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The discovery that oil and water do not mix led him into a new business venture when petroleum-rich El Dorado was forced to turn to Wichita for bottled drinking water. As small businesses go, it was a success. At about this time, George met Fleda High Schollenberger, organist at the Central Christian Church, where the bachelor businessman sang in the choir. The family subsequently settled in Wichita, running a small hotel which, according to a venerable traveling salesman, was the only decent place to eat in Wichita early in this century. Jacob D. Schollenberger, a patriarchal old gentleman, devoted his last years to building neighborhood churches no matter what the denomination and, as a staunch prohibitionist, bailing the hatchet- wielding Carry Nation out of the Wichita jail.

Fleda was a professional musician and cared for her elderly parents until, in , she married George Rea. Marriage during wartime would be repeated in the next generation, but George Rea was old enough to escape service in the First World War, and his family was well established in a comfortably roomy house when his son was born. The household in which Robert grew up was run by his mother but dominated by his father. George Rea was a powerful six-footer, bald at an early age, who never raised his voice nor needed to, at home or at work, where his men respected the boss who could do — and did — anything he asked them to do.

He fondly remembered his youthful prowess as a boxer. In his mature years he found relaxation in hunting and fishing, boasting that he never shot a squirrel out of a tree, save through the head, and never caught more fish than his family could eat. He was understandably disappointed that his son inherited neither his stature and physique nor his love of roughing it on the banks of the Ninescah River. Fleda Rea was a proper Pennsylvania Dutch housewife. She was house-proud, and her kitchen was the source of endless delight to her husband and son.

Dinnertime was family time, and there an attentive lad might learn much. After dinner she introduced her son to the piano sonatas of Beethoven and accompanied her husband as he sang the love songs of their generation. Life was quiet, ordered, and disciplined, filled with a love carefully restrained by what were then considered to be the proprieties. Robert Rea was educated in the excellent public schools of Wichita. As elementary and intermediate schools were no more than a block from home, his was very much a neighborhood society; friends and playmates lived within the elm-shaded confines of South Martinson Avenue.

He moved rapidly through the grades and went to East High, on the far side of town, because it was relatively close to his father's place of business. Along with the evident advantages of good schooling, Bob enjoyed the hidden advantages of being put to the broom, the bucket, and then the loading dock of his father's warehouse. The boss would not allow, nor did the son receive, any privileges of status — that was to be earned if it was to be enjoyed, and truck drivers are great social democrats.

At the same time, Bob was led into music by his mother and rather casually practiced the violin until, having achieved the principal's chair in the high school orchestra, he and his teacher agreed that he was not destined for the career of a professional musician. That decision opened the door to musical pleasure, and his collegiate years were filled with fiddling, singing, and long evenings devoted to absorbing the recorded classics in the company of friends. In high school, a boy's delight in the novels of Alexandre Dumas found active release in a self-taught fencing club.

A relative latecomer to the Musketeers, Bob happily inherited the mantle of D'Artagnan and devoted himself to proving his merit with a foil. After watching his first intercollegiate fencing match, George Rea pardoned his son's disinterest in boxing, baseball, and other "manly" sports. In the fall of , Bob Rea began his studies at Friends University, a Quaker college in Wichita which had a fine reputation for scholarship, music, and broadly tolerant Christian values.

Classes began on September 2; Hitler had invaded Poland the previous day. While adults who remembered the war to make the world safe for democracy seemed to disbelieve that such a war could happen again and were surprised and horrified by its outbreak, the entering college class of was not.

For years they had read of war in Manchuria and other parts of China, Ethiopia, and Spain and had watched the swastika creep like a shadow across central Europe. Under the evening streetlights they had weighed the future, as boys will do among themselves, and concluded that war was inevitable. They would simply have to live with it, quite certain where right lay and equally sure that, as Americans, they would be there. Happy the young man who can spend his college years in a small school wherein ideas flourish and intellectual competition is the norm, where the arts are nourished and individual initiative replaces team effort.

That was Friends University between and There were social fraternities and sororities, such as Alpha Kappa Tau and Delta Rho Alpha Nu, where town boys and dorm girls met and fell in love. There were sports, for Bob tennis and fencing and — surprisingly — an athletic letter. There was no drinking, no smoking, and the dances were officially unofficial. There was also a student newspaper, the University Life, on whose staff Bob began to write, turned to soliciting advertisements, and wound up as an editor — a position in which he learned the dangers of a too-free press.

If he made Who's Who in American Colleges and Universities, he did not quite make the university honor society. From the outset, the war posed a problem of values and understanding in a Quaker school with firm pacifist beliefs. Like the majority of his friends and fellows, Bob was neither Quaker nor pacifist and was inclined to scorn their views. As young men began to leave school for the armed services, the arguments became heated at times, but the point was made, on both sides, that good men may differ in matters of principle, and draftee, volunteer, and C.

