VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. -- The 2012 Naval Air Station (NAS) Oceana Air Show featured performances from military demonstration teams like the Blue Angels and U.S. Navy Tac Demo Team, and civilians like John Mohr, Sept. 14-16, but this year's show also offered the public the opportunity to celebrate the flag and patriotism.
The theme of the annual air show was "Our Flag was Still There," and is one of many Navy events around the country commemorating the bicentennial of the War of 1812 and the writing of the "Star Spangled Banner" by Francis Scott Key.
"For the air show, we were looking for something a little more red, white and blue that appealed to the public and the 'Star Spangled Banner' is something that everybody knows the words to. We decided to focus on that one particular part, 'our flag was still there,'" explained Oceana Air Show Director Richard "Corky" Erie.
"We really wanted to show our visitors something they will never forget and we did that with the flag passing," explained Erie.
On both days, before the Blue Angels finale, five Sailors took to the stage at show center as Chief Legalman (AW/SW) Melissa Adams from Strike Fighter Wing Atlantic recited "Old Glory." The flag was then presented to a veteran in attendance.
One honored veteran was retired Navy Capt. Bill "Peanut" Gortney, father of new U.S. Fleet Forces Commander Adm. William Gortney.
"I was surprised. It was very nice. It was certainly a wonderful thing for them to do," said Capt. Gortney.The 88-year old began his military career in 1942 as an aviation cadet and was commissioned as an ensign in 1944, serving until his retirement in 1970.
During flight school, he learned to fly in the Stearman, much like the one flown by Mohr during this year's Oceana Air Show. Gortney also flew the F4F and F6F during his early naval career. His first visit to NAS Oceana was in 1945, where he flew into the base, which Gortney described as, "everything was tar-paper shacks; really temporary buildings."
Gortney also saw the Blue Angels' very first public performance in 1946. "This is the best one I've ever seen and I live near Jacksonville, [Fla.]," said Gortney about this year's air show.
Another flag passing ceremony honored the Montford Point Marines and Tuskegee Airmen, whose representatives were introduced to the crowd. The ceremony concluded with the flag being presented to Sgt. Harry Quinton, one of two of the original documented Tuskegee Airman in attendance.
Retired Master Gunnery Sgt. Jimmy Hargrove was among the members of the Montford Point Marines who shared their legacy with the air show audience throughout the weekend. Impressed by a Montford Point Marine who served during World War II, Hargrove made up his mind to join the Marine Corps. He joked that any time he regretted that decision he was encouraged by fellow Marines to stay in.
"I'm proud to have served 30 years in the Marine Corps," said Hargrove, who served from 1948 to 1978, which included tours in Korea and Vietnam.
"I think what we have done exceptionally well is integrating veterans into our show and our flag passing ceremony is really the culmination of that. It really highlights the lineage of service that we have from the veterans before us to the active duty of today to the young people out there in the crowd who are going to be the veterans of tomorrow," said NAS Oceana Commanding Officer Capt. Bob Geis.
Both Geis and Erie noted the flag presentations to the veterans brought tears to many in the audience. While Geis said the flag recipients were not preordained but instead, "Each day we found the right person [to present it to] to make it special for them and the crowd."
There are not many more recognizable symbols of patriotism than Uncle Sam being portrayed by Steve Myott, who walks the show in his trademark stilts and a traditional Uncle Sam costume.
To Myott, "Our Flag was Still There," represents the American spirit. During a battle if the person carrying the flag fell, Myott explained how someone else would pick up that flag, so that it wouldn't lay on the ground as they moved forward in battle. "That's what our history is about. When we're facing challenges where we're being brought down, we're still looking to rise back up, and keep going," he said.
"To me, it's just so important to appreciate what we have and not take it for granted," he added.
He said it's that patriotism and spirit that keeps him representing the icon for about 10 - 12 shows every year. During the Oceana Air Show, Myott gave out small flags to children and also made special presentations of larger flags to the teenagers who sang the national anthem.
Sarah Yaden, 16, was one of those singers. With her father, Cmdr. Steven Yaden, on his second tour in Kabul, Afghanistan, singing the national anthem during Sept. 16 Air Show was a very emotional event for the talented teen. Yaden got her start in musical theater and enjoys singing opera.
"I've always sung it but it means a lot more now with my dad over there," said Sarah, a Grassfield High School junior.
Yaden, in her third year at the Governors School for the Arts, can't remember a time she wasn't singing. Although Yaden has performed the "Star Spangled Banner," at other events, Sunday's air show was the largest audience she has sung for and she admitted to being nervous beforehand.
This young lady was just the right pick to sing the words to the song that captures the spirit that her father is currently fighting for overseas," said Erie.
As NAS Oceana's commanding officer praised this year's lineup of performers, he singled out one team for special recognition during Sunday's early morning briefing. Rich Gibson with Rich's Incredible Pyro, has been an integral part of the Ocean air show for many years, with his signature wall of fire behind the demos that has caused audiences to "feel the heat."
But Gibson and his wife, Dee, have chosen to end their air show career at the end of this season. "The Navy has truly treated me like family. Saying goodbye to the Navy is truly the hardest part of this job," said Gibson as he thanked Oceana personnel and other performers Sunday morning.
While Geis said there are always ways to improve the air show, "I think we have great formulas that we can change slightly to make it a fresh show for next year but I don't think there are any major changes for next year. We've gotten to the point now, we think, where everyone knows where they're supposed to be...The processes are perfected so much now that we might make minor modifications but not sure we need to make any major changes."
As he thinks ahead to the 2013 show, Erie admits there will be some challenges, including replacing Rich's Incredible Pyro, whom Erie describes as "the best in the business."
"We've got a lot of great lessons learned for next year," said Erie, who joked there's one thing he can't do better next year. "I've already told the commanding officer I won't be able to top that flag passing ceremony."