Local veterans to join Hall of Fame

by Donna Lampkin Stephens

The latest class to be inducted into the Arkansas Military Veterans’ Hall of Fame will include six residents of the 501.

The fourth class, to be inducted Saturday, Nov. 1, at the Embassy Suites in Little Rock, includes Major General Ronald Stephen Chastain of Conway, Colonel Tom Warner Thomas of Searcy, Lt. Colonel Danny Arlen Stedman of Sherwood, Master Sergeant Parnell Gene Fisher of Jacksonville and the late Major John Barrett Floyd of North Little Rock and Colonel Robert Allen Phillips of Hot Springs Village.

Others to be inducted are Robert Gene Brashears of Harrisburg, the late Frank Kirby Cowan of Little Rock, John Frederick Hay of Gainesville, Va., Danny Lee Jacks of Rison, Cleo Lee of Newport, the late Art B. Martin of Fort Smith, Richmond Junior Nail of Fayetteville, Robert Marvin Schoenborn Jr. of Jonesboro and David Ray Wallace of Leachville.

“These are people who laid their lives on the line in order to protect the United States of America and the state of Arkansas,” said Master Sgt. Paul D. Foster of Conway, secretary/treasurer of the AMVHF board of directors. “These guys exemplify the type of people we have in this state.”

Their experiences are varied, but a common theme is evident when speaking to the honorees.

Somehow, they don’t consider themselves to be heroes.

Major General Ronald Chastain

“I’m certainly honored,” Chastain, 64, said. “But I don’t think of myself as a hero because I didn’t do anything heroic. There are some legitimate heroes in that Hall of Fame. I can attribute my (induction) to my unique background.”

Chastain, who served in Operations Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom, was the first Arkansas general to command Arkansas units in combat since the Civil War. His awards include the Legion of Merit, two Bronze Star Medals and four Meritorious Service Medals.

Born in Paris, Chastain didn’t hail from a military family. One older brother served in the Air Force and another in the Marines, and Chastain was an ROTC member at County Line High School prior to enrolling in Arkansas Tech.

In the late 1960s at Tech, “you had to be in ROTC if you were an able-bodied male,” he said.

“In my sophomore year, that first draft lottery came around, and I almost won it,” he said. “It meant I’d be getting drafted as soon as I got out of college, so I elected to stay in ROTC.”

He graduated in 1972 with a degree in biology with a minor in chemistry and was commissioned a second lieutenant. He joined the National Guard in 1974. That service was compatible with his civilian job with the United States Department of Agriculture. He spent 32 years with the USDA administering federal farm programs and 38 years in the National Guard.

“I was very fortunate to have a job that was compatible with my service,” he said. “A lot of people couldn’t have put in the time I did.”

He retired from the USDA in June 2006, after which Gov. Mike Huckabee appointed him adjutant general of the Arkansas National Guard, a position he held until assuming duties as deputy commanding general, US Army Forces Command, until his retirement in October 2010.

Not surprisingly, Chastain is a big supporter of the military’s reserve component.

“Our country cannot afford a large standing army,” he said. “Two different times, I was in National Guard units that were called up to active duty. The reserve component is adequately trained, and today they’re equipped as well as the active component.

“It’s good for our country to have that insurance policy. It’s a big sacrifice for families and employers, but it plays a big role in our national defense. It keeps us from having to pay a huge standing army.”

He said he was looking forward to the induction.

“I’m always appreciative of the people I served with and for my family for the support they’ve given me as well,” he said.

Chastain has lived in Conway since 1984.

Lt. Colonel Danny Stedman

Stedman served as an Air Force navigator in Vietnam and earned two Air Medals and the Air Force Commendation Medal. He has served on the Sherwood City Council and as the city’s mayor.

Stedman, 66, grew up in Fordyce, although he graduated from high school in Ohio after his father’s job took the family there during his senior year. Afterward, he enrolled in what was then Southern State College (now Southern Arkansas University), where he earned a business degree in 1970. He then joined the Air Force, attended Officer Candidate School and was commissioned a second lieutenant before landing in Vietnam. He was there for nine months.

Stedman served six years of active duty and then served in the Arkansas Air National Guard until his retirement in 1999.

He said the patriotism engendered by his service had marked all of his adult life.

“That love of country, the way of life we have — some people have to defend our freedoms, and it was an honor for me to be able to do that, to serve our country in uniform and the state of Arkansas and my community as well,” he said.

A civilian achievement he’s proud of is Sherwood’s veterans’ memorial, the effort for which he chaired while president of the local Rotary C

Like his fellow honorees, he called his induction “an honor and very humbling.”

“I’m very appreciative of that recognition,” he said. “(The induction) is going to be maybe overwhelming. Just to be in the company of those others will really be rewarding.”

