Soft murmurs of mingling filled the Airborne and Special Operations Museum (ASOM) auditorium in a show of solidarity behind retired Army Gen. James J. Lindsay, the inaugural recipient of the Hometown Hero Award Nov. 10.
According to a statement by a City of Fayetteville official, Nathan Wells, the award “will be presented annually during Veterans Day celebration(s) to honor a local citizen” who contributed to the relationship between the city and the military.
“I’m sort of overwhelmed,” Lindsay said while receiving the award during the 1 p.m. ceremony. The auditorium was filled with dignitaries, veterans and the supporting public.
George Breece, a founding member of the Cool Spring Downtown District greeted the crowd, first introduced Lindsay and stated that his selection as the first Hometown Hero was “an easy decision.” Breece said that Lindsay is considered among the greatest generals in Army history, in company with John Pershing, Douglas MacArthur, Omar Bradley and George Patton.
Lindsay was born Oct. 10, 1932 in Wisconsin. He enlisted in the Army in 1952 and graduated from Officer Candidate School in 1953. He rose from a platoon leader with the 82nd Airborne Division through nine different assignments, until finally commanding the XVIII Airborne Corps and serving as the first commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command in 1987.
David Myhres, the Fort Bragg Garrison executive officer, remembers Lindsay from his earliest days on Bragg, saying Lindsay was “very much tied to” the XVIII Abn. Corps. Retired Sgt. Maj. Jon Cone, the chaplain of the Cumberland County Veterans Council, said “the type of leader (Lindsay) was helped individuals grow more responsive to those they lead.”
Lindsay’s service was further commended by Brig. Gen. Brett T. Funck, deputy chief of staff, U.S. Army Reserve Command. He said Lindsay’s reforms outside the XVIII Abn. Corps were utilized while as the infantry commandant at Fort Benning, Georgia, where he was “absolutely fearless” in the advent of high speed, low-altitude delivery methods.
Following Vietnam, Breece explained how the general public was not “a huge sport” for large standing armies, and Lindsay was among other officers of the time who were tasked with building an all-volunteer Army and “standing his ground” regarding the necessity of a viable force capable of maintaining readiness standards, such as the 82nd.
“He instinctively did what needed to be done,” said State Sen. Ben Clark of District 21.
Lindsay’s lasting mark on the downtown district was seen after his retirement, when he founded the ASOM Foundation in collaboration with the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce. This “timeless effort” to bring the ASOM to fruition was a large reason for him being the first Hometown Hero, said Mayor Mitch Colvin. The ability to build the ASOM, amidst the tearing down of old World War II buildings and lack of federal money in the early 1990s made the construction of the ASOM difficult, according to Lindsay.
When Colvin presented the opaque statue to Lindsay, the retired general was moved by the standing ovation.
“I should sit down and shut up,” he said jokingly as he opened his notes. “I’ll tell you, there are a ton of hometown heroes who did wonderful, wonderful things involved in this operation.”
Lindsay explained how only after the “Green Berets and Red Berets” came together in the realization that money for their joint desire, a museum, was scarce that they were able to “build a world-class museum.”
They obtained nonprofit status and raised $16 million for the completed museum.
“We struggled and struggled,” Lindsay said. “We wouldn’t be here without a genuine team.”
Looking forward, the museum is raising further funding to update exhibits for the War on Terror section.
“I wish I could share (the award) with others,” he said. “I’m honored.”