Monday, August 9, 2010

Letter From Stan Poyas (USAFSS-AMT)1960-1978

Hi Gary,

I wanted to send a photo of Airlee and I that was taken in October 2009 just 3 and a half months before he passed. When I made my trip from Spokane out to Vancouver he was in great spirits and had beaten the cancer and was on a road to full recovery.

I do not know what the later surgery was for but apparantly, as I understand it, that is what caused us to lose a fabulous, and genuine person. I had seen him on a few occasions and had met him when Ron Kriegel and I went to a mini-reunion at Rick Francona's home in Port Orford, Oregon. I think that was in 2004.

It was a great loss for all of us and even with my short time of knowing him, he became special to me like he had for so many people. He was a gem and is sorely missed to this day.

So, I hope this photo I am sending will be a start and it will keep Airlee freshly in all our minds.

Best Regards,

Stan Poyas (USAFSS-AMT)1960-1978

Saturday, March 6, 2010

A Writer From The UK Talks About Airlee

I know this is lengthy but anyone that knew or loved Airlee will enjoy reading Airlee's quotes that impressed this writter from the UK so much and rightfully so. Not only does this say great things about Airlee but in fact an amazing tribute to the kind of man he was as well as what he and others were trying to acomplish.

After spending over 8 weeks in the United States, travelling from New York all the way to San Francisco, I noticed several things which might well be called paradoxical in the Tocquevillean mould. For example there exists a formal separation between Church and State enshrined in the US Constitution, yet the words “In God We Trust” can be found emblazoned upon every coin and bill, and where to be an atheist is career suicide for any major electoral candidate. More strikingly, and perhaps seriously, the notion of the “American Dream” is still foremost in every political campaign and believed in by most Americans (from what I could tell), yet America currently experiences levels of social mobility akin to the 1920s, and the current administration has focused on tax cuts for the super-rich, whilst reducing federal expenditure which could off-set this lack of social mobility. And yet, the upcoming November election looks like it could well reward the GOP, which has held the executive branch for the last 8 years and periodically dominated Congress during that period as well.

I wish, however, to focus upon one particular paradox: the deep commitment ordinary Americans genuinely hold to the idea of political liberty, and freedom of speech in particular, whilst evincing a systematic reluctance to employ that freedom of speech to meaningfully engage with those who hold contradictory views. I hope to illustrate this by recounting my experience of meeting two groups of rival protestors in southern Oregon. Although two months is not a long time to spend in a country, especially one the size of America, I believe the following serves as a microcosm of American politics generally, and illustrates quite strikingly the particular paradox I wish to discuss.

As I was driving through the small town of Bandon, Oregon, I saw what looked like a roadside vigil with a group of men and women standing on the side-walk waving large white flags. As I rounded the bend there appeared another group, slightly greater in number, waving the stars and stripes. Intrigued, I decided to pull over to go and enquire what was happening on the corners of this four-way junction in small-town America.

I approached the group waving white flags first, and was able to see that each flag carried the logo “Veterans for Peace” and a picture of a dove complete with olive branch in beak. I walked over to an elderly couple and introduced myself, explaining that I was on vacation from the UK and asking what was going on. The gentleman was very affable and happy to explain. Apparently everything had begun when the so-called “Women in Black”, a group emulating the movement begun in Israel-Palestine, started a road-side vigil on Friday evenings. As it was only 4.45 pm, the women in black hadn’t get arrived. What – I asked – where these “Veterans For Peace” doing? The answer: “to show solidarity with the women in black, in opposition to those guys over there”, pointing to the group waving the stars and stripes. Further intrigued, I asked who the other group were. “Well”, came the answer, “we’re the Veterans for Peace, and so I guess they’re the Veterans for War”. I asked what he thought of the war, and the obvious answer from both him and the lady he was with was one of condemnation – but a special kind of condemnation. “We’re veterans, you see, and we believe this war is not doing any good to any body. We want our men and women brought home safely as soon as possible – that’s why we’re the Veterans for Peace”.

I asked if it was OK to take a few pictures, to which the Veterans for Peace agreed, and then said that as I wanted to get both sides of the story I thought I should go and see what the so-called “Veterans for War” had to say for themselves.

I must admit, I was expecting the worst. As I walked over I mentally prepared myself by repeating that I wasn’t in Oxford anymore, and that it was no good getting into a fight with anybody out here, because after all nobody is converted at the roadside. And anyway, I told myself, it would be far more productive to simply listen to what these people had to say, no matter how strongly I disagreed with their politics or how unpleasant I might find them. Yet what the so-called “Veterans for War” had to say surprised me.

The first person I spoke to – who must have seen me speaking to the Veterans for Peace a few moments earlier – was friendly and pleasant, greeting me with a warm grin and a firm handshake. I asked him what was going on and he told me the following. He said that their protest was meant purely as a show of support for American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan – and stressed that it was about the troops. Indeed he was keen to say straight away that “we don’t necessarily support the President or the war: what we want is the best for our boys, and by being here we are showing that we support them, and that they are not forgotten”.

Further intrigued, I moved down the line and was introduced to a man named Airlee Owens (one of only two people, I must confess, whose name I know for sure, because not being a professional journalist I foolishly failed to take notes). Airlee is a great bear of a man, large in stature as well as in heart from what I could tell. Again he shook my hand firmly and greeted me kindly, keen to answer any questions I might have. He told me that although he didn’t start the vigil, he seemed to have become the spokesman for the group. “We didn’t start this to support the war necessarily” he said, “we started this because we are all veterans, most of us from Vietnam, and we don’t want the boys in Iraq to suffer the way many people did when they came back from Vietnam. You see, that was an unpopular war, and when the troops came home they were treated very badly: people would spit on them in the street, and the government basically abandoned them. Iraq is an unpopular war, and we don’t want the same thing to happen to the boys out there when they come home. So when we saw the women in black, we knew we had to do something in response. This isn’t – you’ve got to understand – a political protest. It’s about supporting the troops for as long as they are out there”.

