Exhibit salutes stars who wore stripes

  • Published
  • By Kelly Deichert
  • Air University Public Affairs
The faces on the Wall of Achievers at the Enlisted Heritage Hall are Air Force stars, and some are Hollywood stars, too.

"People are always amazed when they come in and see it," said Chief Master Sgt. Thomas Young, director of the Air Force Enlisted Heritage Research Institute at Gunter Annex.

The Air Force Enlisted Heritage Hall's Wall of Achievers features more than 150 aviation and Air Force enlisted members who achieved high ranks, commissioning or celebrity status. Some officers who were prior enlisted became generals, including Gen. Larry Welch, former chief of staff of the Air Force.

"Most of the actors served during World War II," said Bill Chivalette, curator of the heritage hall.

Many of the names are familiar, such as Walter Matthau, Clark Gable, Gene Autry, Peter Graves and Mike Connors.

Charlton Heston is featured as well. "We even have Moses on the wall," Chivalette said, referencing Heston's role in "Ten Commandments."

In order to be honored, men and women had to have served honorably in the Air Force or in aviation fields before 1947. "They must have served life honorably after leaving the service, too," Chivalette said.

Many of those recognized have autographed their photos, including martial artist and movie star Chuck Norris, who wrote, "Those four years in the U.S.A.F. were better than any college degree."

"He learned karate in the Air Force as a policeman in Korea," Chivalette said.

Max Baer Jr., who played Jethro Bodine on the "Beverly Hillbillies," was a medical technician once stationed at Gunter. His picture is next to his father's and uncle's, who were boxers.

During his induction ceremony about five years ago, Chivalette remembered him being quite humble around the Airmen in the audience. Both his father and uncle served during World War II, but he never saw combat.

Baer got choked up, Chivalette said, and told the audience of active-duty service members he wasn't fit to shine their shoes.

"He was very patriotic," Chivalette said. "He was sincere and won over the whole crowd."

President George W. Bush is featured as well, and one of the pictures shows his father, President George H.W. Bush, pinning on his lieutenant's bar.

"George (W.) Bush is the only president to be eligible for the wall," Chivalette said.

Since Johnny Cash was in the Air Force, too, the crew on the biographical "Walk the Line" consulted Chivalette regarding Cash's Air Force uniforms. "Those questions make my job really fun," he said.

When Chivalette met comedian Flip Wilson, Wilson said he wanted to be remembered for three things. First, he told Chivalette he got the name "flipping burgers in the mess hall." Second, his mother told him never to cuss. Third, "I was always in trouble," Chivalette remembered Wilson saying. As the story goes, Wilson would tell jokes while serving at the mess hall, and the line would come to a stop while people waited for the punchlines.

The Wall of Achievers is a work in progress, and Young said he hopes to add some new faces.

"We're continually looking for former enlisted Air Force members who are doing great things," he said.

For example, the research staff has been in contact with representatives from the Food Network, hoping to honor Sunny Anderson, who served from 1993-1997. She was featured in January's "Airman" magazine.

"We want people up there (on the wall) who have done great things and give the Air Force a good name," Young said.