Col Eileen Collins

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As a young child, Eileen Collins loved to sit with her dad in the family car and watch airplanes take off and land. The roar of the powerful engines and the grace of the aircraft as they seemed to float in the air always held excitement and enchantment for the young daughter of Irish immigrants. That love of flying would lead the Air Force colonel to be honored as the first woman to command a space shuttle mission, STS-93, in July of 1999, and place the NASA astronaut into the history books.

Colonel Collins joined the Air Force in 1979 and served as a T-38 flight instructor until 1982. From 1983 to 1985 she was a C-141 Starlifter aircraft commander and instructor pilot. She was assistant professor of mathematics and T-41 instructor pilot at the Air Force Academy from 1986 to 1989 and graduated from the Air Force Test Pilot School in 1990. While attending the Test Pilot School, Collins was selected by NASA for the astronaut program and became an astronaut in July 1991. In 1995 Col. Collins became the first woman to pilot a space shuttle and in 1999 she was the first woman shuttle commander. She has over 5,000 hours in 30 different types of aircraft and has spent over 537 hours in space.

“I was very excited and happy,” said Collins, who applied for both a pilot and mission specialist slot with NASA. “But even though I’ll remember that day for the rest of my life, it really didn’t sink in until I graduated. I knew that there had never been a woman shuttle pilot before. Now, I’d be the first.”

After four successful shuttle missions, Collins retired in 2006. “I do miss being in space,” she said, “but I flew four times, and all four missions were very busy because you’re constantly working and under stress. You have a mission; your boss is the people of the country and you don’t want to disappoint the people. Usually toward the end of the mission, you can let your hair down a little bit because the primary mission’s done and everything is put away. That was when you could put your face against the glass, stretch out your arms, and you don’t even see the ship around you, just the Earth below, and you feel like you’re flying over the planet.”

We honor you, Eileen Collins.


SGT Robert “Bob” Teichgraeber

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Bob Teichgraeber was held as a prisoner of war for 421 days at various German prisons during World War II. Like many veterans of his era, Teichgraeber rarely spoke about his war experience.

Unlike his World War II comrades, however, Teichgraeber stashed an unusual photo in a drawer in his Collinsville, Ill., home for 72 years. “I thought there was a stigma about being a captive,” said Teichgraeber, 97, a longtime member of American Legion Post 365. “That’s the way it was. I wasn’t vocal about it.”

The photo depicts Teichgraeber in a British Army uniform after he was freed. While it was common for the British to provide whatever clothes were available to freed GIs, World War II historians say such photos are rare.

Teichgraeber was captured Feb 24, 1944, when his plane was hit while returning home from a bombing run. He fractured his right ankle when he parachuted out, landing in a farmer’s yard in Eppstein, Germany.

During captivity, the 5-foot-5 Teichgraeber went from 140 to 90 pounds. He survived the brutal 86-day hunger walk in the cold, snow, in addition to lice, fleas, dysentery and more. “We were young,” he says simply. “We endured it.”

One day while being held in an abandoned home surrounded by farmland, Teichgraeber and his friend, John Bulla were awakened suddenly. “About 5 o’clock in the morning, the door opened up — ‘You’re free!’” Teichgraeber recalls one British soldier yelling. “We went out and found some rifles and bayonets.”

Teichgraeber and Bulla shared some eggs and a single potato. As they relished their first hours of freedom, the war remained close by — at one point a German shell landed less than 100 meters away. They took refuge in an abandoned home. The Brits cleaned them up, giving them a shave, haircut and British uniform for clothing. Then they were flown to Belgium to reunite with American troops.

Since rediscovering the photo, Teichgraeber’s time as a POW has dominated his thoughts. “Every day I think about it,” he says, motioning to a table overflowing with documents, maps and more about his experience. “It’s prevalent now because of this stuff here. You can remember so much vividly, but yet you can’t remember a lot.”

We honor you, Robert Teichgraeber.

(#Repost @The American Legion)

CPL Charles F. Bahde

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Decorated World War II veteran, industrial designer, builder, real estate investor/entrepreneur, world traveler, artist, philanthropist, devoted husband and family man.

He became an Eagle Scout and when he was 16. He was an “all-city” running-guard on his Milwaukee high school football team. Bahde began taking flying lessons with the Civil Air Patrol, in the hope of becoming a fighter pilot. World War II was raging in the Pacific and Europe.

When he was 17 and still in high school, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps as an Air Cadet – only to learn afterwards that he had been offered an athletic scholarship for football and track at the University of Wisconsin.

He ended up training as a belly-gunner. Instead of being assigned to a bomber, he was sent on an invading convoy to Iwo Jima, a Japanese-held volcanic island where some of the fiercest fighting in the Pacific took place.