I found this fascinating, and asked whether you could really have a non-political protest when one side is flying the stars and stripes, and the other flying white flags with doves on them. Airlee’s answer came quickly: “Sure you can. The flag isn’t supposed to be political – it should be a symbol of unity. Don’t get me wrong, we are all patriots – we love our country – but we fly the flag because we think it should be used to unite all Americans together. It’s a positive symbol, and one shown by the troops out there as well as by us back home”.

I noticed that the Women in Black were beginning to assemble on the other side of the road from the so-called – and apparently ill-described – “Veterans for War”. However there was another lone figure, occupying the final side at the four-way junction, standing proudly holding his own flag with signs declaring that “Defeatism Support Al Qaeda” and “Help Prevent A Nuclear 9/11″. OK – I thought to myself – surely this guy is going to be a jingoistic nut-case who I’m going to struggle to remain civil with – but again I was disappointed, albeit much to my relief. His name was Jim Nielson, and like everyone else I’d spoken to so far he was friendly and approachable. I asked why he was standing all alone, and the simple answer was that if the Women in Black and the Veterans for Peace occupied two corners of the junction, it seemed right that those supporting the troops ought to have two as well. We chatted briefly about Winston Churchill – Jim being keen to stress his admiration for a man who did not appease the forces of terror (and not leaving the perceived analogy with Iraq to the imagination) – and I got up the courage to propose something to him.

I suggested that after having spoken to people from both sides, I had to admit that it seemed to me like they disagreed about far less than perhaps they thought. I pointed out that both sides supported the troops – indeed, that both sides were composed of veterans and their wives – that neither side was necessarily expressing support for either the war in Iraq or for the Bush administration, and that all of them seemed to want the same thing: the best for ordinary Americans sent to wars in foreign lands. Yet as soon as I said this the shutters came down. Though Jim remained affable to me, his mood visibly changed: “no I don’t think so” he said, “those guys over there are quitters, they want to quit”. I tried to point out that while that was arguably true, in the grand scheme of things it seemed like only one wave of contention amidst a sea of agreement; both sides might disagree about how long the troops should be out there, but all professed a desire to support them for as long as they were there. I suggested that maybe a stronger protest could be made by both sides if they perhaps exchanged just one flag each – but Jim found the idea unappealing.

I decided it would be worth paying one last visit to the Veterans for Peace before heading on my way. I approached the couple I had spoken to earlier, and put the same proposition to them about the idea that perhaps both sides had more in common than they supposed. The reaction was basically the same, as the shutters came down straight away. When I pointed out that the so-called “Veterans for War” told me that they supported the troops but not necessarily the war or the President, the reply I received was that a poll of troops in Iraq showed them 6-to-1 for Obama not McCain – which was hardly a reply to the suggestion I’d voiced. I tried to point out what Airlee had said to me – that the vigil was about supporting the troops themselves to prevent a repeat of the post-Vietnam experience, to which it was replied dismissively that “the Republican Right has grossly exaggerated the treatment of Vietnam veterans”- a surprising response from somebody who was himself a veteran. When I voiced my suggestion that the two sides make a stronger protest by exchanging just one flag each I was again met by scepticism. I hadn’t the heart to point out that flying only white flags along the road from a group flying the stars and stripes could hardly be helping the cause of the Veterans for Peace in a country where so much is invested in the flag, and where so many connotations and assumptions are made when either the flag is or is not flown.

Yet what I think I was seeing that day was arguably a microcosm of American society and politics. The so-called “Bill of Rights” in the US Constitution provides for 5 key freedoms – of Speech, Press, Assembly, Petition and Religion. Americans are proud of these freedoms. Indeed, the words “liberty” and “freedom” enter into almost every piece of political rhetoric, and America is of course the “Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave”, the self-proclaimed “defender of the free world”. If you visit any historical or cultural museum in America you will be bombarded with the constant message of the importance freedom and liberty, and how important it is to Americans, how deeply committed to these values Americas are. Indeed this can get a little nauseating, and after a trip to the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia I swore I never wanted to hear the words “freedom” or “greatest democracy upon God’s earth” ever again. Yet ordinary Americans appear committed to these values in a deep and genuine way, as evinced by my experience in Oregon. Neither side objected to my talking to the others – indeed they were pleased that I wanted to hear both sides of the story. Neither side dismissed the others’ right to assemble or speak, and I genuinely believe that they would have opposed measures curtailing the political freedoms of the other side, and done so vigorously.

Which makes the following seem even stranger: from what I could tell neither side at those Oregon vigils talks to the other very much. They simply didn’t seem to know all that much about what the other side thinks, and this appeared to be because they haven’t asked. They’d seen the white flags, or the stars and stripes, or the black clothes, and assumed they knew exactly what their opposition thought and felt. There at the roadside I saw two groups of veterans, men and their wives with a shared common background, who all professed to want the best for ordinary young men in Iraq, yet who did not talk to each other. The one difference about whether support for the troops is best shown by calling for immediate withdrawal, or whether that is a decision of politicians and generals whilst hoping to raise public support for ordinary men and women in the meantime, was enough to put these groups on different worlds whilst standing only 20 meters apart. And they’ve been on different worlds for a long time: September 2008 will mark the third anniversary of the Friday evening vigils.

