Major General Mark H. Berry, Arkansas Air National Guard, Retired, Ozark. General Berry served four combat tours and his awards include the Distinguished Service Medal, the Legion of Merit, five Meritorious Service Medals, the Joint Services Commendation Medal, eight Air Force Commendation Medals and the Air Force Achievement Medal and the first Air Force General Officer to be appointed Adjutant General of the Arkansas National Guard and the first military officer to be appointed to the grade of Lieutenant General by the Governor of Arkansas. General Berry retired following forty-five years service.
With more than 21 years active duty and 24 years with the Arkansas National Guard, General Berry served in numerous assignments to include Presidentially Directed Special Projects and Programs with the Department of Energy and Department of Defense Special Projects and Testing, Nevada Test Site (Area 51). Air Operations Officer of the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul South Korea. Assistant Professor Air Force Officer Training School, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, Arkansas. Four combat deployments in support of Operations Iraqi Freedom, Enduring Freedom, and New Dawn. He also served in 12 foreign countries.
Major General Mark H. Berry’s narrative for The Legion Of Merit reads: “Colonel Mark H. Berry distinguished himself by exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services to the United States Air Force as Commander, 188th Maintenance Group, Arkansas Air National Guard, from 2 September 2008 to 5 May 2012. The selfless leadership, exemplary foresight, and tireless work ethic consistently exhibited by Colonel Berry, resulted in significant contributions to the combat capability and overall mission effectiveness of the 188th Fighter Wing. His demanding, high standards of excellence contributed to the safest, most mission-effective flying years on record in the Air National Guard and the Air Force Reserve. Under Colonel Berry’s astute direction, the 188th Fighter Wing maintained a mission capable rate of 70.7 percent and a 61.6 percent fully mission capable rate, both of which were tops among all Air National Guard A-10 units. His savvy leadership and insight were paramount during the conversion of 21 combat aircraft from the A-10A to the A-10C while meeting rigorous flying schedule demands to support combat capability after numerous arduous depot-level precision engagement modifications were accomplished. Colonel Berry’s diligence and unparalleled management skills facilitated the largest aircraft conversion in the Air National Guard history, one month early, despite facing months of limited sortie availability due to fleet-wide wing cracks which grounded most A-10’s worldwide. As the longest sitting Combat Air Forces Maintenance Group Commander, he directly contributed to the accumulation of more than 38,000 flying hours and nearly 26,000 combined F-16 and A-10 combat and training sorties without a maintenance attributable aircraft mishap. The superior initiative, outstanding leadership, and personal endeavor displayed by Colonel Berry reflect great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.”
Sergeant First Class Ralph Carder Ferguson, Arkansas Army National Guard, Retired, Fort Smith. Following graduation from Van Buren High School, 1985, Ralph enlisted in the United States Army Infantry. Sergeant Ferguson served two combat tours of duty: one in Operation Iraqi Freedom and the other in Operation Enduring Freedom. His awards include the Purple Heart, three Meritorious Service Medals, two Army Commendation Medals and six Army Achievement Medals. Following over twenty-years active duty, Sergeant Ferguson was transferred to the Retired Reserve, May 2006.
Upon his retirement SFC Ferguson volunteered with several Veterans Service Organizations such as the Disabled American Veterans, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, The Military Order of the Purple Heart, and the American Legion. He has served as Service Officer for both Veterans of Foreign Wars and Disabled American Veterans. He also served as the Chapter Commander, Adjutant, Finance Officer, and Chaplin for Chapter 1, Disabled American Veterans, Senior Vice-Commander and Trustee for Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8845. SFC is also a volunteer leader in Westark Area Council, Boy Scouts of American, where he has served in several positions such as Webelos Leader, Scoutmaster, and District Commissioner. He currently serves as the Order of the Arrow Chapter Advisor, Unit Commissioner, and Committee Chair for Troop 2. For is outstanding service and support to the Boy Scouts he has been presented the following awards: District Award of Merit, James E. West Award, Silver Beaver, Arrowhead Honor Award, Commissioner Key, Distinguished Commissioner Award, Adult Religious Award, Commissioner Award of Excellence, Scouter Trainer Award-District, Vigil Honor, and the Wood Badge Beads with the Fourth Bead for being named Scoutmaster of National Youth Leadership Training Course.
First Lieutenant Noel A. Harris, Jr., United States Army, deceased. 1964 alum of Strawberry High School and 1968 graduate of Arkansas State University, Jonesboro. Lieutenant Harris, commissioned in Infantry, was trained as a Bell AH-1 Cobra Attack Helicopter pilot and was assigned to the 1st Infantry Division, Vietnam, September 1969. He was Killed In Action, March 22, 1970. His awards include the Bronze Star Medal, three Air Medals, one with “V” device for valor, and two posthumous awards: the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Purple Heart. Lieutenant Harris is a member of the Arkansas State University ROTC Hall of Heroes.
