Sgt. Gary Banz, who served 12 years as a legislator after military service, will receive this year’s Douglas O. Dollar Distinguished Service Award for creating the Oklahoma Honor Flights organization in 2009 for World War II veterans.
The program was a way to show the nation’s and state’s gratitude by transporting U.S. Military veterans of World War II, free of charge, to Washington, D.C., to see the World War II Memorial.
By the time the Honor flights ended six years later, Banz’ organization had paid tribute to 2,055 veterans on 24 flights. Banz obtained commitments and pledges from various individual and corporate donors to raise the money for each flight ahead of time. Korean War veterans were included in some of the later flights when there were extra charter seats available.
Banz was born Dec. 7, 1945, in Sylvia, Kan. He served as a Chaplain’s assistant from 1968 to 1970 with the Army’s 38th Artillery Brigade in Korea. He later was assigned to the U.S. Army Reserve. Banz’s awards include The Army Achievement Medal and Army Commendation Medal.
Banz was a teacher and coach at Putnam City High School, Ada High School and Midwest City High School. He was elected to the Oklahoma Legislature in 2005. He finished his legislative service in 2016 because of term limits.
The Douglas O. Dollar Distinguished Service Award is for service to veterans and is named for Maj. Gen. Dollar, a Vietnam veteran and founder of the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame.
First Lieutenant Lowell E. Jones was born Feb. 8, 1919, in Ada. He enlisted in the Army on Sept. 23, 1941, and served with the 45th Infantry Division in the invasion of Sicily and the invasion of Southern France where he received the Bronze Star Medal and Purple Heart.
After World War II, Jones served as a Second Lieutenant in the 24th Infantry Division. The division and Jones went to Korea in 1950.
In Korea, Jones’ Infantry Company was receiving heavy machine gun fire from the enemy. With “utter disregard for his own safety,” Jones advanced through the enemy fire to an exposed position and attacked the enemy machine gun position until it was destroyed. He received his first of two Silver Stars for Gallantry in that action.
Three months later, Jones and his company fought a numerically superior North Korean Army force. As the enemy was breaking through part of his platoon’s position, Jones called for close artillery support. During the barrage he moved his troops to a safer place and then exposed himself to redirect artillery fire against the enemy. He was wounded but his leadership was instrumental in the defense of his troops’ position. He earned a second Silver Star for that action and another Purple Heart.
Following the Korea War, Jones went into the Army Reserve, serving as a Master Sergeant. He died in 1998.
Corporal Phillip W. Coon, a Muscogee Creek Native American, was born May 28, 1919, in Okemah and is a graduate of Haskell Institute in Lawrence, Kan.
He enlisted in the Army on Sept. 20, 1941, and was deployed to Manila in the Philippine Islands. World War II began with the Dec. 7, 1941 attack of Pearl Harbor.
Eventually, American forces on the Bataan Peninsula surrendered to the Japanese. Coon and the others were captured April 11, 1942. He and about 75,000 Filipino and American troops were forced on a 65-mile march to prisoner of war camps. It was the infamous Bataan Death March on which thousands died.
Coon survived and like others was placed in different prison camps. From September 1944 to January 1945, the Japanese moved the prisoners to “hell ships” on which prisoners were taken to Tokyo and then to a POW camp. He and others were subjected to harsh, slave labor conditions.
He was liberated following the Japanese surrender in September 1945. His decorations include the American Defense Service Ribbon, The Asiatic Pacific Campaign Ribbon, the Distinguished Unit Award and the Cross of Valor from the Oklahoma Veterans Commission. (He died June 23, 2014).
Chief Master Sergeant Donald J. Hall, was awarded two Silver Stars, one posthumously. Born March 26, 1937, in Wichita, Kan., Hall was raised in Stroud, graduating from high school there.
He enlisted in the Air Force in 1955 and was trained as a Helicopter Flight Engineer. He also took Tropical Survival School and was sent to Southeast Asia. He was a member of the 38th Air Rescue and Recovery Squadron.