Driving away that evening I came to the following conclusion: what I saw in little Bandon was something of a microcosm of American politics generally. Both sides sincerely believe in the value of free speech, and of the importance that anyone can hear both sides of the argument if they wish to – and yet they themselves are happy to hear only their own. The other side is ignored and demonised, yet despite being so close not just physically, but in terms of background and outlook, they will not talk. Rather than hearing what the other side has to say, each would rather go on subscribing to their established pre-conceptions of why they are wholly right and the others are not only wholly wrong, but not even worth engaging with. This reluctance to engage with the opposition appears to be as defining and characteristic a feature of America as the commitment to freedom of speech and political liberty which these ordinary men and women on the roadside expressed to me that day.

For example, the campaigning for the 2008 Presidential election was getting under-way as I was still in America, and the pattern is essentially the same but writ large. Both sides profess a commitment to Liberty (and God), and lambaste what the “other side” thinks or does. Political speeches are delivered in TV-friendly sound-bite formula, designed not to refute or rebut the opposition, but to paint a simplified picture that can be sloganized and used to demonise the opposition. This is characteristic of, and contributes to, an “us versus them” mentality in wider American politics, which I believe was acutely manifested at the Oregon vigils.

First impressions, however, are rarely wholly reliable. A few days later I wrote up a report of the above for my on-line travel blog, and a week or so later both Airlee and Jim had come across it and sent me replies. At first glance, their replies appeared to contradict the above. They pointed out that they had tried to approach the other side, but the other side refused to engage. So much, it seems, for my thesis about refusal to employ that cherished freedom of speech. Yet a little close attention to what they said seems in fact to paint only a more detailed picture of the same phenomenon.

Jim wrote that “I have talked with the opposition and know their positions but from experience have learned that arguing is worse than useless because it hardens positions, causes irrational statements and makes enemies”. It is interesting that while Jim says he has “talked with the opposition”, from his own experience he has decided that arguing is not worth the bother. It is interesting – and also instructive – that Jim equates talking with argumentation, and I believe it is no accident although I don’t lay the fault at his door. Here another anecdote from my time in America is worth considering. Upon arrival in the USA, whilst waiting to be “processed” at immigration control, I watched a live “debate” on CNN between a McCain and an Obama supporter. CNN is one of the more respectable news channels in the USA (unlike, say, the virulently pro-Republican Murdoch propaganda machine known as Fox News), yet what I witnessed was the following. The issue being debated was gun-control, and the McCain supporter essentially said just one thing, though he said it often: “Obama is a gun grabber!” To this, the Obama supporter simply replied, “No he isn’t, he believes every American should have the right to own a gun!”…to which his GOP opponent simply repeated (albeit louder) “no, he’s a gun-grabber!”. And so forth. There was no attempt to engage with the issue of gun-control itself, or with the nuances and impacts of the recent Supreme Court ruling on Heller vs. D.C. over the reading of the 2nd Amendment and it’s problematic punctuation. In short, there was no attempt to engage in serious debate. There was only accusation, denial, and sound-bite politics.

Of course, I cannot say for sure that Jim and the Veterans for Peace behaved in this way when they talked to each other, but it would not surprise me if the scene had been similar. When I talked to Jim he was quick to label the other side as “quitters”, and when I talked to the so-called quitters, they greeted my attempts to engage them in debate by offering factoids and assertions which had little to do with the arguments I was putting to them. Given the examples set at a national level, I’m inclined to suspect that when Jim says he “talked” to the opposition, then argument and shouting is what resulted. But after all, he “knows what their positions are” already.

Indeed, what Airlee had to say seemed also to fit into the general pattern of observation. In an email he wrote to me that:

I would like to point out that there has been an attempt at discussion of our different points of view but we each are so polarized in our belief system that there is little hope of coming to a common agreement. In fact, at one point in time, I felt that perhaps we had all made our point and I approached one of the Veterans for Peace and told him that if he would talk to his people and call off the Friday night vigils I would approach my people and do the same. I never got a response from him.

As he puts it, they are so polarized that there is little hope. Yet it is interesting to reflect upon two things. Firstly, as noted above, both sides are polarized over pretty much just one issue, despite agreeing – or having common room for agreement – over much else. Secondly, as there is “little hope of coming to a common agreement”, the conclusion apparently seems to be that it is not worth engaging with the other side despite this fact. Although there has been an attempt, falling short of common agreement neither side seems to think it worth engaging with the other any further; either there is full, common agreement, or there isn’t. Either all can stand together, or all must stand apart. Finally, notice also the (I would say, characteristic) demonisation of the other side, and the corresponding intransigence: the other side never responded (ergo, it’s all their fault) yet his side would certainly not back down first – if the opposition was holding a vigil, then they certainly would not cease theirs. Of course, politics is a fiery business, and emotions run high when something like war is at issue, but nonetheless I feel much can be learned here.

Although the picture now looks more complex, and lacking access to statistical evidence, proper research materials, and, frankly, time, I am of course unable to argue for the following conclusions as anything more than a general impression derived from my time in the USA. Yet I believe there exists a striking paradox in modern American politics: there is a deep and fundamental commitment to political freedom and freedom of speech in particular, but a simultaneous systematic reluctance to exercise that freedom in a meaningful way.

