Wednesday, December 23, 2015

EDITORIAL >> Lives they lived (RIP)

Several notable deaths have appeared in the obituary pages just before the holidays, including the passing of distinguished local veterans who served their country with distinction. We had the fortune to know many of them. They were unpretentious elderly gentlemen who never bragged about their accomplishments.

We’d see some of them at the quarterly luncheons of the Little Rock Air Force Base Community Council, men like retired Col. Harry Canham of Sherwood and retired Maj. Jerome Ptak, both proud Air Force veterans. We’d often sit near them whenever we could. Although they never did say much, we always thanked them for their service.

Canham passed away Dec. 15 at the age of 95 and Ptak on Dec. 10 at the age of 82.

According to Canham’s obituary, “Harry was a man of few words, but his words were impactful. His life even more so. He was a man of honor, duty and integrity. He was a true American hero; a kind hearted gentleman, one who sacrificed much for the great country he so dearly loved, honored and served.

“Harry was an intelligent, professional, humble man,” his obituary continued. “You would never have known he was a decorated veteran of war and recipient of five Distinguished Flying Cross awards. To Harry, he was just a man who did his job.

“If you were lucky enough to be Harry’s friend, you were lucky enough,” the obituary went on. “He was a giant in stature and gentle in spirit.”

Col. Canham retired from the Air Force as director of Tactical Air Command airlift headquarters at Langley Air Force Base, with 32 years of service and 22,000 hours of flying military operations during World War II, Korea, NATO, Vietnam and in peacetime. Among his many military honors and achievements, he was awarded five Distinguished Flying Crosses, 32 flying medals, six Meritorious Service Medals and two National Defense Medals. He also received the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal, South Vietnam’s highest award, for saving the lives of South Vietnamese troops and the residents of a community in central Cambodia who were surrounded by attacking North Vietnamese forces.

Ptak retired in 1973 and chose to make Jacksonville his new home. He was the father-in-law of Air Force Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who met Ptak’s daughter, Suzie, while Schwartz was stationed at Little Rock Air Force Base.

Another Air Force veteran, Pascal Edward (Bud) Hancock, 84, of Jacksonville died Dec. 18. Following navigation training, he was assigned to fly transport planes at Charleston Air Force Base in South Carolina, where he met his wife, Nancy.
His military career included ROTC college instruction at Coe College, Iowa, two tours of service in Vietnam (where he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross), and covert flights at Wiesbaden Air Force Base in Germany.

We wrote about the Hancocks when they were working with foreign-exchange students and making them feel appreciated here.

There are other veterans: Retired Army Master Sgt. Robert H. Rawls, 71, of Jacksonville passed away Dec. 16. He served 18 months in Vietnam and was a proud recipient of the Silver Star. Billy Ray Ward of Austin, another Vietnam veteran, also passed away Dec. 16. He served in the Army in Vietnam and had retired from Remington Arms.

Apologies to the families of other deserving veterans we failed to mention. We are grateful to all of them. Nelson Mandela said, “When a man has done what he considers to be his duty to his people and his country, he can rest in peace.”