Highlands salutes war hero
CHRISTY SWIFTSEBRING - An official dedication of the Tommy McGuire Memorial Highway was performed on the tarmac at the Sebring International Airport on Saturday.
Published: October 23, 2012
Published: October 23, 2012
Maj. Thomas B. McGuire Jr. was the No. 2 WWII flying ace in the United States and a resident of Sebring back in the 1930s and early 1940s. McGuire piloted a Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighter plane and shot down 38 Japanese fighter planes during his short military career from 1943 to 1945, when he crashed on a Pacific Island and died, according to previous reports.
About 75 people attended the dedication, almost half of whom shared McGuire's history of military service.
After introductions by emcee Don Elwell, the posting of the colors by VFW Post 4300 and an invocation by the Rev. A.C. Bryant, the national anthem was sung a capella by 13-year-old Candace Nacino.
Sebring Mayor George Hensley gave the welcoming address, followed by the recognition of veterans and active military service members by retired Lt. Col. Donald E. Long.
Five veterans of World War II stood up in the audience, along with six Korean War veterans, approximately 10 Vietnam veterans and two veterans of the Gulf War. Some veterans were also on stage behind the speaker.
All three speakers were graduates of Sebring High School. Charles Martin, the first speaker, is an author who knew McGuire personally growing up and authored a book about the war hero entitled "The Last Great Ace: The Life of Thomas B. McGuire, Jr."
Martin talked about the history of McGuire's family and some of McGuire's more colorful exploits. He also recounted the time he and a friend sold McGuire a newspaper.
"In April of 1942, Tommy was stationed in Orlando. He flew a P-40 fighter plane down here and landed it and taxied it right over the spot where you folks are sitting right now," said Martin, adding some colorful stories about McGuire "buzzing" the town in his aircraft and driving too fast.
Next, retired Brigadier Gen. Robert A. Lee spoke to the crowd. Lee said that McGuire embodied "small town values of right and wrong, striving for success, teamwork and self sacrifice."
Lee reminded the audience that McGuire had died because he had stuck around to help a fellow pilot in distress.
"We, too, must protect our community and our way of life. It is part of our heritage that we honor his memory," said Lee.
The retired brigadier general also named the 29 Sebring servicemen who had died in combat since the city was founded 100 years ago.
Lee was followed by keynote speaker, Col. Richard E. Williamson, commander of the 305th Air Mobility Wing, Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J. Williamson recounted the history of the base he manages, which began as a U.S. army camp and became the McGuire U.S. Air Force Base in 1948.
Williamson stated that McGuire was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously, but he also received several other decorations, including the Defense Distinguished Service Cross, three Silver Stars, six Distinguished Flying Crosses, 15 Air Medals and three Purple Hearts.
"He was a warrior's warrior," said Williamson.
The dedication was part of the Sebring Centennial week activities.