The protestors at Bandon were seriously committed to each others’ freedoms of speech and expression, yet they did not employ that freedom to seriously engage with the other side, to discover why they were so polarised (or as perhaps it happens, not so polarised as they might think). Yet this is symptomatic of a wider American reluctance to engage with political opposition beyond the shouting of simplified slogans and denunciations. The American media routinely divides the country during Presidential elections into simply “red” versus “blue” states. The hugely complex – not to mention contentious and politically salient – issue of abortion is reduced to “pro life” or “pro choice”. Either you are “pro tax-cuts” or “pro big government”. You are either “pro war” or “defeatist” according to one side, or else “anti-war” or “imperialist” according to the other. Barak Obama presents himself as manifesting “hope” and “change”, whilst John McCain is thus painted as being anti-hope, offering “more of the same”. McCain presents himself as an experienced patriot who fought in Vietnam, hoping to present Obama as inexperienced and unpatriotic (a tactic only a couple of steps removed from reminding people that Obama is black, an effective political ploy in a nation still utterly obsessed with, and trouble by, race).

America appears to me a nation in which politics has been reduced to the art of slogan-forming, and which shies away from attempts to seriously deal with and engage in the questioning of difficult political issues. Americans truly believe in freedom of speech – yet it is the freedom to shout at the other side and paint them black which they prefer to practice, not the freedom of attempting engagement so as to make progress or to achieve understanding. The paradox of a population deeply and sincerely committed to freedom of speech, yet equally reluctant to use that freedom in order to engage with others who likewise posses it, would not have surprised Tocqueville at all.

Airlee My Freind...

Today is your service and my heart is heavy and my breathing is short as I have a few tears and I smile and remember the friendship which we shared albeit much too short. Thank you for sharing what you did and allowing me to know the man which you were. It was my good fortune to know such a man from a place we both loved... Bandon. I find some comfort in knowing you will be laid to rest near my mother and father knowing that when I visit them I will be able to do the same for you. I find comfort knowing you are standing guard over them as well. I find that quite fitting.

I don't have anything but this final poem to offer you today. It is a poem I found some years ago that reminded me of my father and his love of flying a passion I know you shared as well. Godspeed my friend.

High Flight

Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
and danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds--and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of--wheeled and soared and swung
High in sunlit silence. Hovering there,
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I've topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never a lark, or even eagle flew
And, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sancity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

Pilot Officer John Macgee, Jr

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Airlee's Obituary

Airlee Owens

Published: Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Feb. 18, 1941 - Feb. 17, 2010

A viewing will be held for Airlee Owens, 68, of Bandon from 1 to 7 p.m., Friday March 5, at Amling/Schroeder Funeral Service, Bandon Chapel and funeral services will be held at the Bandon High School gymnasium at 1 p.m., Saturday March 6. Military honors will be held at Oddfellows Cemetery in Bandon.

Airlee was born Feb. 18, 1941, five miles north of Middlesboro, Ky. He moved to Bandon with his family at the age of 11. He died Feb. 17, 2010, in Portland, at the VA hospital.

Airlee was a passionate patriot and loved the United States of America. He joined the United States Air Force on Aug.17, 1959. He was sent to Syracuse University in New York where he was trained as a Russian linguist. He served one tour of duty at a ground listening post in Karamursel, Turkey, just south of the Black Sea and served his second tour of duty at Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska. He has said that probably the best decision he ever made in his life, outside of his becoming a Christian, was to have joined the Air Force.

Airlee was a proud member of a group of reconnaissance flyers called the Prop Wash Gang. He was a life member of the Freedom through Vigilance Association, made up of all former intelligence specialists in the Air Force. He was a life member of the Disabled American Veterans organization and a member of the American Legion. He also belonged to Mensa. Airlee was a fairly good photographer and he loved to write. Occasionally he put both talents to work and had been published in several magazines. He was member of Pacific Community Church which he attended regularly for many years. He loved his church, the brothers and sisters therein, his country and his friends — mostly veterans.

Airlee is survived by his sisters, Rosalie Meek of Central Point and Suzie Owens of Broadbent; a daughter, Tanya Ornelas of Springfield, Mo.; a son, Bradley Scott Owens formerly of Springfield, Mo., now residing in Bandon; and four grandchildren, Jesus, Anthony, Nikayla and Myranda.

Airlee was preceded in death by his parents, Hubert Owens and Martha B. Owens; and his brother, Bobby Owens.

The family suggests memorial contributions to the Prop Wash Gang, P.O. Box 363, Bandon, OR 97411.

Arrangements are under the direction of Amling/Schroeder Funeral Service, Bandon Chapel, 541-347-2907.

Oregon Coast Magazine Article By Airlee

Here is a well written article that Airlee wrote for Oregon Coast Magazine.


Sunday, February 21, 2010

God Created The Eyes Of The Beholder

Photo Courtesy Of Airlee Owens

This weekend I took my wife, my daughter and our grandson to our cabin in Lake Tahoe not just because my grandson had been begging me to take him to the snow but because it's so beautiful there and I find it very tranquil as well. Yesterday while relaxing as I sat alone by my fireplace looking out my window at the snow covered mountains all around the lake I began thinking about my mother and her love of Bandon and it's beautiful ocean. That led me to thinking about Airlee and the same affection he shared for the same place. Then I remembered a scene from one of my favorite movies when Jack Nicholson read a letter Morgan Freeman had written to him just before he died and in it he said... "Our lives are streams flowing to the same river towards whatever Heaven lies in the mist beyond the falls. Find the joy in your life... Close your eyes and let the waters take you home."

It was then that I had a difficult time holding back the tears as I realized the same beauty I saw in the mountains outside my window was the same beauty God created for my mother and Airlee each of which gasped at it's infinite beauty.

From The Desk Of Gary Sands

Dear Family and Friends,

I take off early tomorrow on my trip to Cusco, Peru please be in prayer for me as I travel and my stay there. According to the weather report for Cusco for the time I will be there is either rain or showers, 50-60 degrees. So it wont be much different than being in Bandon.

