Leader Blues

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

TOP STORY >>A 4-star general stars at events

Leader staff writer

Air Force Gen. Norton A. Schwartz arrived Saturday at the Jacksonville Museum of Military History with a six-member security detail as a special guest at the 10th anniversary luncheon of the Eaker Chapter of the Distinguished Flying Cross Society.
The four-star general is commander of the Transportation Command at Scott Air Force Base, Ill. The command manages air, land and sea transportation for the Department of Defense. He was accompanied by Brig. Gen. (Select) Rowayne Schatz, Little Rock Air Force Base commander.

Besides visiting the museum, Schwartz honored the DFCS members by attending their luncheon. A Flying Cross medal is awarded for actions a serviceman makes beyond normal duty during a flight. It can be an act of heroism or a rescue, said Gary George, a DFCS member who lives in Jacksonville.

“The people here today are pure Americana. These are the people who mustered the courage to do what was necessary,” Schwartz said about the DFCS members after the meeting.

After the luncheon, Schwartz spoke to the group about the importance of the Air Force transporting MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicles to the Middle East. The vehicles have a v-shaped underside to deflect the explosions from mines and improvised explosive devices.

He mentioned the veterans hospitals are important to the servicemen in the military. “The VA is important in a huge way. If we don’t keep our contract (with the servicemen), there would not be a volunteer force.”

He added many of the VA hospitals in the nation, “have not been blessed with Fisher houses, similar to the Ronald McDonald houses.” The houses let family members stay near a serviceman during hospitalization. There are more Fisher houses to be built near the veterans hospitals in the future.

Schwartz was able to visit the museum and with the 22 DFCS members through the intervention of Schatz and the Air Force Base.

“We were aware the general was in town. It was serendipity, because he was here for the 60th anniversary ball, and it was the 10th anniversary of the DFCS. We asked Schatz to make it happen,” said retired Col. Bill Kehler, museum board member and DFCS member, “We also sweetened the pot with catfish from Grampa’s Catfish House, Gen. Schwartz’s favorite restaurant.”
Schwartz said it is important for children to know about history and to keep a place like the museum alive so kids can understand the past.

He attended the meeting with his wife, the former Suzie Ptak, who graduated from Jacksonville High School. Her parents Pat and Jerry reside in Jacksonville.

Earlier in Schwartz’s military career, he was stationed at the Little Rock Air Force Base. He was a student of C-130 qualification training in 1974 to 1975. Then from 1977 to 1979, he was a C-130 E and H flight examiner for the 61st Tactical Airlift Squadron.

“Jacksonville is a place where you can be comfortable, (where) people in uniform are respected,” Schwartz said.

George said, “Rick Ivbar, a chapter member who lives in Gravel Ridge, was the general’s loadmaster when they were stationed in Taiwan during the Vietnam War. The general was a captain at the time.”

Museum workers spoke highly of the general’s visit. “I thought it was fantastic that he took the time out of his busy schedule to visit the museum,” museum volunteer Pam Biernacki said.

She continued, “It was a privilege for him to show respect and to honor his predecessors, who served before him.”

“He was very personable. He was impressed with the museum and the extent of the contributions the ordinance plant had on Jacksonville,” said DannaKay Dugger, museum coordinator.

She added, “He was pleased with museum efforts on working with the Decatur Tuskegee Airman chapter to build a black military history exhibit.”

The Distinguished Flying Cross Society meets on the first Saturday of the month at the Flight Deck Restaurant at Central Flying Service at Little Rock National Airport.

Nationally, the DFCS has 5,000 members. The local chapter was founded in 1997 by Jim Farrar, with 13 members. The chapter has grown to 110 members, according to George.