No diplomas are awarded, rather, a certificate for Valor, Achievement, or Service presented by the Georgia Military Veterans’ Hall of Fame in an annual quasi-military ceremony at Fort Benning. The GMVHOF was founded by Colonel Paul Longgrear, one of fourteen survivors of Lang Vei, a Special Forces camp overrun by North Vietnamese soldiers and tanks.
Not as well-known as many 501-C organizations, the GMVHOF reviews and evaluates Georgia veterans who are nominated for induction. As their brochure states, “They are our states’ finest.” Last year, our very own Tommy Clack was inducted into the GMVHOF. The Class of 2015 also had an impressive array of ‘our states’ finest’.
Army sergeant Theodore Carroll DeVore of Athens received the Silver Star for bravery in May of 1945. German airplanes strafed his squad’s position, setting fire to an ammo truck next to his unit. To save his men from certain death, DeVore jumped into the blazing vehicle and drove it into a pond. Returning to his unit, DeVore directed small arms fire at the enemy until the battle was won.
Lieutenant Commander Irwin Gibbs, Jr. of Decatur. A 1941 Georgia Tech graduate, Gibbs volunteered for submarine duty and served throughout the vast Pacific. He became the youngest Commanding Officer of a submarine in US Naval History at the age of 25. Gibbs earned a medical degree from Emory University after the war and practiced his profession until the age of 82.
Colonel Fred Orr Jackson of Fayetteville. He joined the army at age 17, became a Master Sergeant at age 23, was selected for OCS and earned a commission then was off to Europe for 3 years of armor and infantry action. On three different instances, Jackson knocked out a German Tiger Tank, two ammunition trucks, a personnel carrier, and rescued a downed P-47 Thunderbolt fighter pilot. Among his awards: A Silver Star and Bronze Star for valor.
Colonel Gerald Lord of Dahlonega. A graduate of North Georgia College, Lord served over 30 years on active duty. As a pilot serving two tours in Vietnam, he earned the Distinguished Flying Cross and 19 Air Medals. From a platoon leader to Post Commander of Ft. McPherson while in the military, after retirement Lord continued serve his country for more than 20 years in civic responsibilities.
Colonel Donald Mathis McKay of Columbus. Another Yellow Jacket, he served his country for more than 31 years. Like Colonel Lord, McKay commanded combat platoons and eventually served as Deputy Post Commander at Ft. Benning. In Vietnam, he was decorated four times for valor, including the Silver Star. On one occasion when a group of his men were pinned down in an ambush, McKay led a counter-attack on dug-in enemy positions which saved his men.
Air Force Colonel Birch George McVay of Cochran completed his B-17 training at age 19. At age 20, he was flying missions over Europe as the youngest Squadron Commander in WWII. On their 25th mission, enemy flak severely damaged the Flying Fortress forcing McVay to crash land deep inside Germany. He and his crew would spend the next 6 months as POWs. For wounds suffered “during interrogation” McVay received the Purple Heart plus 3 Air Medals.
Green Beret Colonel John Day Mooneyham of Sautee Nachoochee, a 27 year veteran. Mooneyham served two tours of Vietnam, was wounded three times, and decorated for valor four times. In June of 1966, he led a counter-attack against a much larger force saving a main US element. For his bravery, Mooneyham was awarded the Silver Star.
United States Marine Captain George Allen Nelson of Woodstock. He was 2nd in command of the 1st combat unit to enter Vietnam in Sept. of 1964. Back stateside, Nelson was medically discharged due to his war injuries. His dedication to community and veteran support programs led to the “Roswell Faces of War Memorial” and “Roswell Remembers Memorial Day” which has become the largest Memorial Day event in Georgia.
Army Captain Melvin Pender, Jr of Smyrna. Unbelievable. He joined at 17 and served as an enlisted man before graduating from OCS. At 26, he placed 6th in the ’64 Olympics in the 100 meters. Pender served P tours of Vietnam. At age 30, he entered the ’68 Olympics and earned a Gold Medal by setting a new world’s record in the Men’s 4x100 Meter Relay. At age 35, Pender set world records in the 50, 60, 70, and 100 Meters. His final assignment was at West Point, as their track coach.
Army Colonel Robert Lee Washington Powell of Carrollton. A graduate of North Georgia, Powell spent 26 years on active duty including three tours of Vietnam. His courage is the thing of legends: three Silver Stars, three Bronze Stars, three Army Commendation Medals, and three Purple Hearts.
Colonel Carlton Gerald Savory of Hamilton. A graduate of West Point, Savory served over 20 years including a tour of Vietnam. He received the Bronze Star Medal and Purple Heart. Savory later became an Army surgeon, serving with Delta Force during the 1980 Iran Hostage Rescue attempt, served in Desert Storm, and was inducted into the Ranger Hall of Fame in 2009.
Major General Edison Earl Scholes of McCaysville. Another graduate of North Georgia, Scholes served 34 years including two tours of Vietnam, Operation Just Cause in Panama, and Desert Storm. In Vietnam, he was decorated 4 times for valor and wounded twice.
First Lieutenant Charles Sheperd of Atlanta. April, 1945: Ambushed by seven enemy machine guns and 20-plus German riflemen, Sheperd managed to move his men out of the kill zone then led a counter-attack. His unit killed over 20 of the enemy without losing one man. For his gallantry, Sheperd was awarded the Silver Star.
Machinist Mate First Class S.O. Swygert of Columbus. In October of ’44, this intrepid 19 year old Underwater Demolition Team swimmer made a risky daytime swim onto the beaches of Leyte Gulf to gain Intelligence for the landing boats. Under intense Japanese machine gun fire, the 19 year old completed the dangerous mission which ensured success of the invasion forces. He received the Silver Star.
Marine Lt. Colonel Francis Ted Wolfe of Kennesaw. The tough 17 year old joined the Marines in WWII and served as a Sergeant in Europe. In the Korean War, as a Captain, Wolfe suffered wounds and received the Navy Commendation Medal for Valor and a Purple Heart. In his third war Wolfe, now a Lt. Colonel, was awarded his second Navy Commendation Medal for Valor in Vietnam.
They are, indeed, our state’s finest. For additional information visit the website: gmvhof.org