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Program cover from the 1999 Gathering of Mustangs
Major General Bill Anders Program Page
 Program cover from the 1999 Gathering.
Major General William Anders Program Page

On April 10th, 1999 there was an event in Kissimmee, Florida called “The Gathering of Mustangs and Legends.”  It was a fly in of many of the surviving P-51 Mustang fighters.  

This was billed as the largest gathering of Mustangs since Worald War II and the Korean Conflict. An added attraction to this event was that several notable fighter pilots were supposed to attend.  Among these pilots was Apollo 8 astronaut, Major General Bill Anders.  Anders is such a rarity at public appearances that it is hard to pass up an event where he is supposed to attend.

I told my friend Andy Sheppard about this event and the two of us decided to fly to Florida for it.  When we were checking in at the airport, Andy convinced me to check in my luggage.  Normally for a weekend trip I would have just carried the luggage on.  Since Andy was checking his luggage though, I figured I had nothing to gain by carrying mine since it would not save any time leaving the airport.  That wasn’t quite true.

My luggage did not make it on the flight with me for some reason.  We got into Orlando at 11:30 PM and waited until the luggage conveyor stopped, but no joy.  So I filed a report with American and they said it would probably come in on the next flight and they would deliver it to the house where I was staying.

Oh great, now I all the clothes that I had to wear was what I had worn to work on Friday.  That wasn't a big issue, but I would have preferred shorts and sneakers for the air show. You could say that I was a little over dressed for the occasion.

Probably the biggest problem with the lost luggage was that my sunscreen was in there also. To compound the situation, I forgot to stop on the way out to Kissimmee airfield and purchase sunscreen.  The first thing I did at the air show was buy a baseball hat.  That however did not protect my neck and it got pretty badly sunburned.

Other than that, things went very well.  There were actually 63 P-51 mustangs that made it for the fly in. That was an impressive site.  Also impressive is the fact that out of the 15,600 some that were made, only 150 mustangs exist today and we saw 63 of them.

We walked along looking at the planes trying to find the ones associated with the legends.  Over at the end of the flight line, we saw "Glamorous Glennis III" and "Old Crow".  These are the two planes associated with Chuck Yeager and Bud Anderson.  

Yeager was walking around his plane and talking to another pilot.  A few people were getting autographs, so I got in the short line to get a copy of the book "Yeager" signed.  Yeager is a pretty crusty old guy, bigger than life in a lot of respects. 

He signed the book, I wished him luck for the day of flying, I and shook his hand.  He didn't seem overly friendly, but with General Yeager I think that is as good as it gets.

The next person that I saw was Bud Anderson.  Anderson was credited with 19 kills in the war and is a good friend of General Yeager's.  They flew together in WWII.  I stopped and asked Anderson to sign a photo of him that was in the Yeager book.

Anderson crossed out the description of the photo that said "Wingman Bud Anderson" and wrote in "Lifelong Friend Bud Anderson".  He said that this was a first edition copy of the book and it had a terrible error in it. Yeager was actually Anderson's wingman not vice versa. I thought it was great that he corrected it.  That was cool.

Then we started to walk back down the flight line.  We turned around and saw a mustang named "Val-Halla".  This was Bill Anders' plane.  Sure enough, there in a blue flight suit with an Apollo 8 patch on the shoulder was Major General Anders.  We saw him sign something for one person so I was hopeful for the chance of success.

Before we could reach Anders, a TV camera crew grabbed him for an interview.  So we had to wait until that finished.  It was kind of interesting while we waited, because there were two guys in Air Force flight coveralls, prepping Anders's plane.  Looking at the name tag of the two guys, they were also named Anders.  They were his sons.

We started talking to a guy who wrote for Warbirds magazine.  He was waiting to get Anders autograph as well.  He told us that Borman had left on Friday.  He was in Kissimmee for Thursday and Friday, but left Friday evening.  It was disappointing to miss seeing Borman, but Anders who was our primary objective was still there.

The interview finally finished.  I got in line about second or third, to get to Anders.  He signed one thing for each of the people ahead of me. Just as I got there he said, "Well I'm going to have to go to a briefing pretty soon." 

I feared that he would just walk off, but he signed an 8x10 card that I had printed up with the verse from Genesis that he read from lunar orbit on Christmas Eve, 1968.  I was thrilled to get this signed.  It now completed a set of three signed cards by each Apollo 8 crew member.

My friend Andy was in line after me and got an Apollo 8 crew photo signed. I was pretty excited with our success but was not yet satisfied. I still had one other thing that I wanted to get signed and that was an Apollo 8 crew photo. The line was pretty small so Andy suggested I go back and get my crew photo signed. 

I didn't want to be too pushy, but since Anders still had not left, I decided to try.  Sure he enough he signed my crew photo.  That was great, because the photo already had Borman's and Lovell's signatures on it.  Now that crew photo was complete.  I was walking on cloud nine.  Anders was the "holy grail" of signatures in the astronaut quest and we finally got it.

After that they had a tent set up where various other Air Force legends and aces were autographing.  We bought a couple of programs from the event and had these people sign them.

Within about an hour, Anders, Yeager, and Anderson took off in a flight of four mustangs.  It was pretty neat to see them take off together. After about another hour, this flight of mustangs came back and landed.

We waited for about 45 minutes before going over to where Anders plane was.  I had another photo that I was hoping to get signed and Andy wanted Anders to sign his program.  Well, Anders was by his plane alright.  About 5 people had lined up to get his signature.  He waved the first guy off and said “I'm not signing now; there will be an autograph session later.”

Oh well perhaps we could catch him later.  We assumed by his remark that he'd be over at the autograph tent at some point.  Later never came however, as Anders never did come to the tent. 

We were very fortunate to catch Anders early in the morning when we did.  If our timing had been any different, getting an autograph from Anders would have been a washout.  A brief 5 minute window of opportunity was all that there was!

The “Gathering of Mustangs” event finished Saturday afternoon.  Sunday, I suggested to Andy that we go back over to the Kissimmee airport and visit the vintage airplane restoration museum there.  I also suggested that we take Andy's dad. His dad didn’t feel up to being out in the sun all day on Saturday and this seemed like a reasonable compromise.

We went over to the airport and we got lucky.  About 30 of the mustangs were firing up and taking off.  Andy's dad got to see some of the mustangs and see them fly also.

We saw some people who were gathered around a hanger.  Judging by the crowd we figured that someone important must be over there.  We probably were not supposed to be there, but that didn’t stop us. We nonchalantly strolled over to the hanger acting as if we belonged there.

When we got over to the hanger we saw the "Glamorous Glennis III".  In a little while General Yeager came out, climbed up on the wing and strapped on a parachute.

He got in the airplane and went through his preflight checklist.  A short while later he fired up the engine.  We were only about 40 feet behind the plane.  Dust and dirt pelted us as the air wash from the prop swept the tarmac. Not only did we get to see Yeager taxi for takeoff, we felt it! That was an unexpected bonus for the weekend.

I was really pleased that Andy's dad got to see this.  He was really interested in seeing the planes on Saturday, but decided that a full day of sun would be too much for him.  On Sunday, without any hardship Andy’s dad was able to see General Chuck Yeager fly.

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UPDATED : February 1, 2007
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