When I talked to Airlee last month while I visited him I told him "I sure wish you were going with me", well I think he will be with me in spirit. So I look forward to getting out and doing some photography while I am in Cusco and the surrounding area. My plan is when I get back is to get all of my photos on disc and give a presentation, so be on the lookout for info on that. I will try to get CD's for the ones out of the area if they would like them.

My travel plans are to fly out 2/22/10 and return 3/10/10 I will not be home in time for Airlee's memorial, however I will be there in spirit.

Once again I thank each of you for the support that you gave: prayer & financial support which has made this trip possible for me.


Nothing More Precious Than The Love Of Family

Airlee and Sister Rosalie

Note From Gary Sands


My name is Gary Sands and Airlee was a very good friend to me and my photography mentor. I have published some of my photos with a company that Airlee and I used called My Publisher and I wrote a dedication page that I would like for you to put in the tribute to Airlee.

I had always wanted to take pictures and I did just that
"take pictures".
Starting with a Yashika Electro 35, I took pictures and developed black and white pictures while I was in the Army at Ft. Bragg, NC. but the camera got put into the closet and there it stayed. I then bought a Minolta 35mm and still just took pictures, you could say that I had the desire just not the passion. I guess that life just happened and I fell into just taking pictures, nothing special just pictures.

After Hurricane Katrina I went on a mission trip to Biloxi, MS. to help out with disaster relief. I knew that I wanted to document my trip after prompting from a friend of mine. He not only prompted me, he gave me one of his cameras, a Fuji S-7000, to take with me. He taught me by showing me how to take "photographs", I have gained so much from this mentor, he awoke the passion that I had some 40 years ago, but didn't know how to make it happen.

I thank my friend and mentor for everything he has done for me.

This book is a collection of photographs I have taken in 2007 and dedicate it to Airlee Owens, my friend and mentor.
Thank you for awakening the passion in me.


You can view my collection of photos at:
user name: ornat52
password: bandon

You are right about the Kid in Airlee. I saved for a year to take Airlee on a helicopter tour out of Newport, OR. Being the gentleman he was he let me go first and then it was his turn to board the craft., what joy he had on his face that day. The pilot had asked us if we wanted the door on or taken off and the delight in Airlees voice when he asked "we can really have it off" was priceless. The flight was great he even got to see whales from about 1000ft above them, needless to say he was excited.

Another photo outing to Crater Lake was a memory I will hold. We got up at 4:00am for the trip Airlee told me he would have stuff to eat so I didn't pack anything. So that day I learned to eat onion and tomato sandwiches on hamburger buns and wash it down with O'Doul's non alcoholic beer.

I will truly miss My Friend, he brought joy to my heart and stirred the passion within me. What a dear man, that touched my heart and soul.

Gary Sands

Saturday, February 20, 2010

A Note From Bonnie Stephens

Great job on Airlee's page. I have many pictures also, taken by Airlee but I am sure you have the same. I will send you my favorites in case you don't have them. We loved him so much.

I was on his list and he sent me the best...or some of his best. FYI the Bandon hospital is having a pelican showing of the pictures locals have taken; if you want to take the prints to the hospital on March 1, from 10 until 2, they will be displayed at the showing from April 11 through June 30.

A Note From Colleen Brown

Airlee was in a class by himself. I can't say enough good about him. He had a heart of pure gold. I was looking through his photo's one time and fell in love with a butterfly pic and a blue rose. He had been playing around on the computer and turned the rose blue and I loved it so much he blew it up for me into about a 20 x 17 photo. I have had it hanging above my bed for years. The night he died.... the next morning when I got up I noticed the picture was crooked. That has NEVER happened before. It's practically glued to the wall so there's no way for it to move. Anyway I got on the computer and Rose had sent an e-mail saying he passed away that night. I was in shock, still am I think.

Airlee, I'm going to miss you like crazy. Was so looking forward to you coming home so I could see you and have a nice visit. I can't say enough about you. You were one of my best friends. You knew my love of birds and butterflies and always sent me your photo's. I have tons of them and have printed them out for my fam...ily to see. We had so many good talks and lots of laughs. You were one in a million. I remember one time when you came over to the house to help me with the computer and you asked me if I had spell check. I said I don't know, you said do you mind if I set it up for you? I said no go ahead, then couldn't contain myself another minute and had to laugh because I knew you knew I was a crappy speller and you were being very nice about it. That was you, a big gentle teddy bear of a man with a heart of gold. There is NO doubt in my mind I will see you again one day. I personally can't wait for that day to arrive!!! I will love you forever.

This is one of Airlee's videos...

Friday, February 19, 2010

Shelia... Airlee's Niece

Hi Gary,

Thank you so much for the blog you created for my uncle. It is truly amazing how many lives he has touched and how many people out there loved this man. I have a photo of Uncle Airlee and his children that he sent to me a few months ago. Would you please post it? I love this photo. I think everyone would enjoy seeing this photo of him when he was quite a bit younger. Thanks again, Gary.
Take care.


Airlee's fellow serviceman... Bradford Whipple

I barely knew Airlee but was instantly impressed with this bear of a man. In the RollCall site I called him a mountain of a man. I was a wannabe airborne intercept 203 from before enlisting in USAF. since I had a boyhood friend who had done this out of Turkey and he encouraged me to go for it. Bob "Slick" Keefe and Joel Fields were classmates of mine at Syracuse in 1956 and I tried to talk Fields into switching with me when we were both assigned to the 6911thRGM. He insisted on taking the Det#1 assignment and was shot down.

