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Crowds welcome home Blues for 70th anniversary season

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Blue Angels walking into museum
Melissa Nelson Gabriel
 The U.S. Navy Blue Angels streaked low over downtown Pensacola Monday afternoon and turned on the smoke.
The elite pilots gave local fans a special display while en route to Pensacola Naval Air Station for their 70th anniversary season.
A crowd gathered inside the National Museum of Naval Aviation cheered as the pilots and their families entered for a brief welcome ceremony.
“You defy physics with your spectacular aerial feats and you find the time to inspire your fans here on the ground,” Escambia County Administrator Jack Brown told the team while reading a proclamation in honor of the 70th season. Officials from the city and the base also recognized the team.

Among those waiting to glimpse the 2016 arrival were Shawn Donovan and his sons Andy, 10, and Liam, 5. The trio traveled from Nashville on a surprise spring break getaway.
“I cannot believe I saw them. I saw the Blue Angels,” Shawn yelled while jumping and pointing as the fighter jets passed over the museum.
Shawn Donovan said his son, Andy, is a huge fan of the team and that he loves watching videos of their performances.
The Donovans stood near the doors and gave the pilots high-fives as they walked into the museum.
Fans filled the atrium and leaned over the railings above to cheer the team.

Blue Angels fly down Palafox in downtown Pensacola in route to Pensacola Naval Air Station. Special to the News Journal
Raina Melville of Pensacola brought her nephews, Chad Melville, 8, and Tyson Melville, 4.  Jack (Jacko) Gierisch, Raina’s grandfather and the boys’ great-grandfather, flew the Fat Albert plane with the Blue Angels in 1970. The Melvilles carried a photo album with pictures of Giersch and his teammates.
“It is special for all us knowing that that this is the 70th anniversary and knowing that there is so much history here with the team,” Raina Melville said.
Chad Melville carried a handmade made sign that featured a red heart and read “Welcome home we (love) our Blue Angels.”
Ret. Adm. David Anderson, who flew with team from 1985 to 1987 and heads the Blue Angels Association of former team officers, told the crowd that Pensacola is special for current and former team members and their families.
Anderson said team members from throughout Blues’ 70-year history plan to celebrate the milestone with the community and at shows nationwide.
Adm. Chester Nimitz created the team with the goal of keeping in the public eye the successes of Naval aviation that happened during World War II, Anderson said. Nimitz wanted to demonstrate the power and the capability of Naval aviation, he said.
But Anderson said the legacy of the team has been inspiring millions of people.
“It shows us what hard work, dedication and teamwork can accomplish,” he said.
Current team members sat with their families, and many of the pilots’ children and spouses dressed in blue and gold. Lt. Tyler Davies’ daughter, Regan, wore a smaller version of her father’s flight suit as she she sat on his lap and cheered.
Cmdr. Ryan Bernacchi, leader of the 2016 team, thanked the crowd for the welcome and talked about flying back over the familiar sites of Pensacola Beach, downtown and Perdido Key while heading to the base.
“We could not have had a more meaningful or better welcome,” he said. “We are so proud you call us your team.”
The team starts their regular practice schedule on Wednesday behind the National Museum of Naval Aviation at 11:30 a.m., weather permitting. The team also is scheduled to practice on Thursday. Practices are most Tuesdays and Wednesdays through the end of the touring season in November. Many of the practices are followed by autograph signings with team members inside the museum.

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