Remembering Vance, Air Force heroes, their families

  • Published
  • By Jim Malachowski
  • 71st Flying Training Wing Historian
It has been more than 15 years since a story of Maj. Daniel Elam last appeared in print. Elam Road, running from the Industrial gate down to Hangar 195, bears his name.
This was supposed to be the story of how his courage and leadership saved the lives of American paratroopers in Operation Market Garden.
When approaching the drop zone during a mission over the Netherlands in 1944, Major Elam's C-47 was hit by German anti-aircraft fire that ripped into the tail and left wing of his transport aircraft, setting the entire left side of the aircraft ablaze. Major Elam struggled to not only keep the aircraft in the air, but also in formation as U.S. Army troopers streamed out of the rear jump door. Clearing the drop zone, he attempted to land in a small, inadequate field, but the raging fire destroyed the control surfaces causing the transport to crash into a wooded area and explode, killing the crew instantly.
However, sometimes an article takes on a life of its own. A newspaper photograph of Enid native Army Staff Sgt. Clint Storey being laid to rest recently showed his family bravely grieving his loss. It reminded me of Major Elam's family's heart-wrenching picture after his death. That one was from 60 years ago, but the emotions were the same.
Like Major Elam, Sergeant Storey leaves behind a wife and two children, one of whom he will never see. Major Elam's youngest, Jacqueline Ann, was only 10 months old when he died and only knew her father through photographs. In the picture, his oldest daughter Judy, just 4 years old, is looking down as an officer pins her father's posthumous award of the Distinguished Service Cross on her dress. Mrs. Elam and Jacqueline, almost 2 years old by then, watched on with stoic sadness.
Looking through Vance archives also reveals the story of 2nd Lt. Dwight Booth, for whom Booth Road is named. Lieutenant Booth was the pilot of a B-26 bomber lost in action while on a bombing mission over Wittenburg, Germany, in April 1945.
Like both Major Elam and Sergeant Storey, he left family in Enid. Lieutenant Booth's father, Master Sgt. Brainard Booth, served as the chief of administration at Enid Army Airfield. Again, the profound sadness is evident in the photograph taken during the presentation of his son's Air Medal and Purple Heart.
The same look is also present on Mrs. James Hairston's face as she stands, frozen in time, with the 71st Security Police Squadron commander on Oct. 24, 1986, for the dedication of the main gate. The gate is named in honor of her husband, Master Sgt. James "Hap" Hairston who passed away while on active duty at Vance. Recently, his eldest son James, now a technical sergeant attending the NCO academy at Goodfellow AFB, Texas, discovered a photograph of the gate bearing his father's name -- his father's legacy to the Air Force.
Naming most of the streets, buildings and gates on any Air Force base after these and other heroes helps us recognize and pay tribute to them and their solemn yet strong families. Too often we may take our surroundings for granted, but for many base streets, buildings, gates and stoic photographs there are stories of bravery that can be an inspiration.