Wings & Wheels Dinner/Show: With and without power, the show goes on

W&W kelley and creekmore

Pilot and aviation historian/memorabilia collector Larry Kelley, left, greets World War II veteran Tom Creekmore of Long Neck at the Wings & Wheels Dinner & Show event Friday night.

GEORGETOWN – The show must go on.

And so it did – even without electricity for a good portion of the evening.

Power outage sparked by downed utility wires could not short-circuit the festive World War II-era mood of Wings & Wheels’ Friday Night Dinner & Show – an event attended by former NASA Shuttle astronaut/Navy TOPGUN pilot Commander Joe Edwards of Virginia and WWII Eighth Air Force bomber crew member Tom Creekmore of Long Neck.

W & W abbott costello norm short delm broadcasting

Norm Short, center, meets Bill Riley and Joe Ziegler (Bud Abbott and Lou Costello) at the Wings & Wheels Dinner & Show.

The dinner/show, which followed a highly successful Aviation Education Day and capped the abbreviated 2015 Wings & Wheels event with weather-related cancellation of Saturday’s entire schedule, was highlighted by a ceremonial toast and belated birthday wishes to 100-year-old Doolittle Raider Lt. Col. Dick Cole, whose planned trip from Texas to Delaware was grounded by air travel concerns.

“Dick was worried about getting stuck in an airport – at 100 years old,” said Wings & Wheels chairwoman Linda Price.

Aviation historian/pilot Larry Kelley, co-founder and executive director of the Delaware Aviation Museum that teams with the Greater Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and the Wheels That Heal Car Club as festival presenters, talked to Lt. Col. Cole by phone at mid-week.

W&W larry cutting cake

Larry Kelley cuts the cake made in celebration plans for Doolittle Raider/honored WWII airman Lt. Col. Dick Cole. Unfortunately, due to weather conditions and impact on flight travel, Lt. Col. Cole was unable to make the trip from Texas to Delaware.

“He was very upset. At 100 years old, he and his daughter had talked about it; he was afraid he’d get stuck in an airport with cancelled flights,” said Mr. Kelley. “He guaranteed us he’d be here next year.”

Several special ceremonies and surprises were planned at Wings & Wheels for Lt. Col. Cole, who was then Lt. Col. James Doolittle’s co-pilot in the first of 16 B-25 Mitchell bombers that lifted off from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet in the April 1942 bombing raid on Japan. Lt. Col. Cole, one of only two surviving Raiders from the original 80, was a special guest as Wings & Wheels in 2013 and 2014.

Presentation of a special bottle of cognac was among ceremonies foiled by weather.

“The Hennessey family in France had located a 100-year-old bottle of Hennessey, flown it over here on Air France and it was to be presented to Dick tonight,” said Mr. Kelley. “But he will get that bottle in the next month.”

Blackout!

Moments before dinner was served – and Big Band era group Smooth Sound tuning up – power at the staging hangar at the Delaware Coastal Airport went out.

W&W linda price bill west

Linda Price, Wings & Wheels chairwoman, and Georgetown Mayor Bill West share initial word on the power outage that semi-darkened, but did not dampen the spirit of Friday’s dinner/show event.

Word from Georgetown Mayor Bill West was that the outage was caused a traffic accident that brought down utility wires.

However, with some portable lighting, flashlights and burners keeping food by Lighthouse Catering warm, the program went on as planned, including the first of two comedy sets by the Ultimate Abbott & Costello Tribute. Power was restored for the second set.

It was suggested that the un-planned power outage actually added wartime ambiance, mirroring lights-out blackouts ordered along America’s seaboard during WWII with German U-boats prowling off America’s coast aiming to sink cargo ships.

“It was a ‘blackout,’” said Ms. Price with a chuckle. “We wanted to be right there back there in World War II … and here we are.”

Mr. Creekmore, now 92, flew 19 bombing missions over Germany. A 20th mission was part of the massive effort to rescue thousands of German-held Allied prisoners in territory occupied by the Russians after the fall of the Third Reich.

“The 20th mission was the best,” said Mr. Creekmore, among those who took to the dance floor to swing to Smooth Sound’s music.

Difficult decision

Ms. Price said the decision for a complete Saturday cancellation due to the nor’easter and possible impact of Hurricane Joaquin was most difficult but one that ultimately had to be made.

“It was a heartbreaking thing for us to have to cancel this event (for Saturday). We tried to think of everything we could do to put it on, but everything kept coming back to the fact that the weather wasn’t going to get any better. We really needed to think about the safety of our guests,” said Ms. Price. “Everybody that we talked to – the vendors and people that monitor our Facebook page were very disappointed but they completely understood what we were doing. And they can’t wait to come next year.”

Aviation Education Day

Two hundred and sixty high school students from Sussex Tech, Sussex Central and Cape Henlopen, 16 vendors and six speakers encompassed the educational event held Friday.

W&W joe edwards applauds

Commander Joe Edwards, a NASA Shuttle commander and highly-decorated Navy TOPGUN pilot, was among the speakers at Aviation Education Day.

“That was a huge success,” said Mr. Price.

The majority of students were sophomores, juniors and seniors from Sussex Tech.

Speakers included Com. Edwards, U.S. Air Force Capt. Travis Doyle, retired Lockheed Martin president Ron Covais, Sam Henry of NASA Wallops Island and representatives from University of Maryland Eastern Shore’s Aviation Science Division and U.S. Air/Piedmont.

“I have done this a fair amount over the course of my life,” said Comm. Edwards. “And this was a really great group of students and a really great group of educators. From my perspective it’s a real credit to the community here, and Sussex County and Georgetown to have such a great group of educators and such highly motivated students. What I found is that they actually had great interest in the sciences and the engineering and in aviation as well.”

As a NASA astronaut, Com. Edwards flew on the eighth Space Shuttle-Mir docking mission in January 1998.

As a Navy pilot he earned distinguished honors for landing a crippled F-14 on a U.S. carrier in the Persian Gulf in 1991, a feat that earned him the Navy’s Distinguished Flying Cross.

“Joe was amazing. He was such a hit at the Aviation Education Day,” said Ms. Price. “He and Capt. Travis Doyle just really got to what the kids wanted to hear about. He had the kids’ attention. From the very beginning he walked out and he said, ‘I’m going to tell you a little bit about myself. I am going to ask you to ask questions, so don’t you let me down. And they didn’t.”

W&W singing happy birthday

From left, Ultimate Abbott & Costello Tribute Show performers Joe Ziegler (Costello), Jason Crutchley (ace press agent Scoop Fields) and Bill Riley (Abbott) join in singing Happy Birthday to 100-year-old Lt. Col. Dick Cole, who was to be honored at Wings & Wheels but could not make the trip due to stormy weather and flight concerns.

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

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