MAXWELL AFB, (WSFA) - Maxwell Air Force Base held a time honored event last week featuring several Aviation Veterans, who shared their experiences with students in the Air War College. Veterans from all around the world have been invited to this prestigious event, and this year was no different. This year's event featured Veterans who fought in World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Somalia.
The Gathering of Eagles began back in 1980, under the name of Great Moments in Aviation History. Brig. Gen. Paul Tibbits was the pioneer speaker for one of the first gatherings, invited by the ACSC to share his field experience. The first meeting to be officially recognized was held in 1982, and was hosted by comedy legend Bob Hope. The students of the Aviation College invited 15 distinguished aviators to come and speak about their personal experiences through a series of lectures and social activities.
With approximately 1,200 World War II Veterans passing every year, Events like 'The Gathering of Eagles' are crucial. It is a way for these Veterans to pass on the knowledge from 'The Greatest Generation' to the future of Aviation. The Eagles are iconic figures, nationally and internationally, from each military service. The students of the Air War College are able to take the information they learn from these Veterans and use it as they operate in joint environments in today's military.
This year's event featured 13 Veterans from all around the world, with impressive resumes. From a Tuskegee Airman, to the first and only man to fly a jet-propelled wing, these Veterans had a lot of experience and interesting stories to be shared with the young Aviators of the AWC.
Here is a look into the lives of these brave men and women that were honored as Eagles at Maxwell AFB last week:
Colonel Bud E. Anderson spent more than 30 years in service, and is a Triple Ace from World Word II. He flew in both World Wars, where he accumulated over 7,000 flying miles. After the wars, Col. Anderson became a test pilot. As a test pilot, he flew over 90 different types of aircraft, and flew the F-105 in a bomb strike against North Vietnamese supply lines. Since retirement, Col. Anderson has written a book entitled 'To Fly and Fight,' telling about his life in aviation. He was awarded the Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross with four oak leaf clusters, the Bronze Star, the Air Medal with 15 oak clusters, and the French 'Croix de Guerre' with Palm.
BG John C. 'Doc' Bahnsen, Jr. is one of the most decorated soldiers for Vietnam. He served as an army warrior and tactics pioneer. During his 30 years of service, Bahnsen led several aerial combat missions, while in charge of the 'Bandits' gunship platoon, and several ground mission. He has been awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star with four oak leaf clusters, Legion of Merit with three oak leaf clusters, Distinguished Flying Cross with two oak leaf clusters, Bronze Star Medal with three oak leaf clusters and three "V's" for valor, two Republic of Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with two Silver Stars, Purple Heart with one oak leaf cluster, and fifty-one Air Medals (three with "V") and several other awards.
Colonel Kenneth S. Collins, Sr. flew 118 combat missions, making a narrow escape after being struck several times in North Korea. After returning to the states, he became a instructor pilot in the RF-80 and the RF-84 with the 18th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron at Shaw AFB, South Carolina. Col. Collins is highly decorated and awarded with the Silver Star, Intelligence Star, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross with two oak leaf clusters, Air Medal with two oak leaf clusters, United Nations Service Medal, Korean Service Medal, and the Vietnam Service Medal.
Capt. Barry F. Crawford was an Air Combat Controller for an assault force in over 100 Afghan Commandos and US Army Rangers, on a mission to clean insurgents from the village of Hendor. During an attack, Crawford saved the lives of three wounded Afghan soldiers and evacuated two other Afghan soldiers killed in action. Capt. Crawford has been awarded the Air Force Cross, Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Air Force Commendation Medal with Valor and two devices, and the Air Force Combat Action Medal.
MSgt Joe Deslauriers brings forth a new kind of Airman. He was been deployed on numerous operations, and has disarmed more than 200 Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) with the ground forces. During one of his missions, he stepped on an IED, suffering the loss of both legs and his right arm. Despite the injuries, he was able to continue to pass information to his team allowing them to complete the mission successfully. MSgt. Deslauriers is currently the highest decorated USAF EOD technician, whose awards include the Silver Star, Bronze Star with oak leaf cluster, the Purple Heart and, Air Force Combat Action Medal.
Bernice 'Bee' Falk Haydu flew as one of the first female pilots in the Air Force during World War II. She earned her wings with the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP). Bee became a flight attendant after her years of service. Her awards include induction into the Aviation Hall of Fame in 2000 and the Women in Aviation International Pioneer Hall of Fame in 2012. She has also written a book based on the letters her mother saved during her years of service entitled 'Letters Home 1944-1945.'
Alfred C. 'Al" Haynes is known for his heroic act of saving the 118 lives aboard his DC-10 aircraft that crash landed in Sioux City, IA in 1989. Just three months after this life changing experience, Haynes continued his career as a pilot.
CW5 Karl Maier has served 38 years in the Air Force, and is mostly known for his heroic actions in assisting fellow Airmen who's Black Hawk had been shot down. Unfortunately, one of the men was fatally wounded. He was awarded the Silver Star and two Air Medals with Valor for his actions to save the lives of these Airmen.
Capt. James McClain was a navigator on the B-24D 'Liberator' during operation TIDAL WAVE in Romania. After finishing his required 25 missions, Capt. McClain was eligible to return home to the state, but he chose to stay and work as a Wing Navigator in England.
LT. Thomas Norris was a Navy SEAL and took part in the largest rescue mission during Vietnam *BAT 21*. Lt. Norris suffered a shot to the head, and was rescued by Navy SEAL Petty Officer Michael Thornton. After his service in the Navy, he served 20 years in the FBI.
Col. Gaillard 'Evil' Peck Jr. served 26 years in the Air Force flying missions in Vietnam and accumulated over 5,000 flying miles in T-33s, T-38s, F-4s, RF-4s, F-5s, F-15s, MiG-17s, and MiG-21s. Col. Peck was inducted into the Nevada Aerospace Hall of Fame in November 2013. His decorations include the Silver Star, Legion of Merit with one oak leaf cluster, and Distinguished Flying Cross with two oak leaf clusters.
Capt. Yves 'Jetman' Rossy is a leading innovator in Aviation, expanding the possibility of human flight. He is the first person to fly with a jet-propelled wing. He is universally known and has completed several daring flights around the world. serving as both the pilot and the human fuselage, he flies freely through the air, steering with the slightest movements of his body before parachuting back to Earth.
Lt. Col. James Warren was a member of the world famous 'Tuskegee Airmen' and served for 30 years. He has flown 173 combat missions in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. He was arrested for staging a protest against segregation at a club, but reinstated the next week. Unfortunately, Lt. Col. Warren never saw combat in WWII. He has been awarded numerous medals for his service including the Distinguished Flying Cross with two oak leaf clusters, Air Medal with eleven oak leaf clusters, Meritorious Service Medal with two oak leaf clusters, Air Force Commendation Medal, and several other citations and awards.
Maxwell showed their support for these veterans by depicting them in a drawing that each of them got to sign, that will be made into a larger print and sold to raise money for the Gathering of Eagles Foundation. They also held a barbeque and fly over on the last day of the event. The barbeque allowed the Veterans to walk around and talk to civilians about what they did and their experiences.
Each of the Veterans says they are honored to be recognized as Eagles. "It's probably been one of the highlights of my life truly, other than the flying," says Col. Kenneth S. Collins, Sr. "The people here are so nice, the Southern hospitality," he added. "The men they have here, I'd be proud to serve with."
It is a high honor to be named to the Eagles, and it is a tradition that Maxwell Air Force Base is looking forward to upholding for many years to come. For more information on this year's event, or past Eagles, please visit http://www.goefoundation.org/