Posted: Monday, February 27, 2017 – 11:58 AM
The Desert gentlemen’s standard black-tie dress for the social season is the designer tuxedo. But once-a-year, many of them reach into the back of their closets to pull out uniforms from a different era that still fit surprisingly well. The occasion was the black-tie or dress-uniform gala marking the 20th anniversary of the Palm Springs Air Museum honoring “Masters of the Air.”
Held in two (a third is under construction) pristine hangers, the air museum contains one of the world’s largest collections of military aircraft … and they are all in working condition, ready to take to the air.
Guests were met at the canopied, red-carpet entrance to the museum and escorted to the hosted reception by uniformed military cadets and a marching band.
It was a moving sight watching generals and colonels exchanging salutes as they mingled with sergeants and corporals, all of whom had served, or are still serving, this country.
While the honorees are true “masters of the air” their accomplishments far out-way the meaning of the phrase. Here, in alphabetic order, are the eight heroes honored.
• Capt. Isham “Rusty” Burns USAFF (Ret) became a Tuskegee Airman immediately after graduation from high school.
• Lt. Col. Robert “Bob” Friend USAF (Ret) has spent more than 8,000 hours in the air, including 143 combat missions.
• Four star Gen. Charles “Chuck” Horner USAF (Ret) flew more than 100 combat missions over North Vietnam and later served as Commander in chief of North American Aerospace Defense command, responsible for the aerospace defense of the US and Canada.
• Lt. Col. Charles Kettles USAF (Ret) recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroism as a helicopter pilot in Vietnam.
• Brig. Gen. Jeannie M. Leavitt USAF, former Principal Military Assistant to the Secretary of Defense, is now the Wing Commander at Nellis Air Force base.
• Col. John Nocita USAG (Ret), recipient of the Silver Star, the Bronze Star and the Legion of Merit for gallantry under fire during the Korea conflict.
• Capt. Robert Shoens USAD (Ret) who flew 28 combat missions in five months, many of them raids over France and Germany in World War II.
• Lt. Col. Harry Stewart, Jr. USAD (Ret), a Tuskegee Airman, awarded with the Distinguished Flying Cross and part of 332nd fighter group that won the “Top Gun” first ever Weapons Meet at Las Vegas Air Force Base.
The Palm Springs Air Museum is located on the east side of the Palm Springs International Airport. For information about the museum and becoming part of this world renowned attraction, call 760-778-6262.