Distinguished Flying Cross Society Memorial
A commemoration and a celebration
It was a commemoration and a celebration. The dedication at Miramar National Cemetery, March 7, of a memorial to recipients of The Distinguished Flying Cross, and a celebration of the 100th birthday of one of its oldest living recipients, retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Robert L. Cardenas.
Keynote speaker Dennis A. Schoville, who was awarded the DFC and two Silver Stars, among many other awards for his service as a helicopter pilot in Vietnam, paused his remarks while some 75 veterans of the San Diego Lindbergh Chapter of The Distinguished Flying Cross Society, active duty officers, and family members rose and sang “Happy Birthday” to Cardenas.
Cardenas’s military career stretched from pre-WWII days through Vietnam and the Cold War. Highlights of his service included bomber runs over Germany, escape from a Swiss internment camp after his plane was shot down, launching Chuck Yeager into supersonic flight, and piloting the “Flying Wing” in a flight down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. After the ceremony, the general posed for photos by the newly unveiled monument.
The black granite monument, emblazoned with the red, white, blue and gold DFC medal, honors those who have received the nation’s highest award for “heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight.” It stands among seven other monuments to veterans on the cemetery’s Memorial Walk.
“Most of our members are ordinary Americans who have accomplished extraordinary things under extremely difficult conditions while in flight,” said national DFCS President and retired Navy Commander Chuck Sweeney, recipient of three DFCs, in closing remarks. “We don’t consider ourselves heroes, we were just doing what we were trained to do and happened to be at the wrong place at the right time…or vice versa!”
Charlie Inot, a Special Forces veteran of Vietnam who wears the Bronze Star Medal with “V” for valor, opened the ceremony by noting that, “Recipients of this prestigious award represent a diversity of backgrounds, ethnicity, military rank, and gender.
“Their aerial achievements are chronicled in their contributions to the advancement of aviation knowledge and technology, to the chaos of aerial combat, to epic rescues, and out to the very edges of space,” he said. Inot is President and CEO of the Miramar National Cemetery Support Foundation, which worked closely with the DFC Society to place the memorial in the cemetery.
In his remarks, Schoville – chairman of the MNC Support Foundation – said more than 130 DFC recipients lie at rest in the cemetery. Among them are:
- Marine 2nd Lt. Gerald Coleman, a World War II bomber pilot who went on to a civilian career as a baseball player, and well-known sports announcer in San Diego.
- Navy Commander Charles Southwick, whose actions in suppressing enemy antiaircraft fire over North Vietnam in May 1967, paved the way for a successful air strike on the strategic Thanh Hoa Bridge.
- Warrant Officer Richard McCaig, who, while flying a Huey helicopter in February 1969, attacked a Viet Cong assault unit heavily engaged with U.S. tanks, then disregarded the dangerous situation to land his aircraft in the battle zone and medevac a seriously wounded soldier.
Following the ceremony, Sweeney and retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Eugene Alfaro, San Diego Lindbergh Chapter president and Vietnam veteran, unveiled the memorial to the applause of the veterans and their families.
Also participating in the dedication ceremony was Chaplain (Colonel) Rick Blank, Command Chaplain, California State Guard, who offered the Invocation. Blank is a DFC recipient who flew 248 combat missions with the Air Force’s 366th Fighter Wing out of Danang Air Base. Chaplain (Lieutenant) Gary Monroe, USN, Command Chaplain of Coast Guard District 11, pronounced the Benediction.
Afterward, guests joined DFCS members at the Flying Leatherneck Museum for a reception sponsored by the Flying Leatherneck Historical Foundation that included the cutting of a ceremonial cake topped with a replica of the DFC Medal. General Cardenas was offered the first piece.
President Calvin Coolidge presented the first DFC medal to Captain Charles Lindbergh in 1927 for his solo 3,600-mile flight across the Atlantic. Other DFC recipients include Navy Commander Richard E. Byrd, General Jimmy Doolittle, Senator John McCain, President George H.W. Bush, the Wright Brothers, Astronaut Alan Shepard, Aviatrix Amelia Earhart, and Actor Jimmy Stewart.
The Distinguished Flying Cross Society was founded in 1994. Its members are men and women who were awarded the DFC, as well as some family members. The Society currently has more than 7,000 members nationwide.
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By Bill Heard
Public Information Officer