KEESEVILLE — Gerald B. Edwards, 92, of 75 Cassidy Road, Keeseville, passed peacefully, Sept. 6, 2013, surrounded by his wife and children at his home following a heart attack. Gerald was born Sept. 28, 1920, in Yonkers, N.Y., the son of George C. Edwards and Patrice (Monahan) Edwards.
Gerald is survived by his wife of 52 years, Julie Edwards and eight children: Geralene Thurnau and husband Ted of Ridgeland, S.C., Patrice Manget of Kalispell, Mont., Eileen Wray and husband Bill of Orlando, Fla., Michaelle Edwards of Hanalei Kauai, Hawaii, Gerald Jr. (Jody) of Essex Junction, Vt., Kenneth and wife Ginny Edwards of Gulfport, Fla., Tara Edwards and husband Fran Bola of Keeseville, Tawn Edwards and husband Dmitri of Alfaretta, Ga.; eight grandchildren, Christine Manget of Davie, Fla., Harold (Chip) Pistone of Orlando, Fla., Tom and Pete Pistone of Charlotte, N.C., Zack Gilbert of Hanalei Kauai, Hawaii, Kylie Edwards of NYC, Thorne and Eleanor Bola of Keeseville, and two great-grandchildren, Jessica Pistone of Orlando, Fla., and Justin Pistone of Wichita, Kansas.
Gerald grew up in Yonkers. In his early youth, he was a choirboy, paperboy, soda clerk, gas station attendant, elevator operator, ambulance driver, and tunnel construction sand hog. On Dec. 6, 1941, Gerald was a 21 year old civilian pumping gas looking forward to attending medical school. The attack at Pearl Harbor changed his plans, linking his destiny with the U.S. Air Force as a fighter pilot, comptroller, SAC super secret planner and ultimately commander of the 1st Military Airlift Squadron at Dover AFB. In his almost 29 years of service in the Air Force, he flew P-40s, P-47s, and P-51s with the 325th Fighter group in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, and Germany. He escorted bombers, flew fighter sweeps; and his group, known as the "Checkertails" is credited with being one of the most highly decorated and successful of the European Campaign in WW II. His more than 60 missions over enemy territory saw Gerald taking part in the action at Ploesti, The Invasion of Southern France in 1944, and many flights in and out of Russia, (bombing Germany along the way), knocking down three enemy planes in aerial combat and earning for himself the Distinguished Flying Cross, and 11 different Air Medals. He was a veteran of Korea and Vietnam flying KB-50s, KC-97s, T-33s, F 100s, and C 133s, accumulating over 6,000 flying hours in his Air Force career. Other assignments were a 30 month tour in Germany after the war and a year at the Pentagon Air Force headquarters. Another assignment brought him to Ankara, Turkey as an advisor to the Turkish Air Force and military advisor to the consulate. Among other things, he build their NATO briefing system from scratch and even represented Turkey at a NATO conference in Nov. 1953. Returning to the states in 1954, Col. Edwards joined the Strategic Air Command at Barksdale AFB, LA. He was involved in work so secret, his office was a vault, and as a member of SAC's "planning group" under General Curtis LeMay, he worked on major war plans and matters of national security as James Bondish as the "Red Telephone." He completed the advanced management program at the University of Pittsburgh in 1957. He returned to the cockpit 1957 to 1965 holding additional operations, administration, and command positions with the 31st Fighter Wing, 308th and 2nd Air Refueling squadrons at Hunter AFB, Georgia. He was with the 4097th Air Refueling Squadron at Plattsburgh AFB and the 4081th Strategic Wing at Harmon AFB, Newfoundland, Canada. In 1961, he pinned on the silver leaves of Lt. Colonel. Colonel Edwards was assigned to Dover AFB and became the executive officer of the 1st Military Airlift Squadron in 1966 and commander in August 1967. Gerald made 35 combat trips to SE Asia. Gerald stayed connected to his WW 2 fighter group the 325th also known as the Checkertails and attended yearly reunions across the country for many decades, including this past August 2013 in Boston. A documentary of the Checkertails was filmed by Neil Pugh of England and released in Washington, D.C., documenting the heroic actions of Gerald and many other brave men.
In July 1970, Gerald retired from the Air Force and began a new life on Willow Hill Farm in Keeseville. Gerald and Julie spent the first six months building a barn for the horses they had already begun to collect. He kept busy during retirement working as a salesman for Combined Life Insurance Company, and served five years as Director of Economic Development for Essex County. He established the Keeseville Industrial Park while working hard to bring industry to the North Country. Inspired by neighbor Dora Arnold, he was a major force in the development of the Essex County ARC, later renamed Mountain Lake Services. He served as president for 25 years and continued as a board member until his death. He worked tirelessly and obtained grants which helped grow Mountain Lake Services into what may be the largest employer in the county. The Gerald B. Edwards Training Center in Keeseville is named in his honor in recognition of his many years of service for the disabled.
Gerald earned the NYSARC Volunteer award for his remarkable volunteer work for his community. He was a gifted story teller, avid reader, public speaker, and actor. He was a member of the Plattsburgh Little Theater and acted in several local productions. He formed the committee that was instrumental in bringing Amtrak back to the North Country and served as board member and trustee of WCFE Public Television for 10 years. He was board member and treasurer of the Lake Placid Horse Show Association for 12 years, and board member of Champlain Valley Educational Services (formerly BOCES) for 10 years. Always a champion for individual rights, Gerald along with Ruth Newberry led the League for Adirondack Citizens Rights in an effort to restore property rights to individuals against the onslaught of the Adirondack Park Agency Master Plan.
The Celebration of his Life will be held from 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 22, at the Harmony Golf Club in Port Kent. Full military honors will be accorded at 1:30. A time for words of remembrance will follow. Anyone wishing to speak, please contact Ken Edwards at 352-509-1231 or 834-9746. Refreshments will be served with a cash bar available. On Monday, Sept. 23rd, at 6:30 p.m., the Hollywood Theater on Main Street in AuSable Forks will present the Checkertails documentary. Anyone who knew Gerald or those interested in WWII Army Air Corps history are invited to attend free of charge, and the refreshment stand will be open.
In lieu of flowers, tax deductible donation checks in memory and honor of Gerald's life may be sent to the Checkertails Organization, 1004 Faulk Rd., Wilmington, Delaware, 19802. www.checkertails.org
Arrangements are in the care of Hamilton Funeral Home, 124 Clinton Street, Keeseville. To light an online candle and offer condolences in the memory of Gerald Edwards, please visit www.hamiltonfuneralhome.com 834-7667