By Su Phelps and Cheri Fisher, Photos by Su Phelps
In November of 1966 a tactical conference was held included United States Air Force, Navy, and Marine aircrews who were flying combat missions over the “Red River Valley” of North Vietnam. In 1969, then Brig. Gen. Robin Olds met with Col. Scrappy Johnson to discuss the formation of a permanent organizational structure for the Red River Valley Fighter Pilots Association, leading to its incorporation in Kansas. In 1969, Col. Larry Pickett held the first stateside practice reunion at Wichita, KS. It was a great success.
The organization’s purposes and efforts were directed toward generating awareness of the Prisoners of War (POW) and aircrews Missing in Action/Killed in Action (MIA/KIA) and supporting their families.
The scholarship program is a major priority of this organization. The fund was established at the San Antonio reunion in 1970 as a result of concern for the families of fellow “River Rats” who were POW/MIA/KIA. The hat was passed and three $1000 scholarships were awarded.
In August of 1973, after the Prisoners of War had returned home, the first “real” reunion was held in Las Vegas, NV.
On April 30, 1975, the organization’s name was amended to “Red River Valley Association, Inc.” The IRS granted 501(c)(3) status on July 22, 1976.
In 1998 the scholarship program was expanded to include losses due to non-combat operational accidents.
The association now provides scholarships to children of United States military personnel MIA/KIA in armed conflicts from Southeast Asia through the present. Additionally, dependents of aircrew members killed in military aircraft accidents now qualify for scholarships.
Since 1970, “The River Rats” have awarded more than 1,130 scholarship grants with a value of over 2.3 million dollars to the children and spouses of Air Force, Army, Navy, and Marine Corps aircrew members.
The Red River Valley Association continues to hold reunions and award scholarships annually.