It was unique for a member of the Air Force to wade ashore off a landing barge with Marines following the initial assault. On Iwo Jima, Bahde, a corporal and Armorer, was assigned to servicing and loading the .50 caliber guns on P-51 fighter planes.

He was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal and a Presidential Citation for pulling four survivors out of a burning B-29 bomber that had crash-landed on the field where he was working. He himself was badly burned. His honorary plaque is at the Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial in La Jolla.

We honor you, Charles Bahde.

Leonard A. Priel

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Leonard A. Priel, the fourth child of seven siblings, was born in 1933 on a dairy farm situated on the southwest corner of the state of New York. He and his family were responsible for milking 60 head of cattle, twice a day. Leonard attended elementary school in a one room school house until he went on to high school in Springville, NY. During high school, he played the trumpet and bass for the school marching band.

After graduating, Leonard began working for Bethlehem Steel Corp. Once the steel workers began talking of strikes, he decided to join the Air Force. He was sent to basic training at Sampson Air Force Base in NY. After basic, he attended auto mechanics school in Cheyenne, WY. However, he would never use this training while in the Air Force. Instead, he was trained in Madison, WI to work on steam turbine and diesel generating power plants. During the eight-week course, he and his fellow classmates lived in Milwaukee, WI in a WWII penitentiary. They used the former office spaces as bedrooms. Once he completed his training, Leonard was sent to French Morocco and assigned to a six-man radio communications site to work as the generator maintenance operator.

Leonard’s next duty station was in California at Castle Air Force Base. Here, he was assigned to the flight line aircraft ground equipment maintenance. This is where he went through many different types of training like hydraulics, ground heaters, aircraft engines, and jet engines. While in California he met a “sweet young lady” named Andy Jane. The couple got married and left the West Coast when he got transferred to Westover Air Force Base in Massachusetts to work in standby generator maintenance.

In 1960, he was deployed to Johnson Air Force Base in Japan. He was assigned to the 1st MOB (mobile communication unit) where he worked in generator maintenance. Then, for the next few years, Leonard was sent to Vietnam, Thailand, and then reassigned to the Philippines as part of the expeditionary forces to set up mobile communications. While in the Philippines, his first child, a daughter, was born. The young family got transferred back to California where they only stayed for 11 months. His duty at Travis Air Force Base was cut short as he had been chosen, because he was in the top 1% in his career field, to work at Andrews Air Force Base in Washington, DC. The move was hectic as his wife was expecting their second child, a son. Once at Andrews, Leonard was assigned to Presidential Wing 89th Special Air Missions where he worked with Air Force One and other aircraft for the President. He stayed at Andrews for ten years working for Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon. In the meantime, his second son was born. In 1973, Leonard finally retired from the Air Force.

Upon retirement, Leonard decided to attend preacher school in Texas. He became a part-time preacher for the next 20 years while working full time in Lubbock, TX as a school maintenance supervisor. He decided to retire from the school and his preaching career and went to Alaska. Here, he began another career working for the state parks. Leonard and Andy Jane decided to sell their home to live in an RV as he continued working for the national forest. Sadly, he lost his wife after the couple had been married for 55 years. Over the years, the couple’s children have provided them with four grandsons, three granddaughters, five great-grandsons and one great-granddaughter.

We honor you, Leonard Priel.

(#Repost @AFRH)

Col Ronald Scott

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The remains of Air Force officer, Col Ronald Scott, declared missing in action after a 1966 mission over North Vietnam have been identified and his remains were returned to Claremore, Oklahoma in September of 2017, where he was honored with graveside services.

The Oklahoma native was the aircraft commander and wingman of an F-4C Phantom II as part of a two-aircraft reconnaissance mission on March 15, 1966, the Defense POW and MIA Accounting Agency said in an August release announcing the identification of Scott’s remains. The pilot of Scott’s aircraft radioed the other plane to say he was about to strafe two trucks in the target area; the pilot in the other plane saw an explosion near the target shortly thereafter, and no trace of Scott’s aircraft.

Fighting in the area made a search impossible, per the agency’s release, and Scott was declared missing in action later that year.

A mission the month before would earn Scott a posthumous Silver Star. On Feb. 25, 1966, near Hanoi, then-Capt. Scott “flew his aircraft at levels of twenty-five to fifty feet with unerring accuracy through extremely heavy and accurate anti-aircraft fire over forbidding and hostile terrain to two different targets” as a member of 8th Tactical Fighter Wing, according to his Silver Star citation. “Despite the extreme hazards involved, the mission was executed exactly as planned.”

Scott’s remains were identified through DNA analysis, dental analysis and other circumstantial evidence.

We honor you, Ronald Scott.

