Florida World War II fliers honor reunion tradition for last time

By Holly Gregory, Anchor/Reporter
Last Updated: Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Squadron 451 answered the call of duty during World War II—flying 296 missions.  On March 5, the last two remaining members of the Florida squadron had one final pledge to fulfill.

  • Squadron maintained "Alligator Wrestle" reunion tradition for 72 years
  • With just two members remaining, tradition came to an end
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“Somebody had to the be the last two standing,” said Colonel Sanford Graves.    

Graves, 93, and Lieutenant Marshall Clark, 95, are those last two.  For the past 72 years, the squadron has held their annual reunion, nicknamed the “Alligator Wrestle.”  

The "Wrestle" includes a tradition begun years ago, in which the fliers first placed a bottle of cognac in a box and wrapped it in craft paper. They then each wrote their names on it.

“We wrote our names and each time one of our brothers would pass away, we would cross off their name,” said Graves.  “Once there were just two of left, we agreed to open the box and hold a final reunion and toast.”

The squadron's commander, Ret. Brig. General Henry C. Newcomer, passed away in Ponte Vedra in December, 2016, leaving Graves and Clark the remaining two members.

On Wednesday, Graves and Clark unwrapped and opened the box together. They removed the bottle of cognac, brushed off the dust and poured two glasses.  

First -- a toast to each other.

“Here’s a toast to you, Sandy," said Clark. "It’s been nice knowing you all these years.”

“And here’s to many, many more for the last two standing,” said Graves as both men raised their glasses.

Then they read off the names of the squadron members who had passed before them. Glasses were handed out to family members who took part in final toast to the 451st.

“Let’s have a final toast to our comrades who fell," said Graves. "May they rest in peace.”