aircraft, a history presentation of Seymour Johnson units, and a presentation on the 1961 B-52 crash of a nuclear-loaded aircraft near Goldsboro.
Evening reunion banquets are planned at two local restaurants familiar to the attendees, and a reunion golf outing is scheduled at Walnut Creek Golf and Country Club on Friday, Nov. 3.
Gorniak said he welcomes all former unit members to the reunion and hopes the word spreads to others, not on the email list or Facebook.
“Everyone knows someone that they have kept in touch with, and we hope that boosts turnout,” said Gorniak.