The war remained distant until December 7, Bob and his friends heard the first radio reports of Pearl Harbor while hashing over the results of the previous night's fencing match.

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Then, for most college men, it became a question of how long it would be before the draft caught up with them. The armed forces instituted programs such as ASTP, V-1, and V-5, which allowed a volunteer to attend college while in service or to remain in school until graduation. It was clearly the way to go if one might choose.

With the draft board breathing down his neck, Bob sought admission to the V-5 Naval Aviation program in October Why the Navy? Cleaner aboard ship than in a trench.


  1. U.S. NAVY WINGS OF GOLD: FROM 1917 TO THE PRESENT?
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Why aviation? Young Wichitans had grown up in "the Aircapital" even if they had never gotten off the ground. And one of Bob's closest friends, William E. Roy, had just won his Navy wings of gold. Many heroic aircrewmen have flown aboard naval aircraft and were an integral part of Naval Aviation. Marine Gunnery Sergeant Robert G.

Robinson earned the Medal of Honor for his actions during a daylight bombing mission against a German-held railroad Junction in Belgium on 14 October Robinson and pilot 2nd Lieutenant Ralph Talbot were recognized for extra-ordinary heroism in engaging enemy aircraft at great odds. Figuratively, Robinson "earned his wings. Enlisted personnel continued to gain prominence through the s.

On 1 July , several basic aviation ratings were created from which the Navy drew its enlisted aircrewmen: aviation machinist's mate, aviation metalsmith, aviation carpenter's mate, aviation rigger and photographer. Aside from their rating badges, no one could tell that these men belonged to the aviation community. Aircrewmen continued to take flight aboard biplanes, balloons and dirigibles, losing their lives in some cases.

During WW II, a new aviation breast insignia was designed in response to numerous requests from the fleet to recognize enlisted aircrewmen. It was endorsed by the Commander in Chief, U. Fleet, and the Chief of Naval Personnel was tasked to issue the appropriate instructions. The aircrew insignia was to be authorized "for flight crews of Navy planes who have been duly designated as members of aircrews.

Commissioned and warrant officers who have been designated as Naval Aviators or Naval Observers, and enlisted ratings who have been designated as Naval Aviation Pilots, shall not be eligible to receive or wear the aircrew insignia.

United States Navy Wings of Gold from 1917 to the Present

McCain had set forth the provisions of eligibility for wearing the new aircrew breast insignia as "having served, subsequent to 7 December , for a total period of three months as a regularly assigned member of the aircrew of a combatant aircraft. In addition, commanding officers could authorize personnel who had suffered injuries or other physical impairment while engaged in combatant operations to wear the aircrew wings. The insignia featured a banner across the top on which eligible sailors could affix up to three stars signifying individual combat awards. Aircrews engaging enemy aircraft, singly or in formation; engaging armed enemy combatant vessels with bombs, torpedoes or machine guns; and engaging in bombing or offensive operations against fortified enemy positions were qualified to wear a combat star, with unit commander approval, on their aircrew breast insignia.

Since Naval Aviator wings were adopted in , many wing designs have been proposed, adopted and changed, with only the gold color remaining constant. The design of the silver aircrew wings, however, has remained unchanged since its inception in Only the size has been altered to match that of other devices in use today. The qualifications, on the other hand, have been revised numerous times to reflect changes in technology and war-fighting strategies.

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The generosity of an Admiral and the big mouth of a Combat Aircrewman, Emeritus, collaborated to actualize a dream long envisioned by members of naval aviation. Ramage USN Ret , a living legend among airedales, had been concerned for decades that the exploits of enlisted naval aircrewmen had gone almost totally unheralded.


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He coveted long overdue recognition for these heroes in white hats. Meanwhile, The Association of Naval Aviation had been grappling with increasing the inclusion of enlisted personnel in its membership. A letter from a fellow services flying officer questioning the inclusion of coolies ignited the ire of this author.

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Responses came from combat aircrewmen, both to "Wings of Gold" and to me personally. Jig Dog contributed a generous sum of money to the Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum for the purpose of creating a recognition of enlisted aircrew personnel which would be comparable to the Naval Aviation Hall of Fame. Little did I realize that I had "volunteered" for a project that was about to birth a life of its own. Among the several early volunteers were Raymond Dansereau and Tom Powell for the carrier community, Harvey Herzog for the seaplane and flying boat community, and Jack Sauter of Korean vintage.

Other aircrewmen contributed leads, suggestions, and stories.