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'Laredo Escadrille' Celebrates 50th Class Reunion

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLH, Texas -- As the Air Force pauses to contemplate the 40th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War, Laredo Air Force Base Class 66-E, one of the most decorated, and admittedly blessed, Undergraduate Pilot Training classes in the illustrious history of Air Education and Training Command will congregate at JBSA-Randolph next week for its own 50th anniversary reunion.

The Air Force flying training mission over the years has taken place at some very desolate Texas locations, from Pecos to Uvalde. Laredo was in comparison cosmopolitan, and the 66-E class appropriated its name from the illustrious Lafayette Escadrille on the 50th anniversary of its founding thinking they would also be pioneers of sorts, being the first class to fly the T-38 Talon. Unfortunately, the T-38s were not ready in time and the Laredo Escadrille trained instead on the venerable T-33 "T-Bird" aircraft.

They commenced training in January 1965, graduating in February 1966 and immediately joined the ranks of the Air Force at a very challenging and dangerous time as ROLLING THUNDER and the extended air campaigns of the Vietnam War reached their zenith. All 18 of the Laredo Escadrille survived the war--and indeed suffered no major aircraft accident or fatality, though Col. Al "Gar" Rose was shot down over North Vietnam in an F-4C Phantom in June 1972 and became a Prisoner of War.

Fully 15 of the 18 graduates of 66-E flew missions over Vietnam within two years of graduation. The class boasts two Silver Star recipients, 24 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 144 Air Medals and one Purple Heart. Twelve of the 18 retired from the Air Force.

True to form, Class 66-E also had a distinguished foreign student, Mario Cabrera from Guatemala. He flew P-51 Mustangs and retired as a colonel. He also became president of Guatemala Airlines.

The reunion itself is set to occur over the weekend of Armed Forces Day, May 15-17 at JBSA-Randolph. There will be activities around the area, but the highlight will be the "re-graduation ceremony" May 15 and class dinner at the Parr Club.

Airmen are invited to come to the Auger Inn that evening and swap stories with some illustrious predecessors: Gen. Walt Kross, former Air Mobility Command and TRANSCOM commander was a member of the Laredo Escadrille, and will be in attendance, as well as Dave Burney- Original member of Ryan's Raiders in F-105, Director of Carlyle Group after retirement.

The reunion will also include three of the class's instructor pilots, Rose, and nine other 66-E graduates along with close family members and friends. The auspicious group will tour 12th Flying Training Wing's current UPT facilities and heritage displays--and they are especially looking forward to the simulators to make up for lost time!

Reunions are a continuous feature of life in the Air Force, but they are also opportunities to learn from and be inspired by some of our very greatest heroes who helped form the core of our Core Values.
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