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Blue Angels’ 70th season takes off Monday

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The Blue Angels perform for the crowd Saturday during the Blue Angles Homecoming Show at Naval Air station Pensacola.
The Blue Angels perform for the crowd Saturday during the Blue Angles Homecoming Show at Naval Air station Pensacola.

The Blue Angels return to Pensacola on Monday to kick off their 70th season as worldwide ambassadors for Naval aviation.

The squadron of  F/A-18 Hornets is scheduled to fly over downtown Pensacola around 2:30 p.m. Monday en route to Pensacola Naval Air Station. Base officials and the city of Pensacola are encouraging residents to help welcome the team home by gathering on Palafox Street downtown or greeting the team at the National Museum of Naval Aviation after the flyover. The museum gathering is scheduled for 3 p.m. Organizers of both events say the times could change depending on team’s schedule and weather conditions.

Monday’s events will launch a season-long celebration that will culminate with the homecoming show at Pensacola Naval Air Station, said Vernon Stewart, spokesman for the city of Pensacola.

“This anniversary is a big deal for Pensacola and for the team,” said Stewart, who encouraged people to line Palafox and wave during the flyover.

“The pilots should be able to see the crowd, and we hope to give them a big greeting,” he said.

Ret. Marine Lt. Gen. Duane Theissen will introduce the team and other dignitaries at the museum event. Theissen, president of the Naval Aviation Museum Foundation, is a former fighter pilot and squadron commander. Throughout the team’s 70-year history, its elite pilots have shown the public the best of Naval aviation, he said.

“They are loud, and thundering and magnificent,” said Theissen who recalled seeing the Blue Angels for the first time as a child growing up in Wichita, Kansas.  Theissen said he was most impressed watching the jets take off in formation.

“It is a something I always remember,” he said.

The show gave him a glimpse of the Navy in his landlocked region of the country and that the exposure helped to shape his future career, he said.

The Blue Angels were founded in 1946. Butch Voris, the team’s first squadron commander, shot down eight Japanese aircraft in World War II, said  Hill Goodspeed, a Naval historian. Voris’ squadronmate Raleigh Rhodes joined the Blue Angels in 1947. Rhodes was shot down by the Japanese in World War II and spent three years in a prisoner of war camp.

Blue Angels pilots have made countless contributions to Naval Aviation history, Goodspeed said.

“What they have done through the years is amazing,” he said.

Pilots usually serve two-year stints with the Blue Angels and then return to regular duties as part of the fleet. Many of the pilots are graduates of the Navy’s famed Top Gun fighter school.

Among the former Blue Angels who plan to return to Pensacola in for November’s homecoming show is Ret. Rear Adm. David O. Anderson. Anderson heads the Blue Angels Alumni Association, which includes about 300 former Blue Angels pilots.

Anderson flew with the team from 1985-87.

The team’s founding members have passed, but the association includes a couple of pilots who flew in World War II, he said.

“Every single era of the team fascinates me — World War II, Korea, Vietnam,” he said. But whatever time period a pilot flew with the Blue Angels, they all share a common objective, he said.

News Journal file photo
The U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels have released the schedule for the 2014
homecoming air show.
The U.S. Navy?s Blue Angels take to the sky over Pensacola Naval Air
Station on Friday afternoon to the thrill of the crowd below during the
team?s annual Homecoming Air Show. Photos by Tony
Giberson/tgiberson@pnj.com
The U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels take to the skies over Pensacola Naval Air
Station Friday afternoon ,Nov. 2, 2012, to the thrill of the crowd
below during the team’s annual homecoming air show.

 We all represent Naval aviation first and foremost. No single team owns the legacy of the Blue Angels, but every single one of us who go through the team are caretakers of the legacy,” he said.

Anderson will be among the speakers at Monday’s event. He and other former Blue Angels plan to be involved in other anniversary events throughout season in Pensacola and elsewhere. Anderson hopes a record number of former Blues will gather for the 70th anniversary homecoming show in November.

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