Pilots recognized with Congress’ highest civilian award
SEATTLE, May 6, 2015 — More than three-dozen American Fighter Aces will fly into history once again when they receive Congress’ highest civilian award: The Congressional Gold Medal. The Aces, who helped shape the formative years of aviation warfare, will be recognized during a May 20 ceremony in the nation’s capital. The war-time pilots, who earned the designation of “Fighter Ace” in multiple wars by shooting down at least five enemy aircraft in air-to-air combat, will receive this national honor in a ceremony with congressional leaders in Washington D.C. with friends and family present. The ceremony will take place at 3 p.m. in Emancipation Hall at the Capitol Visitor Center and will also be broadcast live over the web at Speaker.gov/live (3 p.m. EST, May 20). The Museum of Flight is the home of the American Fighter Aces organization and archives, and this year the Museum has enlisted the volunteer support of more than 20 pilots and a fleet of small and mid-sized jets to fly the Aces and their families to Washington D.C., a flight that many of the volunteer pilots are calling a true privilege and honor. They will all be arriving in the D.C. area in the days leading up to the ceremony.
“What an honor it will be to welcome these living legends to the United States Capitol, where they will receive the highest honor we can bestow on behalf of the American people,” said Speaker of the House John Boehner. “This medal is meant to honor the feats these men achieved and their sacrifices their families made to keep the skies – and the world – safe for democracy.”
Convened by Seattle’s Museum of Flight, the May 20 ceremony recognizes the accomplishments of the 1,447 American Aces who achieved the elite designation. While only 77 remain alive today, more than 35 of them will gather in Washington, D.C. to receive the recognition in person.
The ceremony comes a year after Congress unanimously passed legislation to recognize the Aces with the highest honor Congress can bestow upon civilians - the Congressional Gold Medal. The bill (American Fighter Aces Congressional Gold Medal Act; Pub.L. 113-105) to honor the Aces was introduced by co-sponsors Congressman Sam Johnson (R-TX) and Congressman Denny Heck (D-WA) with Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and James M. Inhofe (R-OK) introducing the Senate bill. The legislation was signed into law May 23, 2014 by the President of the United States. “The American Fighter Aces achieved a level of aviation excellence for our nation when it mattered most,” said Doug King, President and CEO of The Museum of Flight in Seattle. “We’re proud to play our part in honoring them and join our members of Congress in saluting them.”
Seattle’s Museum of Flight is home to the American Fighter Aces Association (AFAA) and an extensive collection of artifacts, documents and exhibits that tell the legendary stories of the Fighter Aces. It supports more than 700 “Friends” of the Aces in AFAA chapters across the country who are dedicated to championing the stories of these brave pilots, preserving and sharing their legacy. While the stories of American Fighter Aces will live on at The Museum of Flight in Seattle, their numbers are dwindling, adding urgency to the efforts to recognize their importance to American history. Of the 77 remaining Aces still alive, the oldest Ace is 104 years old and the youngest Ace is 72.
“Because wars are fought differently today, the American Fighter Ace is indeed passing into history at a rapid rate,” said King. “For now, our single purpose is to get as many of these living Aces as possible to Washington, D.C. for this celebration of their bravery and their lives.”
The Museum has enlisted the volunteer support of more than 20 pilots and a fleet of small and mid-sized jets to fly the Aces and their families to Washington D.C., a flight that many of the volunteer pilots are calling a true privilege and honor. They will all be arriving in the D.C. area in the days leading up to the ceremony.
The stories of the Fighter Aces cover some of the most formative periods in aviation history. Some gained their victories in open-cockpit biplanes, others in the powerful propeller-driven fighters of the World War II, and still others in the jets that fought over Korea and Southeast Asia. Aces come from each major combat branch of the U.S. military and nearly every state in the union. A majority of the Aces still alive today earned Ace status in World War II. The last fighter pilot to receive the elite designation fought in the Vietnam War.
"If there's an elite among fighter pilots, it's these men," said retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Charles "Chick" Cleveland, president of the American Fighter Aces Association, who will be at the May ceremony. “They helped shorten the wars and saved lives. These men are disappearing but must not be forgotten. It is a personal privilege to be part of this group." Cleveland is a Korean War Ace who flew F-86 Sabre jets in MiG Alley.
The May ceremony will also host family members of Aces who died before the ceremony could take place.
Following the ceremony, the American Fighter Aces’ gold medal will be given to the Smithsonian Institution, where it will be displayed and made available for research. Each Fighter Ace will receive a bronze replica of the medal. The Congressional Gold Medal for the Fighter Aces was designed and struck by the United States Mint.
The Museum of Flight would like to extend special thanks to the event’s sponsor, Textron Aviation.
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NOTE TO REPORTERS:
Reporters interested in interviewing any of the individuals referenced below or attending the Washington D.C. events, should contact either Daven Rosener, email@example.com at (253) 307-5402 or Lee Keller, firstname.lastname@example.org, (206) 799-3805. The following individuals are available for interviews:
• Individual Aces (hailing from various states across the country)
• Doug King, President and CEO, The Museum of Flight
• Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Charles "Chick" Cleveland, president of the American Fighter Aces Association
• Several of the volunteer pilots flying the aces to Washington, D.C. are available for interview. A schedule of flights is available upon request.
Reporters interested in interviewing Congressional Leadership members listed below should contact Heather Reed, Deputy Press Secretary in Speaker John Boehner’s office, at (202) 997-4303.
About the Congressional Gold Medal
Since the American Revolution, Congress has commissioned gold medals as its highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions. Each medal honors a particular individual, institution, or event. Although the first recipients included citizens who participated in the American Revolution, the War of 1812 and the Mexican War, Congress broadened the scope of the medal to include actors, authors, entertainers, musicians, pioneers in aeronautics and space, explorers, lifesavers, notables in science and medicine, athletes, humanitarians, public servants, and foreign recipients. For more information about the Congressional Gold Medal visit history.house.gov/Institution/Gold-Medal/Gold-Medal-Recipients/.