The Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame (WAHF) held its 33rd Annual Induction Ceremony in Oshkosh, Wisconsin on Oct. 20 and approximately 250 individuals filled the Founder’s Wing of the AirVenture Museum to witness the induction presentations and celebrate scholarship recipients. The four inductees were Joshua Sanford, Janis Sierra, Donald Winkler, and Jerome LeBerron. The three scholarship recipients were Emily Bennett at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, Aaron Wahlgren at Gateway Technical College, and Isaac Lee at Fox Valley Technical College.
WAHF launched the Carl Guell Memorial Scholarship program in 2002 for students enrolled in aviation/aerospace programs in a technical college or college/university. Scholarship information and applications can be found online at the Community Foundation of North Central Wisconsin website (www.cfoncw.org), and the next application deadline is March 1, 2019. After the scholarship recipients’ recognition, the evening turned to the presentation of the inductees.
WAHF President Tom Thomas welcomed everyone and said about the inductees, “They have served their community, state, and country with honor and perseverance throughout their aviation careers. Tonight they join a distinguished list of past inductees. I congratulate each of you and thank you all for all you have done to advance aviation throughout Wisconsin and throughout the world.”
WAHF Member John Dorcey presented Joshua Decorah Sanford by saying, “Joshua Decorah Sanford is a member of what we would call today ‘The Greatest Generation.’” Dorcey went on to speak of Sanford’s background, military service, and flying with the famed Flying Tigers. Dorcey read a story from one of Joshua Sanford’s wingmen, Ed “Smokey” Bollen while displaying photos of Joshua Decorah Sanford. He mentioned Sanford’s marriage to Rosemary Bertz and their two children, Maureen and C. William.
Joshua Sanford was the only Native American that flew for the famed Flying Tigers and survived World War II.
Maureen Sanford accepted the plaque on behalf of the Sanford family. She greeting the crowd and named family members in attendance.
“What a great evening. My name is Maureen and I’m here tonight with my family, my brother Bill Sanford, his wife Linda, their son Joshua, his wife Mandy, and their sons Braydon and Braxton, my daughter Heather Bruin, and my cousins Bill Kirkwood, Lawrence Kirkwood, Kent Kirkwood, Harold Kirkwood, and their families,” she said. “We’d like to take this time to thank you for inducting our father, Joshua Decorah Sanford into the Aviation Hall of Fame.
“We’d like to share with you the story of our father, grandfather, and uncle. The story of a man, an aviator from our beloved state of Wisconsin, who ultimately gave his life for his country. He died at a very young age when we were very young. Throughout my life, I often wished I’d known this man better, but I was inspired forever by his deeds, his lessons, and his words.”
Joshua Decorah Sanford or “Chief” as he is fondly remembered, was born in a wigwam near Friendship, Wisconsin on January 19, 1919 to Maude Decorah of the Ho-Chunk Nation and Herbert Sanford, Seneca from Cayuga County, New York and a graduate of Cornell University.
“He did not learn the language of English until the age of 7. Yet, without prejudices, he considered himself an American,” Maureen Sanford said. “He taught us tolerance, moreover respect for diverse religions, cultures, peoples, languages, everything on this planet. I have to admit that he spun tales of all those differences he experienced during his life and especially during his war travels. My insatiable wanderlust was born from these.
“As a child, I tagged along when he repaired radios and TVs for hardworking farmers and others. Some of whom were unable to pay him in currency. He simply, graciously accepted whatever they were able to offer. And from this, I learned the lessons of hard work, respect, and charity.
“Sometimes at night, quite often, I would hear the static crackle coming from his Ham Radio as he transmitted across our country and worldwide with the handle W9TLP. He shared this hobby that he loved so much, with Wisconsin youth from Hillsboro and Reedsburg, mentoring them in the etiquette and the rules, and really, the ultimate fun of that interest.
“He often spoke of the courage, the resolve, and the perseverance that he’s faced in the unbelievable odds. He did this as the leader of numerous boy scout troops, as Director of Civil Defense for 11 Wisconsin Counties, as Manager of Wisconsin Reedsburg Airport, as a leader, and as an elder in the Wisconsin Winnebago Tribe, moreover, as our father.
“I asked my father, ‘Why don’t we have a gun or some weapons in the house? You know, war memorials, memorabilia?’
“He grew distant, and he answered softly and sadly, ‘I’m through killing. It is time to heal.’ From this, I learned the lessons of love of country, open-mindedness, and forgiveness.
“My brother and I were recipients of the Flying Tigers Scholarship for four years of college, each. We were thrilled to attend their annual conventions. We loved to hear the countless war anecdotes that somehow changed a little bit as the hours got later and a little embellishment seemed appropriate. We were wide-eyed to meet celebrities such as Anna Chenault, who is the widow of Claire Chenault. We met radio commentator Arthur Godfrey, movie actor Keenan Wynn, and others. They are all gone now but what a great group of humble, everyday heroes, who are called to serve and gave so much to and for our country.
“My father always considered Wisconsin home. One of his favorite sonnets was High Flight penned by John Gillespie Magee Jr. He reached out and touched the face of God and was laid to rest in Hillsboro’s Mount Vernon Cemetery on October 21, 1962, result of war injuries.
“On May 30, 1993, the Hillsboro Airport was dedicated to him. Thank you, Dick and Doris Sweeney. Thank you, Henry and Sandy Peterson. There is an exhibit featuring Josh Sanford, the Chief, in the Hillsboro Public Museum that’s on display.
“I hope tonight you learned of a man who loved our way of life, our great state of Wisconsin, and a great country United States of America, the way a patriot should and could. I would like to thank President Tom Thomas and the board members for this distinguished privilege bestowed upon our father, our grandfather, and our uncle, who is now a member of the Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame. What great evening.”
The evening continued with the remaining three inductee presentations. WAHF Member Kurt Stanich presented Janis Sierra, WAHF Member James Zuelsdorm presented Donald Winkler, and WAHF Member Ron Wojnar presented Jerome LeBarron. President Tom Thomas provided closing remarks, and WAHF Member Charles Swain bestowed the benediction.
WAHF is a “membership organization dedicated to collecting, preserving, and sharing Wisconsin aviation news and history” (www.wisconsinaviationhalloffame.org, 23 Oct. 2018). The Hall of Fame is located outside the Goldwater Conference Room on the lower level of the EAA AirVenture Museum. Current year inductees, like Joshua Sanford, are located in the Kohler Plaza in the museum’s foyer.