The city of Belleville reminds the community each year of the important role Scott Air Force Base plays in the metro east by hosting the Belle-Scott Enlisted Dinner.
This year’s event, the 69th, will take place from 6-10 p.m. Thursday at St. Clair Country Club, 100 S. 78th St., Belleville. The event is sold out.
“The enlisted dinner is Belleville’s opportunity to show our deep appreciation to Scott’s enlisted members for their service and sacrifice,” said Geri Boyer, the Belle-Scott Committee civilian chairman. “This year we are hosting 100 enlisted. It is also our chance to honor a few local veterans and tell their stories of bravery and remarkable resilience.”
According to the Belleville Chamber of Commerce website, the Belle-Scott Committee evolved from the “Belleville Plan,” which was created in 1950 by Belleville Mayor H.V. Calhoun; Maj. Gen. Robert W. Harper, commander of the Air Training Command located at Scott; and Col. George W. Pardy, commanding officer of SAFB.
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Boyer said her role is to regularly meet with the SAFB commander to ensure positive communication and cooperation between the base and Belleville. She chairs the Executive Committee of the Civilian Component and the Belle-Scott meetings held in Belleville.
“The Belle-Scott Committee was established in 1950 to promote a positive relationship between the local business community and the Base. Belle-Scott was formed because this was not always the case,” Boyer said. “Many veterans we have honored tell us that only recently have they been thanked for their service. We want the members of the military and veterans of our community to know how much we cherish and value their sacrifice and service.
“The Belle-Scott Enlisted Dinner gives Belleville an opportunity to do that in a very personal way.”
The event will include remarks from Belleville Mayor Mark Eckert, St. Clair County Board member Rick Vernier (District 9), and Col. Joseph Meyer, 375th Air Mobility Wing commander, as well as an enlisted response given by and on behalf of SAFB’s enlisted members.
“I look forward to meeting the young enlisted women and men serving at SAFB and hearing where they are from. The event starts with a receiving line in which the civilians shake every enlisted member’s hand and welcome them to Belleville and the enlisted dinner,” Boyer said. “I love to see their shining faces as they experience the overwhelming hospitality and true gratitude our community has for them.”
Meyer said he appreciates Belleville recognizing Scott’s enlisted Airmen, and explained this will be the first time many of them have been part of an event thanking them for their service.
“They will be delighted,” Meyer said. “We couldn’t have a more diverse and dedicate group of young people serving our nation, and it’s certainly an honor for all of us to serve at Scott with such an amazing and supportive community members who have made us feel like family.”
Honoring local veterans has become a centerpiece of this annual dinner. Thursday’s honorees will include World War II veterans Ralph Goldsticker, 97; Jim Reynolds, 96; and Fred Bruss, 94. They all served in the U.S. Army Air Corps.
“Their stories of ingenuity and bravery are amazing and will literally bring you to tears,” Boyer said.
Terry Foerste, who inherited the job of finding veterans from Bob Dintelman, said nominations usually come from the families of those who are honored. After a lengthy interview, he composes a biography of the honoree with details of their service.
Through the years, Foerste said he’s interviewed World War II veterans, Korean War veterans, Vietnam veterans and prisoners of war. Foerste himself is a Vietnam veteran, having served 10 years and two tours of duty as a helicopter pilot.
“There were 16 million Americans that served during WW II and, at last count, there were less than 500,000 left,” he said. “So the stories of all veterans, in particular the WW II veterans, are eventually going to disappear. I think it’s important that we record their stories when we can.”
Below is a brief synopsis of this year’s honorees:
He was born in October 1921, and enlisted in U.S. Army Aviation Cadet Corps. He became a bombardier on a B-17, and flew 35 missions. On June 6, 1944, during the D-Day invasion, Goldsticker’s aircraft flew two missions totaling 14 hours in support of D-Day.
Born in November 1922, Reynolds got into flying because of Barnstormers — pilots who performed aerial stunts. According to Foerste’s interview with Reynolds, one landed on his father’s farm, he got a free ride and fell in love with flying at a young age. Reynolds ultimately became a pilot, and is qualified in 22 aircraft. Reynolds flew numerous VIP missions, including for the vice president of the United States, secretary of the Army, secretary of the Air Force, director of the CIA, and retired Gen. Jimmy Doolittle. Overall, Reynolds ended his career with 9,700 military flight hours. Before he retired from the Air Force, Reynolds was commander of the 375th Aeromedical Squadron at Scott.
Born in 1924 in Belleville, Bruss was a gunner on an A-20 light attack bomber. Foerste explained that aircraft had one pilot and two gunners, and was used mostly for low altitude missions. Overall, according to Foerste, Bruss flew 60 missions from April 1944 to January 1945, usually just 200-300 feet above the ground. Bruss had to bail out once when his aircraft was damaged by anti-aircraft fire, and, on two more occasions, the aircraft sustained damage that required the aircraft to make a wheels-up belly crash landing behind Allied lines. Bruss retired as the Belleville Fire Department’s fire chief.