On Oct. 5, 1966, Hall and another crew member attempted to rescue a downed American F-4 Phantom jet crew. Numerous attempts failed and on one pass Hall and a crew member were wounded by ground fire. The aircraft’s pilot was ready to abandon the rescue attempt because of the wounded Airmen. Hall, though wounded, insisted he and the other crew member were OK. They made another pass and recovered the F-4 crew.
On Feb. 6, 1967, Hall and a rescue helicopter went to rescue another downed pilot. The weather was foul so they returned to base. Later the same day they returned to rescue the plot. They were hit by heavy ground fire. The helicopter caught fire, lost hydraulic power and spun out of control. Hall and other crew members were killed.
For his bravery, Hall was awarded two Silver Star Medals for Gallantry plus a Purple Heart.
Captain Robert W. Poolaw, Sr. was born 17 July 1938 in Lawton, Oklahoma and grew up on his mother’s Delaware allotted land west of Anadarko as a member of the Kiowa Tribe. Following his High School graduation in 1956, he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and served four years in the communications and electronics career field. In 1960 he returned to Oklahoma and received an undergraduate degree in secondary education from Southwestern State College, Weatherford, Oklahoma. Poolaw re-entered the U.S. Marine Corps as an officer in 1964 and retired after 27 years of active service.
Poolaw completed two combat tours in the Republic of South Vietnam. He was wounded in combat, April 1967, when he was struck in the head and shoulders by fragments from a rocket propelled grenade while leading his Marines in battle on Hill 881 South, located approximately two miles south of the Marine Combat Base at Khe Shan. At that time, First Lieutenant Poolaw commanded Headquarters Company, Third Battalion, Third Marine Regiment, Third Marine Division. His second combat wound occurred during his command of Company G, Second Battalion, Fifth Marine Regiment, First Marine Division in May 1969. Involved in a firefight in the “Arizona Territory,” in the An Hoa Valley Basin, approximately 25 miles southwest of Danang and just three miles east of the Laotian border, Poolaw was wounded by AK-47 assault rifle fire. Passing through his body armor and his right shoulder, the round partially collapsed his right lung. For his service in Vietnam, he was awarded the Silver Star Medal, two Bronze Star Medals with Valor and two Purple Heart Medals for his wounds received and the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with Valor..
Following tours in Vietnam, he went on to serve the Marine Corps as Company Commander at Camps Pendleton, California, and Lejeune, North Carolina. Assigned as Staff Platoon Commander at the Marine Basic School, Quantico, Virginia, Poolaw served on a 12-man taskforce that emphasized education and leadership addressing race relations for the Department of Defense. Then during the service draw down in 1975, following the war in Vietnam, Poolaw staying on active duty assumed the rank of Gunnery Sargent and was later promoted to First Sargent serving at Camps Pendleton Camp Lejeune. His personal fitness prowess led to his selection to the all-Marine Track and Field Team where he excelled in the 800 meter run.
Completing his 27-year military career in the Marine Corps in 1987, Poolaw retired as a Captain, the highest rank held while on active duty.
In 1996, Poolaw and two fellow Marines organized the Native American Marine Veteran’s Association to help recognize Marines and celebrate the Marine Corps birthday. Open to all Native American Marines, the celebration includes a pow-wow each year honoring selected individuals as well as garnering financial assistance for active duty Marines to facilitate their leave. Poolaw has been very active in Boy Scouts of America in the Anadarko community. Not only did he achieved the rank of Eagle Scout, his example influenced his son Robert Jr., and Robert Jr.’s three sons, to also earn the rank of Eagle Scout.
In November 2012, the Oklahoma City Chapter of the Society of the Sons of the American Revolution awarded Poolaw their Service Medal with Vietnam Bar and Purple Heart Pin. He will be inducted into the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame October 21, 2016.
Lieutenant Colonel William R. Schwertfeger was born in Enid, Oklahoma 22 September 1945 and grew up near Medford, Oklahoma. He graduated from Oklahoma State University 30 June 1967 and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the U. S. Air Force through the Air Force ROTC Program.
