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15 Veterans inducted into Georgia Military Hall of Fame

Ben Wright

benw@ledger-enquirer.com

S.O. Swygert
S.O. Swygert

The Georgia Military Veterans Hall of Fame inducted 15 veterans, including three from the Chattahoochee Valley area, during its third annual program Saturday at the St. Luke Ministry Center in Columbus.

 Ten members were selected for valor, four for service and one for achievement in the group. Four were inducted posthumously in the 2015 class, retired Maj. Gen. Jack C. Wheeler of the Hall of Fame said in a release.

Each year the Hall of Fame honors Georgia military veterans not only to educate the residents of the state, but to also recognize the veterans’ sacrifices for freedom and their accomplishments.

 Inductees from the area include Navy Machinist Mate 1st Class S.O. "Bob" Swygert and Col. Donald "Buzz" McKay Jr. of Columbus and Army Col. Carlton Gerald Savory of Hamilton. Other inductees are: Air Force Col. Birch George McVay of Cochran; Army Sgt. Thedore Carroll DeVore of Athens; Col. Fred Orr Jackson of Fayetteville; Col. Gerald Lord of Dahlonega; Col. John Day Mooneyham of Sautee Nachoochee; Capt. Mel Pender Jr., former Gold Medal Olympian of Smyrna; Col. Robert L.W. Powell of Carrollton; Maj. Gen. Edison Earl Scholes of McCaysville; and 1st Lt. Charles Gates Shepherd Jr. of Atlanta. From the Marines are: Lt. Col. Ted Francis Wolfe of Kennesaw and Capt. George Alan Nelson of Woodstock.

 Lt. Robert Irwin Gibbs Jr. of Decatur served in the U.S. Navy.

 Swygert was described as a highly decorated soldier for his actions in World War II. He deployed to the Pacific Theater for multiple island invasions. He was the youngest member of an Underwater Demolition Team, a task now performed by the SEALS. His mission was to locate obstacles just off shore that would block landing craft in the reefs and shoals.

 Exposed to enemy fire at times, he and his team were charged with breaching cables, nets and marking enemy mines. He took part in many invasions in 1944 and 1945. During the Leyte invasion, he was the recipient of the Silver Star for actions that ultimately resulted in the expulsion of Japanese forces from the Philippines. He was presented the Bronze Star for actions in Guam and the U.S. Navy Citation in the invasion of Okinawa.

  Swygert remains humble about his accomplishments. "I was well trained, I did what I was supposed to do and did it to be best of my ability," he said.

Swygert said the team moved about 3,000 obstacles from the island of Guam three days before the troops landed. "While we were working on that, we were under constant fire," he said. 

After a mission near the island of Leyte, Swygert said a landing craft failed to pick up him and another team member.  "That was one time in  my life I said here I am thousands of miles from home and I'm treading water," he said. "I'm going to drown and nobody is going to know whatever happened. "

The ship where he departed from had been attacked twice.  A landing craft  made it back and rescued them. At the ship, there was plenty of chaos from the injured on the damaged ship. "Some were hollering mom, some crying, some yelling, a lot of confusion," he said.

That mission turned out alright, Swygert said.  "I was in some  tough situations but I never got hit,  never got a scratch," he said. " The Lord certainly was lying with me."

Savory, chairman of the board of the Jack Hughston Memorial Hospital, was recognized for his selfless service and major contributions in the field of medicine. After graduating form the U.S. Military Academy, he completed Airborne and Ranger schools and other training before he volunteered for Vietnam, serving as platoon leader and operations officer with a Ranger unit.

He later graduated from medical school in 1974 and developed a Forward Surgical Team in 1974 for Delta Force. He led the team “Operation Eagle Claw” during the Iran hostage rescue mission, served as medical adviser on the Beirut Marine barracks bombing and on the commission of North Vietnam MIA/POW issues. He was called back to service in the first Gulf War in 1990 and served with the invasion force of Iraq.

Savory was inducted into the Ranger Hall of Fame in 2009. Some of his awards include Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, Purple Heart and Army Commendation Medal.

McKay was inducted for valor and exceptional leadership with more than 31 years of service. He was commissioned in the Army upon graduation from Georgia Tech. He continued his career in the Georgia Army National Guard. He entered active duty in 1962 and led a rifle and weapons platoon and infantry company in Germany. Other assignments included a deployment to Thailand as a company commander in the 1st Cavalry Division in combat. After that assignment, he returned to Thailand to serve as a senior adviser to the commanding general of the Royal Thai Army’s 13th Regimental Combat Team.

McKay use words  like thrilled, surprised and excited to express his thoughts about the honor.  "It's  kind of a small needle eye you pass through for something like that," he said.

During his  career, McKay said he's most proud of his combat service in Vietnam where he received all the support needed to do his job.  "It was the first time in my military career when I had Carte Blanche authority to do my job," he said. "Because I was aggressive about doing what I had to do, I knew my job and how to do what I had to do and nobody stood in my way."

Some of his awards include the Silver Star for Valor, two awards of Legion of Merit, Bronze Star Medal, two awards of Meritorious Service Medal, Air Medal and Joint Services Commendation Medal.

 Plans are already underway for the 2016 class. Nominations are accepted from each neighborhood, city or county. For information, visit http://www.gmvhof.org to learn more about honoring local veterans.

Hall of Fame Inductees

The Georgia Military Veterans Hall of Fame inducted 15 veterans during its third annual program Saturday at the St. Luke Ministry Center in Columbus. Among the group, 10 members were selected for valor, four for service and one for achievement. Four were inducted posthumously. Here are the inductees, (including their category for selection, war of service, and home town or current residence:

---- U.S. Air Force

---- • Col. Birch George McVay; Valor; World War II & POW; Cochran, (Posthumous inductee)

---- U.S. ARMY

---- • Sgt. Thedore Carroll DeVore; Valor; World War II; Athens (Posthumous inductee)

---- • Col. Fred Orr Jackson; Valor; World War II; Fayetteville (Posthumous inductee)

---- • Col. Gerald Lord; Service; Vietnam; Dahlonega

---- • Col. Donald "Buzz" McKay Jr.; Valor; Vietnam; Columbus

---- • Col. John Day Mooneyham; Valor; Vietnam; Sautee Nachoochee

---- • Capt. Mel Pender Jr.; Achievement; Vietnam (former Gold Medal Olympian); Smyrna

---- • Col. Robert L. W. Powell; Valor; Vietnam; Carrollton

---- • Col. Carlton Gerald Savory; Service; Vietnam; Hamilton

---- • Maj. Gen. Edison Earl Scholes; Valor; Vietnam; McCaysville

---- • 1st Lt. Charles Gates Shepherd Jr.; Valor; World War II; Atlanta

---- U.S. Marine Corps

---- • Lt. Col. Ted Francis Wolfe; Valor; World War II, Korea and Vietnam; Kennesaw

---- • Capt. George Alan Nelson; Service; Vietnam; Woodstock

---- U.S. Navy

---- • Machinist Mate 1st Class S.O. "Bob" Swygert; Valor; World War II; Columbus

---- • Lt. Robert Irwin Gibbs Jr.; Service; World War II; Decatur (Posthumous Inductee)

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