by Phil Berube
Air University Public Affairs
6/4/2010 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. (AFNS) -- "Eagles" from across the history of aviation are sharing their stories with Air Command and Staff College students here this week.
The "Gathering of Eagles" program, sponsored by Air University officials and held on site at ACSC, is a weeklong capstone graduation event during which historic figures from all services share their aviation history, and quite often, heroic feats, with the students.
The annual event traces its origin back to 1980, when retired Brig. Gen. Paul Tibbets, pilot of the Enola Gay, the B-29 that dropped the first atomic bomb, was invited to visit ACSC to share some of his experiences with the students. This visit became the genesis for the Gathering of Eagles program which has carried on for almost three decades, with the list of attendees often reading like a "Who's Who" of aviation history.
The first official Gathering of Eagles -- then known as "Great Moments in Aviation History" -- was held in 1982 when a small faculty and student group was chartered to develop an aviation heritage program. This initial cadre designed a program encouraging the study of aviation history and the contributions of aviation pioneers.
Fifteen distinguished aviators were invited to share their unique personal experiences through a series of teaching interviews and social events with members of the class. These legendary figures were a diverse group from many nations and services and included some of the most famous then-present day military figures at that time such as Chuck Yeager and Neil Armstrong.
That diversity continues today with the 2010 Eagles coming from four services. Among the several Air Force World War II vets and Vietnam vets being honored in 2010, there are special operations Army individuals who fought in Operation Iraqi Freedom, a Navy captain who has entered space six times, the current assistant commandant of the Marine Corps and three aviation figures from World War II, which is very timely since the nation is celebrating the 65th anniversary of the ending of World War II this year. Those individuals, one ace who has commanded in three wars and one Tuskegee Airman who flew escort for multiple bombing raids, both of whom were POWs at one time, are joined by one of the first women to join the Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASP.
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for these graduating students," said Brig. Gen. Anthony Rock, ACSC commandant. "Where else can they ask questions of and share war stories with both past and contemporary iconic aviation greats? I know what they experience here this week will have a lasting impact on not only their professional careers, but on them personally as well."
The Eagles' experiences are as diverse as the student population at ACSC, the general said.
"Every one of our 506 students and our entire faculty gain something from this," he said. "We teach international and sister service officers and civilians from several federal agencies. Each one of them will harvest lessons this week and in returning to their home station or country apply those lessons to their profession of arms."
This year's list of Eagles includes World War II and Vietnam War aces, Medal of Honor recipients, Army and Navy aviators and leaders in current operations:
World War II
Retired Col. Billy Edens, flying ace with seven kills in less than a month; two-time POW
Retired Lt. Col. Alexander Jefferson, a Tuskegee Airman who was shot down and spent a year as a POW
Violet Cowden, one of first Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASP; first female to fly the P-51
Korea Retired Lt. Gen. Charles "Chick" Cleveland, Korean combat kills: four MiG-15s; served in Vietnam, developed two-seat fighter pilot/navigator concept
Retired Col. George "Bud" Day, Medal of Honor recipient; POW during the Vietnam War
Retired Col. Charles DeBellevue, Top Vietnam "ace," first Air Force weapons systems officer to become an "ace"
Retired Col. Joe Jackson, Medal of Honor recipient; flew combat missions in three wars
Retired Navy Cmdr. Kenny Fields, aviator in Vietnam, evaded Laotian forces for 40 hours
Retired Col. John Carney, known as "father of special tactics," participated in Iranian hostage rescue mission, Grenada, Panama and Iraq operations
Army Chief Warrant Officer 5 David Cooper, special operations pilot with heroic achievements in Operation Iraqi Freedom
Space Retired Navy Capt. John Young, entered space six times; commanded Apollo 16, first space shuttle flight and first shuttle Spacelab mission
Marine Gen. James Amos, assistant commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps and a commander in Operation Iraqi Freedom
Maj. Gen. Gregory Feest, commander 19th Air Force, and as an F-117 Nighthawk pilot, dropped first bombs of Operations Just Cause and Desert Storm