SEALS a hit with fans in expo at airfield

The 5th annual Wings, Wheels and Rotors Expo at the Joint Forces Training Base attracts thousands.

By DEEPA BHARATH THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

Monday, October 30, 2006

LOS ALAMITOS Vu Truong flashed a toothy smile at the officer before him.

The 17-year-old senior at Fountain Valley High School dreams about walking tall in a U.S. Navy SEAL uniform some day.

On Sunday, Vu got an opportunity to shake hands with one at the 5th annual Wings, Wheels and Rotors Expo at the Los Alamitos Joint Forces Training Base where the SEALs' Leapfrogs team made a dramatic entrance by parachuting from a helicopter.

Thousands looked skyward, squinting into the bold rays of the afternoon sun as the SEALs gracefully dropped, leaving a trail of colored smoke in their wake.

Vu, among hundreds of others, was star-struck at the sight of his heroes in action.

                              
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"These are our unsung heroes," he said. "They protect us. They protect our freedom."

"SPIRALING: Navy Chief Larry Summerfield of the SEALs parachute team the Leap Frogs trails smoke for show as he glides to earth Sunday at the Los Alamitos airfield.

MICHAEL GOULDING, THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER"

While the event, sponsored by the base, Los Alamitos Chamber of Commerce and the California National Guard, fueled patriotic sentiments among visitors, it also satisfied the whims and curiosities of the wings and wheels aficionados who crowded the sprawling Army airfield.

The event featured about 25 helicopters, World War II Warbirds, hot rods and antique farm rotors.

The Expo has grown tremendously over the last five years, said California Army National Guard Lt. Col. Tom Lasser.

"We find that people are really excited about visiting the base," he said. "It's been a great event for children and families."

The event has also opened doors to nonprofit groups that are collecting money to help those serving in Iraq and their families, Lasser said.

Rochelle Yolton, who came with her 15-year-old son Stuart, said it was a rare opportunity for locals to look at Army vehicles.

Stuart said he was simply amazed by the power of the military aircraft.

"I was watching it take off," he said. "It's awesome."

Mother and son also enjoyed the hot rods on display, Yolton said.

The show, on the whole, brought back memories of her childhood when she went with her stepfather to watch the Blue Angels at El Toro, she said.

Memories were rekindled in Dick Scholl's mind as well.

Scholl, who now lives in Huntington Harbor, worked as an aircraft mechanic at the Los Alamitos base in 1958.

On Sunday, he returned with his 6-year-old grandson, Brett Striefeld.

"It's a great event for kids to learn about aircraft," he said, soon after photographing Brett as the boy posed with one of the SEALs.

"It's also a big deal for them to meet their heroes."

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