The U.S. Navy Blue Angels closed their 2017 air show season in spectacular fashion on Saturday with a Veterans Day performance in front of tens of thousands of fans at Pensacola Naval Air Station.
The hour-long show was the final Blue Angels flight for team commander Capt. Ryan Bernacchi and some other members of the elite fighter jet demonstration team who will return to regular duty with the Navy and Marine Corps after completing two-year tours with the Pensacola-based squadron.
Bernacchi said it was special to end his tenure with the team on Veterans Day.
“We are flying for all the military members and the veterans, young and old,” he said before the start of the two-day homecoming show.
The massive Saturday crowd included many veterans.
Among the oldest veterans was World War II Navy submariner Mel Remington, 91. The Bogalusa, Louisiana, man watched the show with four generations of his family.
Remington served on submarines in both the Atlantic and Pacific during World War II. He spent a total of 21 years in the Navy.
“This is a great way to spend Veterans Day,” said his daughter, Kathy Remington.
Also in the crowd were retired Navy Capt. Theodore Triebel, Navy veteran Dave Everett and Navy veteran Troy Nicks, who toured air show exhibits on Saturday.
The three men were in town for a reunion of their fighter squadron, the VFA 151 Vigilantes. The men flew fighters jets off the USS Midway in Vietnam.
Everett last saw Triebel and Nicks in the Midway’s ready room on the day the two other men were shot down and taken captive. Triebel and Nicks were held as prisoners of war from August 1972 to March 1973.
Nicks was the backseat officer in the plane piloted by Triebel. The two men have maintained a close friendship, even traveling to Vietnam together in 2012 to see the village where they were captured.
Everett said he was delighted to reconnect with buddies he hadn’t seen in so long.
“I still recognized them,” he said.
The three veterans said the Pensacola air show was a great way to spend Veterans Day. The men all trained in Pensacola before shipping off to Vietnam. They said they especially enjoyed meeting young active-duty pilots who are flying today.
“It has been fun talking with them,” Triebel said.
Nicks recalled learning to land on an aircraft carrier while attending flight school in Pensacola.
“Looking down at that carrier from 10,000 feet, I didn’t know if I could do it,” he said.
Dwayne Flotts, of Mobile, Alabama, and his two young daughters waited in line Saturday afternoon to have posters and programs signed by members of the Blue Angels team.
Flotts, who previously served in the U.S. Army Reserves, said the air show was a good place to teach his daughters about the military and service.
“It’s a nice experience out here today, a heartfelt and meaningful experience,” he said.
Veterans Day has an extra-special meaning for Dianne Delaney. The Pensacola woman’s brother died in Vietnam and her husband is a Navy veteran.
Delaney said there was no other place that she would rather spend the day than at Pensacola Naval Air Station to watch the Blues fly.
“There is so much support for our service members out here,” she said.
The Blue Angels delighted the crowd for a full hour with their iconic loops, rolls, diamond formations and high-speed passes.
It was the first Blue Angels show for new Gulf Breeze residents Sheryl Petterson and Stephanie Linzie. But the two women said it wouldn’t be their last show.
“Wow, just wow,” Petterson said as she shielded her eyes to watch the maneuvers. “I wish they’d fly over again. I absolutely love it.”
Linzie tried to capture the high-speed passes with her cellphone.
“It’s perfect, just amazing,” she said.
Five-year-old Logan Wade of Fairhope, Alabama, wore a Blue Angels flight suit to the show. His sister, 3-year-old Madelynn, wore a Blue Angels cheer outfit.
Their mom, Holley Wade, said the kids are huge Blue Angels fans.
“It means the world to us to be out here today and show support for our military and veterans,” she said.
Trey Holland traveled to the show with his family from Chiefland, Florida. The 17-year-old took part in a Navy pull-up challenge and managed nine pull-ups.
Holland said he hopes to enlist in the Navy after he graduates high school in 2019. He said his dream is to become a Navy pilot.
“I’d like to fly off of an aircraft carrier,” he said.
Bernacchi will hand over command of the Blue Angels to Cmdr. Eric Doyle during a change-of-command ceremony on Sunday.
The new team will train for the 2018 season in El Centro, California, before returning to Pensacola in March to start the new performance season.