Tuesday, August 29, 2017

EDITORIAL >> Mayor we knew well

Mayor Charles (C.J.) Wax of Rockport, Texas, was in the news over the weekend when Hurricane Harvey made landfall just before 10 p.m. Friday. The Category 4 hurricane slammed into Rockport, a coastal town south of Houston, at 130 miles an hour, destroying much of the resort community, with several blocks completely leveled.

One person died in a house fire when the hurricane made landfall there and several others were still missing early this week. At least 30 people are reported dead in Texas so far.

Wax, who was commander of the 314th Airlift Wing at Little Rock Air Force Base in the early 1990s, said the destruction was “catastrophic.”

“There’s been widespread devastation,” he told CNN. The high school suffered extensive damage, and there are no city services. A makeshift city hall has been set up 150 miles from Rockport.

Wax is too unassuming to have told interviewers that he’s a retired two-star Air Force general. He’s been overseeing recovery efforts in his town of about 11,000, which includes longtime residents who live in modest little homes that provide no protection from flooding, hurricanes and tornadoes. Rockport also has million-dollar homes and plenty of fishing and is popular with duck hunters.

Harvey is the worst hurricane to hit Texas since 1961, when Carla, a Category 5 hurricane, made landfall between Galveston and Port Lavaca not far from Rockport. An even more powerful tornado came in behind Carla, killing 34 people and destroying 3,000 homes and buildings in Texas.

Jeff Thornton Jr., 67, told the New York Times this week he was a little boy when Carla hit his family’s home in Rockport. He stayed put during Carla and Harvey and the other storms. As neighbors returned to their homes, they were glad to see Thornton was all right. All around them were downed trees and power lines and roofs blown off homes and no electricity.

Wax, 70, was one of the last commanders at the air base who went to Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines in the 1970s and helped evacuate Saigon in 1975.

Wax was a colonel while he commanded the 314th Airlift Wing from September 1991 to June 1993 and was promoted to brigadier general the following year, when he became commander of Tanker Airlift Control Center at Air Mobility Command headquarters at Scott AFB, Ill.

He commanded the 89th Airlift Wing at Andrews AFB in Maryland, where he escorted President Clinton on the flightline where Air Force One took off.

Wax was promoted to major general in 1997, when he was deputy chief of staff for Air and Space Operations at Air Force headquarters in Washington. He was commander of the Army and Air Force Exchange Service in Dallas for two years before he retired in 2002.

One of Wax’s successors at LRAFB, Maj. Gen. Michael A. Minihan, later succeeded him at Andrews AFB, where he escorted President Obama to Air Force One. Minihan is now chief of staff of United Nations Command and U.S. Forces in Korea at Yongsan Army Garrison.

As we’ve said many times before, the Air Force always sends us the best. Welcome to Little Rock Air Force Base, Col. Gerald A. Donohue, the new commander of the 19th Airlift Wing.

Donohue told us Monday that the men and women of LRAFB are ready to fly humanitarian missions to Texas and anywhere else as they have for more than 60 years — from Guam to Peru from Haiti to Africa — and they can take off in minutes. We thank you.

As for the rebuilding in Texas following Harvey, that will take years. It will be a while before the water recedes. But Mayor Wax and the good folks of Rockport will again see the sun shine over their bay, and Little Rock Air Force Base will help.