Colonel Tom Thomas

Thomas, 66, fought as an infantry officer in Vietnam, earning the Bronze Star and the Army Commendation Medal for Valor. He served three decades in the Arkansas Army National Guard, earning the Legion of Merit. He serves on the Arkansas Veterans Commission and is active in civic service to Searcy.

He grew up in Walnut Ridge and graduated from high school there in 1966. He earned a business degree from Arkansas State and went to Vietnam as a first lieutenant in 1971.

“I’ve always said those medals and all are great, but the best medal is a live man’s smile,” he said, calling his induction “a very humbling thing.”

“You turn around and suddenly you can reflect back on when everybody was in their early 20s, soldiers right out of high school,” he said. “I can almost relive moments, remember what people were saying.”

He spent one year in Vietnam, after which he returned to the private sector at Citizens National Bank at Walnut Ridge as a loan officer. Eventually, though, he joined the reserve component full-time.

“I spent a lot of time in Central America, England, Germany, working on trying to beef up the Guard’s role,” Thomas said. “At one time, the National Guard and Army Reserve were low priority, considered ‘weekend warriors.’ Then, after 9/11, they started looking at the Guard units and how well they were performing. I was on the general’s staff for a while, and we got to see a lot of active Army generals who said, ‘I was reluctant about the reserve component, but now I’m sold.’ It’s a vital part of our defense.”

He moved to Searcy in 1975, was inducted into the Officer Candidate School’s Hall of Fame in 1999 and retired in 2003.

This award, he said, was special — and humbling.

“You’re talking about Medal of Honor recipients, Marine Corps snipers — just a tremendous amount of talent and professional soldiers and what I call real heroes who’ve already been inducted,” he said. “I just feel so humbled to even be nominated, much less be inducted.”

He admitted to some feelings of guilt.

“I’m glad, but at the same time, I feel a little bit of sadness,” he said. “Some of these soldiers have given their ultimate sacrifice; others still carry a lot of pain and scars, and they don’t get anything.”

He confided those feelings to his wife, who asked him, “Why don’t you go and accept on their behalf?”

“I said, ‘Willette, I can do that.’”

Others to be honored from the 501 include:

Master Sergeant Parnell Gene Fisher of Jacksonville, who earned the Silver Star for Gallantry and the Distinguished Flying Cross for service in Vietnam as a member of the 4th Air Commando Squadron.

The late Major John Barrett Floyd, who served in combat in Vietnam as a pilot and whose awards include the Bronze Star for Valor and two Distinguished Flying Crosses.

Colonel Robert Allen Phillips of Hot Springs Village, who served in both the Korean and Vietnam Wars, earning the Silver Star for Gallantry, two awards of the Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross and 18 Air Medals.

The 2014 induction class also includes Sergeant Major Robert Gene Brashears of Harrisburg, who served two combat tours in Vietnam and whose awards include the Legion of Merit, three Bronze Stars and the Air Medal with the 1st Air Cavalry Division; the late Tech Sergeant Kirby Cowan of Harrisburg, who served in World War II and survived four German prison camps, including the Buchenwald concentration camp, and whose awards include three Air Medals and the Purple Heart; Lt. Colonel John Frederick Hay of Texarkana, whose awards include the Silver Star for Gallantry, the Bronze Star for Valor, the Purple Heart and six Air Medals for combat in Vietnam; Staff Sergeant Danny Lee Jacks of Rison, who earned the Silver Star for Gallantry, the Bronze Star for Valor and the Purple Heart during combat in Vietnam; Command Sergeant Major Cleo Lee of Newport, who served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam and whose awards include the Legion of Merit, the Purple Heart and four Army Commendation Medals; the late Captain Art Bradley Martin of Greenwood, who earned the Bronze Star while serving as a Medical Officer in the 76th Infantry Division in World War II; Sergeant Major Richard Junior Nail of Lafferty, who served three tours in Vietnam with the 5th Special Forces Group and was inducted into the Special Forces Regimental Hall of Fame and whose awards include three Bronze Stars for Valor, the Purple Heart and the Meritorious Service Medal; Lt. Colonel David Ray Wallace of Leachville, who earned three awards of the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Bronze Star and 18 Air Medals during combat in Vietnam; and Lt. Colonel Robert Martin Schoenborn Jr. of Jonesboro, who was awarded the Bronze Star in Vietnam and the Defense Meritorious Service Medal and three awards of the Meritorious Service Medal during his 20-year Army career.

At the Nov. 1 induction banquet, U.S. Sens. Mark Pryor and John Boozman will present the medallions to the inductees. For additional information or to buy tickets, visit amvhof.org or call 888.329.3845.

Foster said the Arkansas Military Veterans Hall of Fame was started to educate young people about the heroes among us.

“We’ve honored people starting back in the Civil War when they first started the Congressional Medal of Honor, al
l through the first and second World Wars, Vietnam, all the way up to Iraq, and we keep looking for the younger people in today’s wars,” he said. “It really is moving to know we have this type of individual in this state.”