He entered active duty 12 September 1967 and completed undergraduate Pilot Training at Vance U. S. Air Force Base, Oklahoma, in September 1968. His first and second combat assignments were in the 433rd Tactical Squadron at Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand August 1969-June 1970 and 1971. Both assignments supported operations in Vietnam.
On 18 February 1972 he and his Weapons Systems Officer were orbiting a potential enemy site when their F-4 aircraft was struck by a Russian SA2 missile crippling the F-4. He landed his plane in what he believed to be a fairly safe area however he landed in the middle of North Vietnamese Army soldiers moving forward for the launch into the 1972 Easter Offensive in South Vietnam. He and his Weapons System Officer surrendered and began their 407 days as a POW in the “Hanoi Hilton.”
His medals include the three Silver Stars, three Distinguished Flying Crosses, Bronze Star Medal, two Purple Hearts, three Meritorious Service Medals, the Air Medal with the numeral 34, Air Force Commendation Medal and the Prisoner of War Medal.
Lt. Col. Schwertfeger was inducted into the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame in 2013.
Medal of Honor recipient Melvin Morris was born in Okmulgee, Okla., Jan. 7, 1942. He entered the Oklahoma Army National Guard in 1959 and later requested to join the active Army. He became one of the first Soldiers to don the ‘green beret’ at the command of President John F. Kennedy, Fort Bragg, N.C., in 1961. Morris volunteered twice for deployments to Vietnam.
Melvin Morris is being recognized for his valorous actions on Sept. 17, 1969, while commanding the Third Company, Third Battalion of the IV Mobile Strike Force near Chi Lang. Then-Staff Sgt. Morris led an advance across enemy lines to retrieve a fallen comrade and single-handedly destroyed an enemy force that had pinned his battalion from a series of bunkers. Staff Sgt. Morris was shot three times as he ran back toward friendly lines with the American casualties, but did not stop until he reached safety.
The Distinguished Service Cross was awarded to then Staff Sgt. Morris in April 1970 for extraordinary heroism during this 1969 battle. After receiving the award, he returned to Vietnam the same month for his second tour. He retired at Fort Hood, Texas in May 1985. Morris currently resides in Cocoa, Fla.
Morris received the Medal of Honor, March 18, 2014; Bronze Star Medal with one Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster, Purple Heart with one Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster, Meritorious Service Medal, Air Medal, Army Commendation Medal with “V” Device and one Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster, Army Good Conduct Medal Silver with one Loop, National Defense Service Medal, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, Vietnam Service Medal with one Silver Star, Non-commissioned Officer Professional Development Ribbon with Numeral “3”, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon with Numeral “4”, Combat Infantryman Badge, Master Parachutist Badge, Expert Marksmanship Badge with Rifle Bar, Special Forces Tab, Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Bronze Star, Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal with “60” Device, Vietnam Parachutist Badge, Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citation with Palm Device, Republic of Vietnam Civil Actions Honor Medal Citation, First Class.
SFC Morris will be inducted into the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame during the 2016 ceremonies October 21..
Medal of Honor Citation
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty:
Staff Sergeant Melvin Morris distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty while serving as Commander of a Strike Force drawn from Company D, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), 1st Special Forces, during combat operations against an armed enemy in the vicinity of Chi Lang, Republic of Vietnam on September 17, 1969. On that afternoon, Staff Sergeant Morris’ affiliated companies encountered an extensive enemy mine field and were subsequently engaged by a hostile force. Staff Sergeant Morris learned by radio that a fellow team commander had been killed near an enemy bunker and he immediately reorganized his men into an effective assault posture before advancing forward and splitting off with two men to recover the team commander’s body. Observing the maneuver, the hostile force concentrated its fire on Staff Sergeant Morris’ three-man element and successfully wounded both men accompanying him. After assisting the two wounded men back to his forces’ lines, Staff Sergeant Morris charged forward into withering enemy fire with only his men’s suppressive fire as cover. While enemy machine gun emplacements continuously directed strafing fusillades against him, Staff Sergeant Morris destroyed the positions with hand grenades and continued his assault, ultimately eliminating four bunkers. Upon reaching the bunker nearest the fallen team commander, Staff Sergeant Morris repulsed the enemy, retrieved his comrade and began the arduous trek back to friendly lines. He was wounded three times as he struggled forward, but ultimately succeeded in returning his fallen comrade to a friendly position. Staff Sergeant Morris’ extraordinary heroism and selflessness above and beyond the call of duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army.
