Putting on the Evansville Freedom Festival air show requires dozens of volunteers and literally hundreds of individual hours. Sometimes, the reward of seeing a well-done event is dampened by criticisms and questions as to why you didn’t do it better. When you consider the responsibility that one takes to conduct a safe and enjoyable show, I am often asked, “Why do you do it?” The answer is simple. I do it for Lawrence G. Stolz, my friend.
Larry and I were students at Evansville College until 1967 and were completely dedicated to our 240th Air Force ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corp) Detachment. We sat at the feet of Colonel Taylor, Lt. Colonel Kirby, and Captain Peak . We learned the meaning of duty, honor, and country. At the end of his assignment in Evansville, Lt. Colonel Kirby was transferred to Vietnam and paid the ultimate price for our freedom. His aircraft was shot down.
Larry is not only remembered as a fellow student, and aviator, but a mischievous friend who raided Sandy's, and my small apartment and removed the labels from our canned goods. My memory is reinforced by the 8mm movie film of Larry walking into the AFROTC detachment smoking a cigar, bigger than he was. He was a real jewel.
We were trained to be pilots at Crescent City Aviation and our future was clear. We wanted to serve our country as United States Air Force pilots. Upon graduation, we parted ways. I went to pilot training in Enid, OK. I lost contact with Larry, but I knew he went to pilot training.
Fifty three weeks later, I went on to advanced training in the F-102A. I heard that Larry was assigned to the back seat of the F-4D, Phantom. The next contact that I had regarding my friend is that he completed his first 100 missions in Vietnam and volunteered for a second tour, transitioning from the back seat to the front.
Then the horrible word came. Larry took a 37mm anti-aircraft hit over North Vietnam . He was classified as MIA. Eighteen years later, his family received his remains and he was laid to rest in Haubstadt , Indiana . To his family I say, “I too feel your pain.” To Larry, “This festival is for you, my friend!”