When I met Airlee at the September 2008 PWG reunion I sensed his dedication to the mission we all shared. I have two of his eagles in flight and for me they will remain prominently displayed in my log cabin in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Airlee left us too soon, RIP. Do svidaniye und auf Wiedersehen.


Brad Whipple sent these wonderful photos taken during the 50th Memorial of 60528 taken at Ft Meade on 09/02/2008. Thank You Brad.

Airlee painted and presented this to me at the 50th banquet

Son and grandson of one who died on 60528 with Larry Tart

Brad Whipple

Preparing for ceremony with 60528

Brad sent these wonderful photos taken during the 50th Memorial Ft Meade 09/02/2008

Prop Wash Gang Port Orford

WAG -1
June 18-20, 2004
Port Orford, Oregon
Left to right: Airlee Owens, Vic Calvo, Bud "Rosie" Rosenstrom, Rick Francona (front), Stan Poyas, Ron Kriegel (front), Bill White, Larry Lane (in whale riding gear), Jim Hensley, Larry Shuman
Not pictured: John Dixon

Final Rollcall (from Airlee's site)

Did you hear the sad news today?
Another "silent" warrior has passed away.
Called by the Supreme Commander over all.
Today he has made his final roll call.

Come fellow vets; let us reverently bow and pray
For our valiant comrade, who has fallen this day.
We'll drape his casket with a banner of beautiful hues,
Those glorious American colors: red, white and blue.

That star spangled banner he gallantly fought to defend,
Unyielding and undaunted, he fought to win.
He fought bravely and he passed the battle test.
Now the Supreme Commander grants him, "eternal rest".

With dignity and honor, we'll commit his body to the ground,
The bugler will sound "Taps" and we'll fire the volley rounds.
The final military honors we'll render somberly and ever so sadly;
"Old Glory" we'll solemnly precisely fold and reverently give to his family.

Each Memorial Day we will recall our fallen comrade names,
And attest that their selfless sacrifices were not in vain;
For this lasting legacy they gave to all generations;
"It's honorable to respect our flag and to defend our great nation."

So close ranks aging warriors, for our ranks are thinning.
We must keep on fighting and keep on winning.
With pride and honor we'll march and stand tall,
And we'll proudly - proudly - salute "Old Glory"
'til we too make our final roll call.

By: Carroll R. Michaud

An Empty Place In Our Hearts Missed By Many

Airlee's funeral will be Saturday March 6th at 1 pm at the Bandon High School Gym.

The Kid In Airlee

One day Airlee and I were talking about wildlife and I mentioned how my father used to have pet squirrels in his shop at Rogge's Lumber Mill out by Bullard's Bridge that he taught to do tricks. Airlee got all excited when he heard that and began sending me pictures of him with squirrels at Bullard's State Park. We had a good time talking about lots of wildlife from dainty little black cap chickadees to black bears but he always had a soft place in his heart for those little squirrels and chipmunks the same as my father.

Gary's father playing with his squirrels at the mill.

Video of Airlee enjoying his little friends

More Lasting Memories

Airlee's good friend and Veteran Bill Smith took these photos a few days ago when Bill and his wife Carla went to visit Airlee in the Vancouver V.A. Hospital. Bill wrote... "I took the photo of the vets at the table as they were complaining about the food as only vets can. Also, here is a more recent photo when Airlee had actually been doing much better. The guy in the photo with him was a fellow Air Force member who did a similar job in the Air Force that Airlee did, airborne intelligence gathering along the Soviet border in various locations around the globe. My wife, Carla, and Airlee have been like brothers and sister for the past 35 years."

The Best Of The Best

Bill Smith wrote; "Not bad for a shoeless kid from Bill's Creek Road Bandon, Oregon... Only 1 half of 1 percent of those who join the Air Force could qualify to do what Airlee did during his years of service."

Airlee Owens served as a member of the United States Air Force Security Service(USAFSS) and Russian Linguist.

Airlee is the 4th from the left in the back row.

Airlee spent many countless hours building what is one of the finest tributes to The United States Air Force Security Service known as "SILENT WARRIORS". CLICK HERE TO VIEW
"They Served in Silence."

Airlee serbed his second tour of duty flying missions out of Eielson Air Force Base near Fairbanks, Alaska. For his service there he was awarded The Air Award.

Photos Courtesy Of Bill Smith

Soilders Must Never Be Forgotten

Airlee was a Veteran that even other Veterans stood to salute. Airlee was a devoted military man, something which he chose to devote his life too and in the process never forgetting about any other member of the service as well. One of Airlee's very good friends, Bill Smith, wrote, "Airlee was a fixture and one of the founders of the Friday afternoon rally for the troops... it continues to this day, but there is a huge hole that can never be filled."

Video Of Airlee And Friends

Airlee's BHS 50th Year Reunion Speech

Photo Courtesy Of Airlee Owens

Hi Friends,

As some of you may know my high school class held its 50 year reunion in August. I had been selected to deliver the keynote speech at the Saturday night dinner; unfortunately I had had surgery three days before that event and missed the reunion altogether. However, since I had written my speech I sent it to Pat Cagley, one of my classmates and she had someone read my speech to my classmates at the dinner.

I am going to share my speech with you just for the hell of it.

Love, Airlee


Good evening classmates, Class of 1959, and friends, family, and teachers.

At one of our planning meetings in April of this year it was suggested that I should be a speaker at our 50th year class reunion. I asked why in the world would you think I would do that? A couple of people said, “Well, you spoke at our 40th year class reunion and you did a pretty good job.” Quite frankly folks, I have no recollection of speaking at our 40th year class reunion and if I did speak I cannot imagine why I did it.

