Who is John Armstrong ?

I am fortunate enough to have been contacted by John's son, Tom, and Tom has shared some very good pictures and given me insight on what a great man his dad, John Armstrong, really was. He also cleared up a few questions I had about how John came to be POW/MIA and he corrected some information that my sources had been mistaken about. I thought I'd pass that information on to you so that you can see, just as I did, what a great person we lost when we lost John to the Vietnam War.

I found out, from Tom, that his dad grew up and lived in Garland Texas. That was a BIG surprise to me... I knew he was from the Dallas area but didn't know he was from my hometown of Garland ! Tom was just 2 years old when his father was killed in Vietnam. *sigh*

The following is a letter written to the Garland Board of Trustees by Tom's godfather, retired Air Force Major General Don H. Payne, who was a friend and classmate of John's in both Garland High School and West Point Academy. Major Payne read this letter when he nominated John to have a school, in Garland, named after him. Here's the letter ----

John William Armstrong

Born December 5, 1926, John William Armstrong, known in his youth as Bill, grew up in Garland.

Always a good youngster and student, Bill blossomed in his high school years to become exceptional. A standout at every aspect of teenage life in the early 1940's, he was a social, acedemic and sports leader. He was class presidnet 3 years, co-captain of the regional championship football team and editor of the school yearbook. He won the school leadership award and was elected most popular boy. He participated in every team sport offered and lettered in them all. Garland High School was the only high school in Garland in 1944, and Bill graduated as Valedictorian of his class that year. He won a schlorship to Southern Methodist University.

During his first year at SMU, he became interested in West Point. As a result of congressional competition, Bill was appointed to the United States Military Academy. He entered West Point in the summer of 1945 as a member of the class of 1949.

Bill's success continued at West Point. He was on the Dean's list for four years, participated in both intramural and varsity athletics, was a Cadet Captain and graduated 16th in his class of 574. He was the first Garland native to be appointed to and graduate from West Point.

Upon graduation, Bill chose to serve in the Air Force and embarked upon a career as a fighter pilot. After completing pilot training in 1950, he was assigned to fly F-84's, then a new jet fighter in the Strategic Air Command.

When the Korean War started, Bill's unit was transferred to the combat area. Although the standard combat tour length was 100 missions, Bill voluntarily flew 194 before returning to the United States. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and other combat decorations. After another fighter assignment in the United States, Bill returned to West Point for three years faculty duty as an instructor in the Military Psychology and Leadership Department.

He was then assigned to Germany as a fighter pilot, and during that tour was selected as leader of the Skyblazers, the European equivalent of the Thunderbirds, an aerial demonstration team.

His next assignment, in 1961, was to an Atlas missile wing during the early Intercontinental Ballistic Missile build-up, as a crew member and supervisor.

In 1965, the Air Force selected Bill to attend the University of Southern California where he earned a Master of Business Administration degree, once again with high marks.

His next and last assignment was to Danang Air Base, Vietnam, as a Squadron Commander and F-4 pilot. While on a night combat mission on November 9, 1967, Bill's aircraft was destroyed. His body was never recovered and Bill was declared dead in 1974. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and other decorations posthumeously.

We will never know what success later life might have brought, but his loss at mid-life was great - to his family, his friends, the Air Force and his country. His death was the ultimate act of citizenship.

To be sure, he was an exceptional person. He was gifted, idealistic and hardworking. He had a zest for life that was contageous; his unfailing good spirit and optimism attracted people. To know him was to like him. There was no vanity in him. He was ganuine, open and unselfish.

Bill maintained strong ties to Garland and, had he lived, would very likely have returned to his home town for retirement. He was proud of his Garland heritage and deserves to be remembered in a meaningful way by the school system which gave rise to his exceptional life. No better role model could be found.

I bet you're wondering if John got that Garland school named after him, as Major General Payne requested. The answer is YES ! In April 1998, the Garland Board of Trustees voted to name the next elementary school built in Garland after John and John W. Armstrong Elementary School opened on August 19, 2002. The school became the 43rd elementary campus in the Garland Independent School District. The school contains approximately 81,700 square feet of space and was built for 866 students, kindergarten-5th grade. The school is one of the first built with the ability to electronically control all exterior doors for the building. Magnetic card “keys” allow staff to utilize any of the exterior entryways. Armstrong is designed to accommodate full-day kindergarten classes, with six kindergarten classrooms available. Each of these rooms are self-contained with their own restroom facilities. The cafetorium is designed to accommodate 312 students for dining and up to 707 people during assemblies and special programs. A computer laboratory located centrally in the building has 60 computers. Two large multi-purpose rooms serve as art and science laboratories.

Honoring A Hero

If you'd like to see a few photos that Tom shared with me of his dad (John Armstrong) just click below on the links. I hope you have enjoyed reading about John as much as I have enjoyed learning more about the wonderful man he was. I'm so glad his son contacted me with the additional information !

John in the 1950's (leader of aerial demonstration team called The Skyblazers)

John, Ken Hughey & others (Ken Hughey being congratulated by John after flying 100 missions)
NOTE: According to Tom, Ken Hughey was also shot down in Vietnam, (on his second tour), and was a captive for years. He was finally freed, returned to the United States, and is still alive and well in the USA.

John in Vietnam (squadron commander of the 480 Tactical Fighter Squadron which was part of the 366th Tactical Fighter Wing)
(John's on the left) Shown with a South Vietnamese Officer and an American Officer

Skyblazers Jets(aerial demonstration team)

480th TFS patch (John's unit in Vietnam)

I also got e-mail from a man named Tony H. (last name withheld out of respect for Tony) who served with John in Vietnam. I believe that Tony is the person who told Tom Armstrong about my tribute to his father and my continued efforts to see that his remains are returned to the US. I appreciate anyone who takes time to contact me with information and their comments about my adopted POW/MIA's, especially when they make statements like this ! Here's what he had to say:

Tony said: I served under John in the 480th as an F4C Crew Chief. I strapped John in on many occasions and I remember well the night that he and Lance were shot down. It affected all of us in the 480th deeply. It was not unusual to see Col. Armstrong at 3 AM on the flight line - just checking the troops and giving his support. Lance was close to us because of his age and we looked up to him, too, as being the youngest "front seater" around. We loved those guys and all the others that risked their lives every day "Up North." I still have a copy of a letter of commendation that was forwarded to me via Col. Armstrong that originated from Col. Maloy (366th CO). This was so long ago but so vivid and so tragic. I honor their memory and think of them often. That experience changed my life forever, few people are fortunate enough to be associated with men such as these.

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