More than 60,000 fighter pilots have served in the U.S. armed forces through the years. Among them, only 1,447 have earned the designation of “Fighter Ace,” a merit given to those who downed five or more enemy aircraft in combat. Only 77 remain alive today, and one of them, Lt. Gen. Charles “Chick” Cleveland, lives here in Central Alabama.
Gen. Cleveland, who lives in Montgomery, actually serves as president of the American Fighter Aces. It was my distinct honor this past week to visit with him and his son, Chris, who were in Washington, D.C., for the Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony. Gen. Cleveland and his fellow aces received the medal for their extraordinary acts of bravery on behalf of our country.
The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest honor Congress can bestow, awarded to Americans who have made special contributions to the United States. None are more deserving recipients than those who have so valiantly fought for our nation.
Before the ceremony, Gen. Cleveland was kind enough to sit down with my staff and me to visit and share his stories about how he earned the title “Ace” during the Korean War. It was awe-inspiring to hear his stories, including what it was like to dogfight with enemy jets in the dangerous region known as “MiG Alley.”
After Korea, Gen. Cleveland went on to a distinguished and decorated career as an aviator and combat instructor. He later served as a commander of Air University at Maxwell Air Force Base from 1980-1984. Gen. Cleveland then retired to Montgomery but remained active in Air Force affairs, both nationally and locally at Maxwell.
In all, about three dozen of the surviving Fighter Aces were on hand for the ceremony where Gen. Cleveland accepted the award on the group’s behalf. These men have been the “tip of the spear” for our Armed Forces, using their unique skill and dauntless courage to take the fight to the enemy, shorten wars and save lives.
The general is an American hero, but he’s also Montgomery’s hero. His command at Maxwell and continued support over the years make him an important part of our community, and I was proud to join in celebrating this moment with him and his son.
Martha Roby represents Alabama’s 2nd Congressional District. She is in her third term.