Pless inductee in Aviation Hall of Fame
By W. WINSTON SKINNER
The late Stephen Wesley Pless, who was born in Newnan and received the Medal of Honor, will be inducted into the Georgia Aviation Hall of Fame on Saturday.
Pless, who died in a motorcycle accident in Florida in 1969, will be one of four to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame at the Museum of Aviation in Warner Robins. The other distinguished aviators will be:
• Jack Gray, the man credited with building the original Atlanta Airport.
• Robert David McSwiggan, an instructor who gave more than 1,500 check rides at the Griffin Airport.
Pless, the only Marine pilot in Vietnam to receive the Medal of Honor, was born in Newnan in 1939. His parents divorced when he was a boy, and Pless grew up in the Atlanta area – graduating from Georgia Military Academy in College Park in 1957.
Pless served as a UH-1 ‘Huey’ helicopter pilot in Vietnam from August 1966 until September 1967. During this tour, Pless successfully flew 780 combat missions, including a rescue of soldiers trapped by heavy enemy fire for which he received the Medal of Honor.
Pless was the 18th marine to receive the Medal of Honor during the course of the Vietnam War, but was the only Marine aviator to do so. After his return from Vietnam, Pless served as a flight instructor.
Collins and McSwiggin are slated to attend Saturday's program. Like Pless, Gray is deceased.
The banquet will be held in the Museum’s Century of Flight Hangar starting at 6 p.m. An anticipated audience of 400 people will include family members, friends, admirers and GAHOF board members. There also will be government, aerospace and defense industry leaders, media representatives and aviation enthusiasts from around the state.
The evening will begin with a one-hour reception surrounded by historic aircraft in the hangar which houses the displays of the Georgia Aviation Hall of Fame. Guests will then be treated to a gourmet dinner and live presentations to each of the four honorees.
A monument on the grounds of the Coweta County Courthouse pays tribute to Pless, as does a stretch of Highway 34. He received the Medal of Honor from Pres. Lyndon Johnson in the same ceremony as Col. Joe M. Jackson, who is also from Newnan.
Jackson and Pless are depicted in a sculpture at Veterans Memorial Plaza just north of downtown Newnan at the intersection of Jackson Street and Temple Avenue. The local Jackson-Pless National Guard Armory is also named for the two Medal of Honor recipients.
Jackson was named to GAHOF in 1998. There is one other Cowetan in GAHOF – Bert Atkinson, a pioneer aviator who was the son of Gov. W.Y. Atkinson. Bert Atkinson received the honor in 2009.