(#Repost @Military Times)

Col Gail S. Halvorsen

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Colonel Gail S. Halvorsen, or, “The Berlin Candy Bomber” served as a catalyst for this operation. As America geared up for the looming world war, Halvorsen was awestruck with the planes he saw flying while he labored on his father’s sugar beet farm in Tremonton, Utah. With a dream for flight, Halvorsen applied for and was accepted into a pilot-training program. The attack on Pearl Harbor prompted him to join the Army Air Corps, and he trained on fighters with the Royal Air Force. Reassigned to military transport service, Halvorsen remained in the service at war’s end. He was flying C-74 Globemasters and C-54 Skymasters out of Mobile, AL, when word came in June 1948 that the Soviet Union had blockaded West Berlin.

During the 15-month airlift (Operation Vittles), American and British pilots delivered more than 2 million tons of supplies to the city. But it was Halvorsen’s decision to airdrop candy to children (Operation Little Vittles) that clinched an ideological battle and earned him the lasting affection of a free West Berlin. Today, Halvorsen is affectionately known by Berliners and many around the world as as the Candy bomber (“Rosinenbomber”), Uncle Wiggly Wings (“Onkel Wackelflugel”) and the Chocolate Pilot.

As an aside, I had the privilege of being honored with Gail at the Utah State Capitol for the Cold War Victory Medal on August 29, 2017.  Gail’s first reaction when this photo was taken as his signature was to do a “thumbs up!”  So, that’s what we did!

We honor you, Gail Halvorsen.

(Submission by: Ninzel Rasmuson and #Repost @wigglywings)

Betty Gillies

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The first pilot to qualify for the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron was Betty Huyler Gillies of Syosset, Long Island, New York. She entered the WAFS on September 12, 1942. Gillies at this time had 14 years of flying experience, running up a total of 1400 hours to her credit, held various aeronautical ratings, and for two years (1939–1941) was president of the Ninety-Nines, an international club of women flyers formed in 1929.

When Nancy Love transferred to Love Field, Dallas, Texas to start a new WAFS ferrying unit, Gillies was made squadron leader of the WAFS assigned to the 2nd Ferrying Group, New Castle Army Air Base, Wilmington, Delaware.

Nancy Love, pilot (left), and Betty Gillies (right), co-pilot, the first women to fly the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bomber. The two WAFS were set to ferry a B-17 named Queen Bee to England when their flight was canceled by General Hap Arnold.

In early March 1943 Mrs. Gillies became the first woman to fly the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt when she was checked out on the aircraft at Wilmington. The “check out” consisted of an explanation of aircraft systems, flight characteristics and emergency procedures. Since the P-47 was a single seat aircraft, her first flight was also her first solo flight.

One of the outstanding ferry missions accomplished by the original Squadron at Wilmington came in April 1943, when four PT-26s were delivered from Hagerstown, Maryland, to DeWinton, Alberta, Canada, a distance of more than 2,500 miles. Gillies was flight leader, and the other three pilots were Nancy Batson, Helen McGilvery and Kathryn Bernheim. The type of plane flown had a cruising speed of only around 100 mph. They left Hagerstown on April 18, spent the night at Joliet, Illinois (697 miles away), spent the next night at North Platte, Neb., after a run of 585 miles, then made a long hop of 846 miles to Great Falls, Mont. On April 21 they flew the remaining 275 miles to DeWinton, Alberta. All four pilots were back at the 2nd Group by Friday evening, April 23, and were commended by Colonel Baker for their efficient and prompt delivery, which included not only the flying of the planes but also the paperwork involved in such deliveries, such as flight logs, gasoline reports and RON (remain over night) messages.

On August 15, 1943, Love and Gillies qualified as first pilots (i.e. aircraft commanders) on Boeing B-17s and made three deliveries together during the balance of the month. On September 2, 1943 Gillies and Love departed Cincinnati on a ferry mission to deliver a B-17F to England; however, the mission was canceled before the aircraft left Goose Bay, Labrador.

Gillies remained squadron leader of the Women Airforce Service Pilots assigned to the 2nd Ferrying Group at New Castle Army Air Base until the WASPs were disbanded on December 20, 1944.

Betty and her husband B. A. Gillies had three children. One of her children died at age 4; her remaining son and daughter became commercial pilots, and four of her grandchildren become pilots as well.

Also after the war, Gillies was a ham radio operator who, using her radio, connected phone calls to ships in the Pacific from her home in California. She had her huge antenna directed at the Antarctic and maintained contact with the staff and Navy personnel in Operation Deep Freeze who were stationed there for two year hitches. She also participated in the Navy MARS program under the call sign NNN0AYT.

We honor you, Betty Gillies.

(#Repost @Military Wiki)