Juvats, Headhunters and Friends
In the early dawn hours of the last day reunion our fearless leader, Muskrat, let it be known that it was time to pass the touch as Headhunter 01. Although eager to do it for the previous decade, he had grown weary of the constant request of ‘songs for hire’ and stories of when ‘we roamed pacific skies’. I, with DT’s and bloodshot eyeballs, figured it was time for the younger generation to go dark visor down and wade into the fray.
As you can see it’s taken me a little over six months to get my feces coagulated and solve range, plane, and lead. With that I say I’m sorry it’s taken so long to address the crowd; I’ll suck less tomorrow. A quick bio for those that don’t know me: I’m an ‘04 grad from the Zoo (AF Academy), spent a few years flying T-38’s around the plains of Oklahoma, taught Iraqi pilot training at Kirkuk AB in ‘08, then Vipers at Misawa (WOOD!), Kunsan (WiG?), and Luke (QQMF). I have been in the ANG in South Carolina since ‘16 (Semper Primus) as well as a 75/76/777 pilot at FedEx.
During my time at the Kun I had the honor and privilege of being AJ, Rocky (late night eatery/breakfast burrito extraordinaire for those unfamiliar), finally JBC Lead. It was in the JBC lead roll that I truly began to appreciate the tradition and history of our great organization. After attending my first reunion it became apparent how important it is to keep our traditions and history alive. I have giant shoes to fill following Muskrat and the greats that came before him and I don’t know that I can express how grateful I am to be trusted with this honor. I won’t be alone in this endeavor as Jason ‘Scar’ Pukalo has graciously volunteered to be my #2 and we are looking forward to continuing to ‘Take the fight north’.
I’d like to give a huge shoutout to Bob ‘Muskrat’ McNeese, Chris ‘Lude’ Kibble, and Tom ‘NOGAS’ Reichert for the handoff and countless hours dealing with my ignorance of how to keep the shiny side up. In the near future look for a rollout of our updated website as we transition software programs to attempt to make the Headhunter site more user friendly and interactive. If you’ve made it this far I applaud you, HH1 out.
Bryan ‘Cage’ Zumbro
Great intro Cage! Thanks again for taking the stick and leading the Headhunters Association into the future. I am happily totally retired now, and my wife Marcia even happier as she doesn’t have to listen to me swear at the computer as I struggle with WordPress or even the simplest of tasks like approving new members. With that said I’m just an email, text, or phone call away to help if and when you need it.
First of all, to Muskrat, Lude and NOGAS–thanks for an outstanding job well done. It is greatly appreciated by all of us in this great Squadron. And to Cage and Scar–I’m extremely happy that you both were drunk enough to raise your hands and volunteer to grab our banner to carry it onward to new heights. Yes indeed, the history and accomplishments of our WWII, Korea, and Vietnam Headhunters must not be forgotten. They are certainly worth remembering. I was fortunate enough to be the 80TFS/CC in ’79 – ’80, and it was the culmination of my 30-year career. This is an excerpt from my book on how I became involved with the Headhunters:
The phone rang in my office one day in late 1987. “JayBird?” the caller asked.
“Yes?” I replied.
“This is Kirby from the Headhunter Squadron,” the caller said. He continued, “I was in the Squadron during WWII, and we are having a reunion in Williamsburg, Virginia on May 19-22. We’re inviting all the Juvats, and wanted to know if you would like to come?”
What a great opportunity! This Squadron that I had been the commander of had a great history, and here was a chance to meet some of those people who were legends from its early days.
“I sure would!” was my reply. It turned out that Marion Franklin “Kirby” Kirby was an Ace from the 80th Fighter Squadron in WWII and was now in the process of building a Master Roster of as many of the people from the Squadron as possible—from its beginning in January 1942 to the present day. I gave him my mailing address, and we started corresponding back and forth on different Squadron matters, including adding names of the guys in the Squadron with me in 1979 – 1980 to the Roster.
In 1969 Kirby had received a phone call from two of his Squadron buddies, Lt Gen Jay T. Robbins, another Ace with 22 aerial victories, and Norb Ruff. Both were feeling no pain, from what Kirby tells me! Anyway, they just wanted to call Kirby and say hello and talk over old times from WWII in the 80th. They said, “Why don’t we all get together and have a reunion?”
Kirby replied, “I’ll do it!”
That was how the reunion group got started. Kirby began tracking people down by old rosters, Squadron orders, telephone information service, etc. Remember, this was before the days of the computer! One year later in 1970, the WWII members had their first reunion in Jackson Hole, Wyoming—a fantastic get-together! They decided to have reunions every 2 years after that; changing to every 18 months after a few. In a few years the Korean and Vietnam-era people were included and added to the Roster and reunions. Now, in 1987, they were adding the “Juvats” to the group—the newest Headhunters starting in 1971.
I went to that reunion 19-22 May 1988 in Williamsburg, and had a great time. I finally got to meet Kirby, Gen Robbins, Norb Ruff, Paul Murphey, Lou Schriber, Yale Saffro (who drew our original Headhunter logo in April 1943), Hal Fischer (Korean War double Ace) and a host of other greats from our WWII, Korean, and Vietnam era people. I was sold!
Kirby and I kept corresponding by mail and over the phone, and we again renewed our friendship in person at the next reunion in Phoenix, Arizona, 7-10 September 1989. It was here he asked me if I would take over for him and keep the group going. I agreed.
Kirby held the reins for 20 years lining up hosts for the reunions, and keeping the organization together—before we had dues. He would pass the hat at each reunion to get donations to pay for postage, printing, etc. until the next reunion…. It would cost thousands—he collected a couple of hundred from only a few of the same people over and over….
I was now the “Head Headhunter.” We started dues of $10 a year. We published quarterly newsletters (usually 12 pages in length), an 1880-person Master Roster, a 675-person Master E-mail list, had reunions every 18 months around the Country, had a “Headhunter Store” with different Squadron goodies, etc. We had almost 1000 members from WWII, Korea, between the wars (BTW), Vietnam, and up to the present day Juvats. We also incorporated as a non-profit Veterans’ Association—the 80th Fighter Squadron Headhunters Association, Inc—and started our own web site on the Internet. It is a great organization, and we continue to this day with our reunions.
After 21 years, I got “Tex” Ritter drunk enough so I could hold up his hand to volunteer to take the flag from me, and he passed it on to Muskrat a few years after that. That is where we are today!
Although I don’t travel anymore, the memories I have of those Headhunter legends and our reunions together are with me forever. To all of you, my fellow Squadron mates, I wish you tail winds in your future endeavors. Stay close–you are making life-long friends, true Brothers and Sisters in Arms. Something to truly cherish. Press on!!