Citation represents Soldier’s rank at time of action.
Bennie Adkins was drafted into the Army Dec. 5, 1956, at the age of 22, from Waurika, Oklahoma. Upon completion of initial training at Fort Bliss, Texas, he was assigned as an Administrative Clerk-Typist to a garrison unit in Giessen, Germany, with a follow-on assignment to the 2nd Infantry Division, at Fort Benning, Georgia. After attending Airborne School, he volunteered for Special Forces, in 1961. He served with the Special Forces for more than 13 years with the 7th, 3rd, 6th and 5th Special Forces Groups (Airborne).
While in the Special Forces, he deployed to the Republic of Vietnam for three non-consecutive tours. His first tour in the Republic of Vietnam lasted from February 1963 to August 1963. His second tour of duty in Vietnam lasted from September 1965 to September 1966. His final Vietnam tour lasted from January 1971 through December 1971.
After Vietnam, Adkins served as First Sergeant for the Army Garrison Communications Command in Fort Huachuca, Arizona. He then joined Class #3 of the Army Sergeants Major Academy in El Paso, Texas. After graduation, Adkins served with the Special Forces at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and then led training at Fort Sherman’s Jungle School in the Panama Canal Zone. He retired from the Army, in 1978.
Adkins earned his bachelor’s degree from Troy State University, in 1979. He earned his Master’s Degree in Education, in 1982, and then, a second Master’s Degree in Management, in 1988, all from Troy State University. Simultaneous to pursuing his degree programs, he established the Adkins Accounting Service, Inc., in Auburn, Alabama, serving as its CEO for 22 years. He also taught night classes at Alabama’s Southern Union Junior College, for 10 years, and at Auburn University, for six years. Adkins has been married to his wife, Mary, for 59 years, and together they have raised five children.
Adkins’ previous awards and decorations include the Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star, Bronze Star Medal with one Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster and “V” Device, the Purple Heart with two Bronze Oak Leaf Clusters, the Army Commendation Medal, the Army Good Conduct Medal with Bronze Clasp and Five Loops, the National Defense Service Medal, the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal with one Silver Service Star and one Bronze Service Star, the Presidential Unit Citation, the Meritorious Unit Citation, the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal with “60” Device, the Republic of Vietnam Bravery Medal with Brass Star, the Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Bronze Star, the Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citation with Palm Device, the Combat Infantryman Badge, the Special Forces Tab, the U.S. Army Master Parachutist Badge, the Vietnamese Parachutist Badge – Two Awards, the Expert Badge with Rifle and Pistol Bars, the Sharpshooter Badge with Carbine Bar, and the Marksman Badge with Machinegun Bar.
CSM Adkins was inducted into the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame in 2015.