I have no training in speaking before groups of people and, if you want to know the truth, it scares the hell out of me. I took Speech during my Senior year. Mrs. Tressider was the teacher. By the end of the first semester I was such a nervous wreck that I dropped Speech and took Senior English with Mrs. Glasscock. And later on, after I got out of the Air Force I attended Eastern Kentucky University for one year. In English we had to make some kind of short speech speech. My teacher said she could tell I was scared to death because she could see my knee cap jerking through my pant leg while I was speaking. I was very, very nervous. So let me tell you something: I am very honored to be able to speak to you but the analogy is somewhat akin to a guy who was being tarred and feathered. He said that if it were not for the honor of the thing he would just as soon pass it up.

It truly is an honor to speak to you, my fellow classmates of 1959.

The Bandon High School Class of 1959 is a unique class. I suspect all classes are unique in some respects but ours was special. A group or class takes on a unique personality which is sort of a composite of the individuals in that group. And our class had some very, very special people.

Any of us can immediately think of special people in our class or special friends and each of us had different experiences and surely each one of us would name different people who impacted our lives to some degree. Let me name just a few of people whom I remember with a great degree of fondness.

My first recollection is Roger Cox. Roger and I took Freshman Algebra and we used to do our homework and then call each other and check the answers. If we got a different answer on a homework question we would both do the problem over until we both came up with the same answer. I really appreciated Roger being there and helping me get started in advanced mathematics.

Dayton Turner was one of my best friends in high school. I was a hillbilly kid from Kentucky who started in 6th grade in Bandon over at the old Quonset huts across town. I didn’t get to know Dayton until we were in Junior High because he had gone to Ocean Crest in the 6th grade. If you recall, we all attended Bandon High School during our Junior High years. There was no Middle School back then.

One time, after Dayton and I had been friends for quite some time, he pointed out to me that my vocabulary was really lacking. He said he never heard me speak in more than two-syllable words. Well, rather than getting upset at Dayton I took that as a challenge and by the time we graduated I had a fairly decent vocabulary . I competed with Dayton in English and I did really well which probably helped me when I went into the Air Force because three months after I joined the Air Force I was on the campus of Syracuse University studying Russian. I studied nothing but Russian for eight hours a day for nine months. By the end of those nine months I could understand, speak, read, and type in Russian. It was total immersion into the Russian language. I believe a good knowledge of my own language, which I learned at Bandon High School, was very beneficial in studying another language.

And, of course, when I got out of the Air Force and went on to college, my English background and the Russian background really helped me to excel in Freshman English at Eastern Kentucky University. I was the only one in my small classroom of about 15 students who got an “A”.

Who else can I remember? Well, we all remember Linda Sutherland. I believe Linda was the first female student body president at Bandon High School. Linda was beautiful, extremely talented, loved by everyone, and stands out as one of the best remembered members of our class. To some of us Linda was the epitome of the perfect female. She had it all.

And we remember Mike Dahl. Mike was so smart. Many of us envied his brain and wished we were as smart as Mike was.

And we guys remember special girls in the class. I remember Carlleen Metzger. I probably had a lot of fantasies about Carlleen.

But we all lusted after some of our classmates didn’t we? I know that the guys in our class had their favorites whom they secretly dreamed about. And you ladies probably would not have admitted it back then but I bet you will now. You lusted after some of the guys, didn’t you?

We were much less worldly back then than kids are now. For us guys our knowledge of the female anatomy came straight from Playboy magazine and, for many years, I thought all girls had staples in their belly buttons. And do you know something, that really was a forecast of things to come because in today’s world I often see beautiful young ladies with staples in their belly buttons.

My social life really left a lot to be desired in high school. I had two dates in four years of high school and both of them were with girls I would have been ashamed to have been seen with in the daylight. It wasn’t that they were unattractive but their reputations really left something to be desired. And back then we were concerned about our reputations. I hope we still are.

We remember the good athletes, like Bob Bowman. We remember Nelson Pederson for being such a nice guy. And Ron Knox, Bob Ellis, Danny Palmer, Mike Dahl, all really nice guys.

I tried to think of some especially nice girls in our class that stood out but, you know something? They all seemed nice to me. I really tried to think of girls in our class that maybe I had some bad vibes about and, as God is my witness, I could not think of any.

I did not have a close or intimate friendship with any girls in our class but when I was writing my speech for tonight I wanted to single out some special girls in our class. Well, I came to the conclusion that they were all special, every one of you.

Let’s see now, who else can I single out? We remember Ken Butler for always challenging the teachers. The teachers always said that they liked questions but Ken really tested some of the teachers. I think Ken might have caused some teachers to rethink that part about how great it was for students to ask questions.

I can imagine this scenario: A teacher goes to summer school to get more training perhaps to work towards his Masters Degree and he is listening to the college professor tell these young teachers that they need to encourage their students to ask questions and this young teacher from Bandon would stand up and say something like, “Sir, I have been teaching at the high school level for a year now and I implemented that policy where I told my students that I wanted to hear their questions. Well, Sir, I am not sure you have ever heard of Ken Butler at Bandon High School. If you did you might want to rethink this policy of encouraging students to ask questions. I know I have. Can you picture that?

Anyway, the point is that all of us can look back on our class and have very special memories of many of our classmates, friends who were there for us, friends who inspired us, and teachers who were the best and who also inspired and challenged us. I hope that we will always keep those fond memories and that we remember them as long as we live. We will.

Our class was very special and it was made up of some very special people. All of the classmates here tonight are very special. We are the survivors of 50 years of sometimes hard living. We have lost some of our best, Carlleen, Don Wold, Pat Olson, Steve Bowman, Beverly Freeman, Danny Palmer, Larry Hopkins, Larry Martin, and about eight others who are no longer with us. But we still remember them and we will always remember them as being part of our lives.

