Thanks to the creativity and generosity of local history buff Larry Kelley, 80 area athletes and their families got to experience - even stand on - a bit of World War II history in a cool, foggy field at Georgetown Airport. Kelley has made a hangar at the local airport into a virtual museum, the centerpiece of which is a storied B-25 twin-engine bomber plane named Panchito. If it hadn’t been for the Panchito’s occasional fly-over of Sports at the Beach, this hidden jewel may have gone unnoticed by Adam Gelof, who heads the Bagel Bombers baseball organization. Gelof, whose own father served in the U.S. Army, knew where he wanted to have the next team photo taken.
So, the result of one man’s generosity and another’s vision was a morning that dozens of 9- to 14-year-olds will not soon forget. The day began with the culmination of the Bagel Bombers’ largest outreach effort to date - a two-week care package collection drive that yielded more than $4,000 in toiletries and food items for troops overseas. As players piled out of cars carrying boxes and bags, Jeff Merritt and other representatives from Operation We Care were there to greet the boys and accept their donations.
“It was overwhelming!” said Merritt, lead coordinator for Operation We Care. “Let’s just say, I’m glad we brought a trailer!”
More than 20 volunteers from Operation We Care, many of whom are members of the Delmarva Harley Owners Group, rode their bikes to Georgetown to personally thank each Bombers player for being part of the care package collection drive and to share the importance of Operation We Care’s work. Also on hand were members of the 946th Transportation Company of the Delaware Army Reserve out of Lewes.
Bagel Bombers coach Dave Vitella, owner of Surf Bagel, gathered the players in front of Operation We Care’s collection trailer to remind the boys that what they do off the field in service to others is what matters most. “You’ll be human beings long after you are baseball players,” Vitella said. “Never pass on an opportunity to help others.”
Gelof followed Vitella’s comments by asking the players to look at the patch on their jersey sleeves. “The inspiration behind this patch came from my dad,” he said. During World War II, Gelof’s father, First Lt. Malvin Gelof, was part of the 3rd Armored Division, 36th Armored Infantry Regiment commanding a light tank unit and being awarded two Purple Hearts and one Bronze Star for valor in combat. Gelof added, “The patch on your arm honors every person who ever served this country.”
When the Bombers loaded the last care package box into the collection trailer (which was graciously provided by Harley-Davidson of Seaford) the boys headed onto the runway to fulfill a longtime dream of getting up close and personal with the Panchito - the bomber plane that inspired the team’s name. After pilot and owner Larry Kelley greeted players with a handshake, he gave each one an autographed commemorative photo of the plane in flight.
Finally, after orchestrating the position of each player, and with 80 players and 25 coaches standing on the plane’s wings and on the ground, local photographer Dave Chambers captured the 2013 Bombers organization in an indelible team photo that will be treasured by the players and their families for years to come. Members of the community can view an enlarged poster of the photo which will be on display at Surf Bagel beginning in February.