Friday, June 3, 2016

Daughter tries to find out about dad's airline in the 1940s: Veterans Air Line and Veterans Air Express at Teterboro Airport (KTEB), Bergen County, New Jersey

Kathryn's Report: http://www.kathrynsreport.com


A youthful Saunie Gravely and the Veterans Air Express plane he named after his daughter.



Gaye Lyn Gravely researching her father’s 1940s air service at the Aviation Hall of Fame Library in Teterboro.



TETERBORO — Gaye Lyn Gravely leafed through the yellowed news clippings in the aviation museum library here recently, hunting for just a scrap of information about a short-lived airline her father founded that ran cargo flights out of Teterboro Airport 70 years ago.

She didn’t find news she’d hoped for in the archives, but she did connect with a local aviation historian and with the leader of the Teterboro-based Aviation Hall of Fame and Museum of New Jersey.

Gaye Lyn Gravely researching her father’s 1940s air service at the Aviation Hall of Fame Library in Teterboro.

It was big step in a quest she’s undertaken: Filling in blanks in her understanding of her father’s past and learning about the challenges he and other World War II veterans faced adjusting to life as civilians.

At the same time, her inquiries have sparked interest at the museum in adding to some of the history it tells.

In 1945, as World War II wound down, her father, Saunie Gravely, a West Virginia native who’d met his New Jersey bride at the Shore, had been stationed in Newark. He kept bumping into fellow U.S. Army Air Corps veterans who’d been trained as pilots, navigators and aircraft crewman but couldn’t find work in a postwar jobs market loaded with ex-airmen.

He walked into a produce company in Newark and asked the owner if he’d be interested in working with a veteran-run air service that could deliver his products quicker. The owner said yes, and so, with cash pooled together from some two-dozen of his colleagues, Gravely’s Veterans Air Express was soon up and running, and working to fulfill its motto to fly "Anything, Any Place, Any Time."

At its height, the company had at least five planes transporting international cargo and even running some passenger flights from Newark to Miami.

Shea Oakley, executive director of the museum, said "new entrant" companies such as Gravely’s were common in the airline industry immediately after the war, and Gravely had an advantage in running his out of North Jersey airports.

There was plenty of business available. Oakley said that in the 1940s, Teterboro was the largest air-cargo airport in the eastern half of the nation. At the same time, there were lots of surplus military aircraft available and an abundance of well trained and experienced aviators and crew just out of the service.

But shifts in the airline industry that included the expansion of services offered by the existing major companies put many of the smaller operations out of business. That was the likely fate of Veterans Air Express, both Oakley and Gravely said.

Given the cost of running airlines today, Oakley said that the immediate postwar era was unique. "Those are historical circumstances I don’t see repeating," Oakley said.

Gravely’s visit did give the director a fresh idea for the museum: an exhibit showcasing the 1940s-era of air cargo at Teterboro.

Gaye Lyn Gravely got started on her research some two decades ago, when she came across a 1946 article in an air-industry trade magazine that told the story of how Veterans Air Express got its real start, with a major shipment of a couple thousand pounds of aluminum alloy products and Thanksgiving turkeys "cleaned, packed and plucked" in Louisville, Ky., for delivery to Newark. The article also gave her a real clue: the names of the original 23 veterans who started the company.

Her research has continued over the years in fits and starts.

Now 70, she’s pieced together military records, obituaries, airplane manifests, old photographs and anything else she can find to fill in the history of the company which operated from 1945 until either 1946 or early 1947.

But still there are many blanks.

She remembers her father mentioning the company when she was young, but she never realized how much it meant to him and the other employees until much later in life. Her dad went on to work as a civilian jet-engine technician and later had a string of jobs, including running a mobile-home sales company.

"By the time I was 5 years old, it was history," Gravely said.

After he and her mother divorced in the 1960s, he became estranged from his daughter for many years. They reconnected years later, the daughter taking her father flying after she’d earned her pilot’s license.

He later shared a few folders of news articles about the company, but even after his death in the late 1980s she didn’t find the time to begin real research until about a year ago.

On Tuesday she met at the airport museum with local aviation historian Henry Holden — who’s written more than 40 books, including one about Teterboro Airport — to learn more about the airport at the time of her father’s company.

Some of the tidbits she’s unearthed have been fascinating. She’d recently uncovered that the DC-3 airplane her father named after her, the Gaye Lyn, had gone off of the runway at Teterboro and into a ditch. Holden told her if she could track down the airplane’s construction number he could likely find out what happened to the aircraft.

To date, Gravely has met with about a dozen family members of former company employees, and a handful of men who worked for the company.

Each recalled their time with the service fondly, describing a feeling of optimism for its future, camaraderie with fellow veterans and real sense of ownership as many were shareholders in the company, Gravely said.

Time with the company lasted such a short period in the span of their lives — perhaps one to two years — but it’s mentioned in multiple obituaries alongside military honors, church memberships and lifelong careers in other fields.

She’s built a website complete with regular updates on her research, photographs and a list of names with as much information as she’s been able to find on each person.

The original list of 23 names associated with the company grew to 63. At least five had connections to Bergen County: John A. Neigel of Fair Lawn, Jim O’Neill of Edgewater, Irving Rosenberg of Garfield, Michael A. Tome of Westwood and George Cannock of Edgewater.

With each new research discovery, Gravely’s fascination with the era, the company and her father’s boundless ambition only grows.

She flew to Prague in May to commemorate the 70th anniversary of a United Nations relief flight in which Veterans Air Express flew more than 150,000 hatching eggs on three separate flights to the city to help rebuild the nation’s agricultural economy. Pilots also flew eggs to Warsaw and cattle to Athens.

The end of her research is likely years away, she said. The age of the men, many likely in their 90s, has given it more urgency. She’s unsure if she’ll write a book or pursue another way to memorialize the company and its employees.

But she aims to continue mining the records and memories of people to learn about a passion that helped her grow to know her father better many years after his death,

"It really started coming alive for me," she said. "It made me very proud of him."

For more information on Veterans Air Express: veteransair.org

Original article can be found here: http://www.northjersey.com

1 comment:

Gaye Lyn said...

Just found this post. Am delighted. Thanks for picking it up. If any of your readers were associated with or are family or Veterans buddies of my Dad's spectacular adventure - Veterans Air Express - I'd love to hear from them. Thanks, again, Kathryn. My best, Gaye Lyn.