But let’s get back to the Class of 1959. The uniqueness of our class was that we started in 1956, which was sort of the real beginning of Rock and Roll. With Elvis Presley, Fats Domino, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, and many, many more we were the first of that era. Quite frankly, I still enjoy 1950’s Rock and Roll and play it quite often when I am cruising around.

In 1957 Sputnik was launched by the Soviet Union, the first satellite to orbit our Earth. That woke up America and the push was on for more math and science after that. I had the good fortune to be in the first Trigonometry class taught at Bandon High School. There were seven of us who had survived Freshman Algebra, Geometry, and Advanced Algebra. Mr. Wright was our teacher. We even learned to use a slide rule. Ask any high school kid today what a slide rule is and you are going to get some strange looks or a weird answer.

Dayton, my brother, and I designed and built our own rockets. We could even go down to the local drug store and buy the ingredients to make black powder and we made our own rocket fuel. Try going down and buying those ingredients today. We did not even need a note from our parents to buy that stuff back in the 50’s.

We never successfully launched a rocket. Every one we tried burned on the launch pad. But it was really fun to dream about being able to launch a rocket.

In 1959, the last year of high school for us, Fidel Castro marched into Havana, Cuba with thousands of people following him. Even though none of us was very political back in those days some of us admired Castro and we viewed him as a liberator against the rotten Batista regime. Some of us actually fantasized how great it would be to join Castro in his fight against Batista and to liberate the poor people in Cuba. And then we found out that Castro, who had initially called himself an agrarian reformer, was a communist. Since none of us liked communists our adoration of Fidel Castro died. Another temporary hero was gone from our lives.

But we rocked on through four years of high school from 1956 to 1959 and I think most of us enjoyed our high school years and look back on them with a certain degree of fondness. I have never ever felt like I got a second class education. In fact, from all the people I have met in my life I have never considered that my education at Bandon High School was second to any of the people I have known. We had good teachers and, for the most part, we pretty much got out of Bandon High School what we put into it.

The other thing I remember about our four years in high school was that we always had a championship football team. But when we would get to the playoffs we always seemed to get beat by some Catholic team in Eugene or Portland. I am still not really fond of Catholics for that reason.

By the way, there is one thing which I did not put into my bio for the book. I got thrown into jail once back many years ago. But I think you will be proud that I was thrown into jail for getting into a fight over our football team. A friend and I went to Florence to see Bandon play Siuslaw. There were not a lot of Bandon fans on the sideline so my friend and I decided we were going to make up for the small number of Bandon fans there. So we got really noisy and loud and irritated some Siuslaw fans and by the end of the first half we had gotten into a good fight and my buddy and I were handcuffed and hauled off to jail. It took our friends over four hours to get enough money together to bail us out. Do you know that jails do not take credit cards or out of town checks? I wonder why.

But I did want you to know that I was jailed for trying to uphold the honor of Bandon High School. The fact that I was about half drunk might have had something to do with it but I would like to think I was fighting for good ole Bandon High.

Well, I do not want to bore you much longer. I think all of us here tonight are obviously proud of our high school, our high school class, and the many wonderful classmates and teachers we had the good fortune to spend some of the best years of our lives with. I encourage each of you to look and around and interact with your classmates. If we have a 60 year reunion it is highly likely that some of us here tonight will not be here ten years from now. So do not miss this opportunity to enjoy your classmates, perhaps for the last time.

I thank you for letting me speak and I am very proud to be part of this class. God has really blessed me over my lifetime and the opportunity to speak to you this evening is just one more of His blessings. I love all of you.

How Did You Meet Airlee?

I had to laugh... Several years ago I wrote a daily Bandon blog and it was there that I first began visiting on a regular basis with Airlee. What I find ironic about our friendship is that during all the years that we wrote each other I didn't have a clue that Airlee was Rosie's brother. In fact Rosie's deceased husband, Lucky Siewell, was one of my best friends with which I have stayed in contact with over the years as well as her wonderful children.

In the beginning Airlee would contribute his amazing photos to my Bandon Blog all of which were the kind of works that make to wish you had it framed and hanging on your wall at home. Airlee really had an amazing eye which when combined with his lifetime devotion of learning his photographic skills, gave him the ability to capture and create photos which were as good as can be found anywhere.

One of the things that I enjoyed most about Airlee was each time we discussed one of his photos he really had a lot to say about it. Not only did we talk about the lighting, film speed, aperture settings but more importantly he enjoyed discussing the subject matter. There were many but I remember when he told me about the day he was walking on the Bandon Jetty when all of a sudden he saw a Bald Eagle land on a driftwood log. The excitement he shared with me was like a kid walking into a new toy store. It was an exciting story that even had a touch of drama as Airlee was trying to shoot the pictures while some tourist were walking towards the eagle completely unaware of what was going on let alone that there was a Bald Eagle just yards in front of them.

Photo Courtesy Airlee Owens

Airlee enjoyed shooting anything with his camera, always looking for that exceptional shot. One such photo was of nothing more that a red boat sitting on the rocks along a river. When I told Airlee how that particular photo brought back so many wonderful memories for me it really hit a nerve. We talked chatted back and forth over an hour about this one photo and it was amazing to look at it from Airlee's eyes because he could see so much more that just a boat. As it turned out he shared many of the exact same memories as I did with regard to that photo simply titled "Red Boat".

Photo Courtesy Of Airlee Owens

Airlee Owens 2/18/1941 - 2/17/2010