The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, March 3, 1863, has awarded in the name of Congress the Medal of Honor to
Sergeant First Class Bennie G. Adkins, United States Army
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty:
Sergeant First Class Bennie G. Adkins distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as an Intelligence Sergeant with Detachment A-102, 5th Special Forces Group, 1st Special Forces, during combat operations against an armed enemy at Camp A Shau, Republic of Vietnam from March 9 to 12, 1966. When the camp was attacked by a large North Vietnamese and Viet Cong force in the early morning hours, Sergeant First Class Adkins rushed through intense enemy fire and manned a mortar position continually adjusting fire for the camp, despite incurring wounds as the mortar pit received several direct hits from enemy mortars. Upon learning that several soldiers were wounded near the center of camp, he temporarily turned the mortar over to another soldier, ran through exploding mortar rounds and dragged several comrades to safety. As the hostile fire subsided, Sergeant First Class Adkins exposed himself to sporadic sniper fire while carrying his wounded comrades to the camp dispensary. When Sergeant First Class Adkins and his group of defenders came under heavy small arms fire from members of the Civilian Irregular Defense Group that had defected to fight with the North Vietnamese, he maneuvered outside the camp to evacuate a seriously wounded American and draw fire all the while successfully covering the rescue. When a resupply air drop landed outside of the camp perimeter, Sergeant First Class Adkins, again, moved outside of the camp walls to retrieve the much needed supplies. During the early morning hours of March 10, 1966 enemy forces launched their main attack and within two hours, Sergeant First Class Adkins was the only man firing a mortar weapon. When all mortar rounds were expended, Sergeant First Class Adkins began placing effective recoilless rifle fire upon enemy positions. Despite receiving additional wounds from enemy rounds exploding on his position, Sergeant First Class Adkins fought off intense waves of attacking Viet Cong. Sergeant First Class Adkins eliminated numerous insurgents with small arms fire after withdrawing to a communications bunker with several soldiers. Running extremely low on ammunition, he returned to the mortar pit, gathered vital ammunition and ran through intense fire back to the bunker. After being ordered to evacuate the camp, Sergeant First Class Adkins and a small group of soldiers destroyed all signal equipment and classified documents, dug their way out of the rear of the bunker and fought their way out of the camp. While carrying a wounded soldier to the extraction point he learned that the last helicopter had already departed. Sergeant First Class Adkins led the group while evading the enemy until they were rescued by helicopter on March 12, 1966. During the thirty eight hour battle and forty eight hours of escape and evasion, fighting with mortars, machine guns, recoilless rifles, small arms, and hand grenades, it was estimated that Sergeant First Class Adkins killed between one hundred thirty five and one hundred seventy five of the enemy while sustaining eighteen different wounds to his body. Sergeant First Class Adkins’ extraordinary heroism and selflessness above and beyond the call of duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, Detachment A-102, 5th Special Forces Group, 1st Special Forces and the United States Army.
The Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame will honor the state’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) programs and their alumni this year to mark the 100th anniversary of the national program that has produced thousands of trained officers who’ve led American service men and women in the nation’s wars.
Since 1999, the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame has inducted Oklahoma veterans ranging from privates to generals. It also has inducted Oklahoma military groups, which include Oklahoma’s tribal code talkers, who confused enemy forces by broadcasting American troops’ messages in their Native American language.
This year’s hall of fame inductions will be held Oct 21 at the Embassy Suites in Norman.
Individuals who are eligible for induction into the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame can be native Oklahomans or veterans who have had a connection with Oklahoma during their careers.
The state’s ROTC programs will be the latest group inducted.
Because this year is the Centennial of the ROTC program, Maj. Gen. Douglas O. Dollar, the founder of the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame, wants as many Oklahoma ROTC alumni as possible to be recognized for their service to our country.
“We are certain there are alumni of Oklahoma’s ROTC programs in virtually every community in the state,” said Dollar. “We hope to recognize as many as possible and invite them to the hall of fame ceremonies in October.”
ROTC alumni are encouraged to find further information and register to be recognized for their service on a Web site set up especially for the event, www.okrotc2016.org.
The Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) was created by the National Defense Act of 1916. There were military schools in America before 1916, but the National Defense Act signed by President Woodrow Wilson led to establishment of ROTC units in most states.
The ROTC programs in the nation train college students to become commissioned officers. These ROTC students volunteer for this training and have an obligation to serve in the Armed Forces after graduation from college and commissioning.
Initially, just men were in the ROTC programs. Beginning in September 1972, women who were enrolled in colleges and universities were eligible to be in the ROTC programs.
Currently, Oklahoma has seven ROTC programs. They are:
— University of Oklahoma Army ROTC, Naval and Marine ROTC and Air Force ROTC
— Oklahoma State University Army and Air Force ROTC.
— University of Central Oklahoma Army ROTC.
— Cameron University Army ROTC.
Oklahoma Military Academy was established at Claremore in 1919. It commissioned many of its ROTC students before the school closed in 1971.
Oklahoma's Youth Honoring their State's Military Veterans