Both Amherst residents served in US Air Force approximately 75 years ago
Congressman Brian Higgins and New York State Assemblywoman Karen McMahon were joined Friday by representatives from the U.S. Air Force and Town of Amherst leaders to honor residents and Air Force veterans George “Butch” Wilcox and Robert Fahey.
“These men represent a generation of patriots who bravely fought in unthinkable circumstances and humbly returned home,” Higgins said. “It is truly an honor, on behalf of a grateful nation, to share their stories and publicly recognize their selfless service.”
"What a privilege to honor these men who fought gallantly overseas defending our country and returned to raise their families in our community," McMahon said. "Not often enough do we get to recognize such heroes, so I'm glad we have that opportunity today."
During a ceremony in the Town of Amherst, both veterans received the medals they earned while serving in the military approximately 75 years ago.
The Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station Honor Guard participated in the event and 914th Mission Support Group Executive Officer Maj. Mary Dugan assisted with the presentation of medals to the veterans. She said, “It gives me great pride to recognize these two airmen in honor of their heroic and selfless action in service to our country. This is part of our Air Force heritage and it’s an honor to be able to share this historic moment with our community.”
Sgt. George ‘Butch’ R. Wilcox
Wilcox was born in November 1926 to Meriam and Howard Wilcox and grew up in the City of Buffalo. As a young boy, he delivered the Courier Express and remembers being upset on his morning paper route as he read terrible news about the war. Wilcox also recalled a conversation he had with his father around the dinner table following Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. His father pointed his knife at him and said, “This is going to be a terrible war, Butch, and you’re going to be in it.” He was just 15 years old at the time, but he knew from that day on he would serve his country in the armed forces.
Wilcox loved airplanes; he built his first model airplane in the third grade. After two years at Bennett High School, he transferred to Holy Angels Collegiate where, in his senior year, an Air Force lieutenant visited his class and asked if any of the students would like to take the air cadet test. The whole class raised their hands, so they didn’t have to take the chemistry test also scheduled for that period. Wilcox received the top score and, in 1944, left for basic training in the U.S. Air Force at Sheppard Field, Texas. When he arrived at camp, he was told they had enough air cadets, so he was sent to B-29 Flight Engineer school in Amarillo, Texas.
Wilcox was deployed and departed on a voyage across the Pacific Ocean that took 21 days. He served at Clark Field and Nichols Field in the vicinity of Manila.
“All I remember (about Manila) is walking in mud, ankle deep,” Wilcox said.
His company, the 6th Troop Carrier Squadron, took flights into Australia, northern Japan and China, carrying soldiers, engines, hydraulic fluid and food. He rose to the rank of sergeant, and was later assigned to aircraft W-7946 at Naha, Okinawa – his last base before his honorable discharge in 1948.
Upon returning home, Wilcox took a position at Bell Aircraft, working on the line making engine pods for B-47 and B-52 bombers. In his last five years at Bell, Wilcox worked in the “experimental department,” which explores the boundaries of aircraft design.
He married his wife, Michelle, after returning home from the war and the couple built a family that has grown to five children, 17 grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.
For his service in the Air Force during World War II, Wilcox earned the following:
•Honorable Service Lapel Button: Awarded to U.S. military service members who were discharged under honorable conditions during World War II.
•Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal: Awarded to U.S. military service members who served in the Asiatic-Pacific Theater between 1941-45.
•World War II Victory Medal: Established by Congress in 1945 and presented to those who actively served between Dec. 7, 1941, and Dec. 31, 1946.
•Army of Occupation Medal with Japan Clasp: Awarded for 30 days consecutive service while assigned to Japan between Sept. 3, 1945, and April 27, 1952.
First Lt. Robert Francis Fahey
Fahey began his military career in the U.S. Navy as a midshipman in the U.S. Naval Academy in 1946. While he was still in the academy, he had the opportunity to serve on the USS Coral Sea aircraft carrier. This experience sparked his interest in flying and, following his graduation in 1950, he volunteered to transfer to the U.S. Air Force to begin pilot training.
As the Korean War began, Fahey put his skills to use as the pilot of an F-84 jet fighter bomber, known as the Thunderjet. He served in the 49th Fighter Bomber Group, 9th Squadron, which did most of its missions above North Korea.
For four years, Fahey flew the bomber into positions to engage with strategic targets. He faced heavy fire from anti-aircraft artillery on the ground, but was struck only once during his 73 flight missions. Fahey was fast and accurate, setting the sights of his 50-calibur machine guns on enemy bases, transport vehicles, and ships with a high degree of precision. He was eventually transferred to the “targets” division of the 5th Air Force Headquarters in Seoul due to his experience and high level of skill.
After aiding in the identification of strategic targets for only 60 days, Fahey received news he would be heading home. Shortly after arriving stateside, he met the woman who would become his wife, a South Buffalo girl by the name of Marianne Comerford. After serving his country in the armed forces for close to eight years, Fahey settled down with his wife, they had four children, and went on to celebrate 59 years of marriage.
Today, he enjoys his life as a grandfather of seven, a great-grandfather of nine, and still heads into work in the insurance business with his daughter regularly.
For his service in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War, Fahey earned the following:
•United Nations Service Medal: An international decoration awarded by the United Nations for participation in joint international military and police operations such as peacekeeping, humanitarian efforts and disaster relief.
•Korean Service Medal with Two Bronze Service Stars: Awarded for participation in the Korean War; the two Bronze Service Stars represent the two military campaigns in which he served.
•National Defense Service Medal: For members of the U.S. Armed Forces who served during qualifying periods of national emergency, in this case the Korean War.
World War II Victory Medal: Established by Congress in 1945 and presented to those who actively served between Dec. 7, 1941, and Dec. 31, 1946.
•Air Medal with One Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster: The Air Medal is awarded for single acts of heroism or meritorious achievement while participating in aerial flight. The Oak Leaf Cluster denotes recognition for a second act of heroism.
•Distinguished Flying Cross: First authorized by Section 12 of the U.S. Army Air Corps Act enacted by Congress on July 2, 1926, this medal awards "heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight.” It is among the highest honors a member of the U.S. Air Force can receive.
Students from Amherst Central High School performed the National Anthem during the ceremony. Both veterans also received proclamations from McMahon and the Amherst Town Board, certificates from U.S. Air Force Tech Sgt. Adam Mezyk with the 313th Air Force Recruiting Squadron, as well as flags flown over the U.S. Capitol by Higgins.
Congressman Brian Higgins with the awardees.