Tuesday, November 18, 2014

TOP STORY >> Hall of fame inductee served in Vietnam

By SARAH CAMPBELL           
Leader staff writer

Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Danny Stedman, 66, of Sherwood was inducted into the Arkansas Military Veterans Hall of Fame this month.

The Vietnam veteran participated in 85 combat missions and was awarded two Air Medals and the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry.

Stedman told The Leader, “It was really a privilege to serve, and I learned that it’s just a blessing to be an American.”

He was also in the Arkansas Air National Guard from 1976 until 1999, serving in several leadership roles, including Commander of the 154th flying squadron.

Stedman is a former Sher-wood mayor, alderman, chamber president and was the chamber’s Man of the Year in 1985. He left the mayor’s post before his term ended, for health reasons.

As president of the local Rotary Club, Stedman led construction of the Sherwood Veterans Memorial in front of Sherwood Forest, 1111 W. Maryland Ave., in 2005.

He was the Jacksonville chamber’s economic developer for three years, an adjunct professor at Arkansas State University-Beebe for years and is volunteering with the Service Corps of Retired Executives as a mentor for entrepreneurs.

“Just because you served in the military doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do anything else. You ought to do as much as you can to make the world a better place,” Stedman said.

In Vietnam, “I lost some friends…As they say, war is hell,” he continued.

Stedman was deployed there after he graduated from Southern State College (now Southern Arkansas University) in Magnolia, officer training school at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas; navigator training at Mather Air Force Base in California and proficiency training at Castle Air Force Base in California.

The veteran refueled bombers and fighter jets as part of a KC-135 crew.

“Probably one of the most harrowing experiences was the Christmas bombings of 1972, better known as (Operation) Linebacker II.”

That was 11 days of bombing North Vietnam and the second largest air battle since World War II, Stedman said.

The bombings encouraged the enemy to sign the Paris Peace Accords that ended the war, he explained.

Stedman was stationed in an emergency tanker at the gulf of Takhli, Thailand, where the crew helped damaged planes get to safety.

He said, “We saw the first one (B-52) get shot down, which was pretty moving…There was nothing we could do.”

As a navigator, Stedman used celestial bodies to guide planes to locations and to other planes for in-flight refueling

But, he said, “Navigators are pretty much going away. Their job has been eliminated by technology.”

About the soldiers’ return from Vietnam, he said, “That was a very sad time. The war was such a political war. There was so much divisiveness.

“It’s unfair that they took it out on us, but the American people were so disenchanted with it that we were kind of the bad guys. In reality, we were over there trying to protect their freedoms.”

That wasn’t everyone, he said, but no welcome home parade or public celebrations were held.

Stedman continued, “To a lot of us, it didn’t matter. We did our job. We did what we were supposed to do. We didn’t necessarily need all that recognition.”

But, he also said, the cold reception “was probably the worst thing about the war, other than the carnage and the death.”

After the Vietnam War, Stedman was on strategic alert deterrence during the Cold War.

He said, “We were at a moment’s notice to get to our aircraft and launch” in retaliation to a Russian attack.

Stedman was born in Warren but grew up in Fordyce.

His father, a World War II Army veteran, was a prisoner of war for 18 months in Europe after being captured during the assault on Rome.

His uncle was killed in Normandy during World War II, and his brother-in-law was injured while deployed in Iraq.

Two of his nephews are enlisted in the Army National Guard and were also deployed to Iraq.

Stedman said he was passed the torch and family is often left out of the equation when it comes to recognizing those who serve.

When he was deployed to Vietnam, Stedman left his wife, Barbara, and their 11-month-old daughter at home. The couple now have two grown daughters and three grandchildren.

About his 43-year marriage, Stedman said, “(My wife) was always, like, ‘Go do your thing, go do your job. I’ll take care of all this’…that takes a big burden off the veteran, the military person, to know that everything is OK back at the house.”