First Lieutenant Noel Harris Distinguished Flying Cross narrative reads: “For heroism while participating in aerial flight evidenced by voluntary actions above and beyond the call of duty: First Lieutenant Harris distinguished himself by exceptionally valorous actions while servicing as aircraft commander of a helicopter gunship flying in support of a friendly ground force which was under attack six miles northeast of Cao Mau. In an attempt to locate the exact enemy positions and draw enemy fire away from the friendly elements, he made a mini-gun pass over the contact area receiving small arms and machine gun fire but was unable to detect the exact source. On his second mini-gun pass, he again was subjected to intense automatic weapons fire and this time located the enemy positions. In an effort to stop the enemy force from overrunning the friendly forces, he immediately made a rocket run. Diving head on into the enemy fire, he was hit by enemy ground fire losing control of the aircraft. First Lieutenant Harris’ personal bravery in the face of the enemy, exemplary professionalism, and complete disregard for his safety were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army.”
Donna and Noel Harris during his Arkansas State University ROTC pinning ceremony
Chief Warrant Officer Samuel Henry Phillips, III, United States Army, Retired, deceased, Van Buren. Sam graduated Old Miss and was commissioned in Field Artillery. He entered active duty in 1967 and served a combat tour with the 1st Cavalry Division, Vietnam where he logged more than one thousand two hundred hours of combat flying. Sam’s awards include the Silver Star, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Bronze Star Medal and fifteen Air Medals, one with “V” device for valor, the Army Commendation Medal and two Army Achievement Medals. He was placed on the retired rolls April 2003.
Chief Warrant Officer Samuel H. Phillips Silver Star narrative reads: “For gallantry in action while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an armed hostile force in the Republic of Vietnam. First Lieutenant Phillips distinguished himself by exceptionally valorous action on 8 February 1969, while serving as an aircraft commander of a command and control helicopter during a combat mission. When a call was received for demolitions with which to blast a landing zone so several seriously wounded soldiers could be extracted from a contact area, First Lieutenant Phillips immediately volunteered to deliver the explosives. While hovering over the embattled unit his helicopter came under intense hostile ground fired and the crew chief was wounded, but First Lieutenant Phillips remained until the supplies were dropped. He then flew to a fire support base and treated the wounds of his crew chief. Upon leaving that the medical evacuation helicopters could not land due to the hostile ground fire, First Lieutenant Phillips, with complete disregard for his own safety, returned to the embattled area and once again exposed himself to the enemy fire to evacuate the seriously wounded soldiers. His gallant action is in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service, and reflects great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army.”
Lieutenant Colonel Wilmer A. Plate, United States Air Force, Retired, deceased, Jacksonville. Colonel Plate was a World War II B-24 (Liberator) bomber pilot with the 489th Bomb Group, 8th Air Force, European Theater, May – August 1944. During this time he completed thirty-one combat missions, logging two hundred combat hours. During his thirty years service Colonel Plate logged over one thousand flying hours and his awards include the Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Purple Heart, four Air Medals and two Air Force Commendation Medals. He retired from active service in December 1971.
Lieutenant Colonel Wilmer Plate’s narrative for The Legion Of Merit which he received in as a Chief Warrant Officer reads: “Chief Warrant Officer Wilmer A. Plate distinguished himself by exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding service to the United States as Staff Maintenance Officer, Systems Logistics Division, Deputy Chief of Staff Technical Requirements and Standards, Space and Missile Systems Organization, Los Angeles Air Force Station, California, from 2 September 1964 to 31 December 1972. During this period, the professional skill, exceptional management ability, and astute knowledge and experience of Warrant Officer Plate resulted in major contributions to the successful fulfillment of the space capsule recovery mission of the Space and Missile System Organization and the national defense. This singularly distinctive accomplishments of Warrant Officer Plate culminate a long and distinguished career in the service of his country, and reflect great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.
Will was married to the love of his life, Helen Plate, for 71 years before she passed away in 2011. He continued to court her throughout their marriage. One good example of this was when he was on an unaccompanied tour in Goose Bay Labrador. He had one yellow rose delivered to the house every Saturday during his tour. The entire neighborhood started watching for the florist every weekend. They renewed their marriage vows on their 70th wedding anniversary. Family and many friends attended this joyous occasion. He was a wonderful father and grandfather. He enjoyed “playing:” with all of us, such as teaching all of us, our cousins and our friends to water ski .Their two oldest grandchildren spent the summer with them at the lake when they were 11 and 13. Will and Helen took the kids fishing out on the lake every weekend. By the end of the summer, the kids had each caught over 800 fish. He wrote up a certificate for both of them and had it notarized so that people at home would believe them! He had a wonderful sense of humor. He also was a wonderful storyteller. Often times he would tell stories that would end with a hearty laugh from the listener(s). The last book that he wrote is a collection of these stories. The family is working on getting that book published soon. He worked hard to keep himself in good mental and physical condition. He was an avid reader and played Lumosity every day on the computer. In addition, even at the age of 99, he worked out at the Air Force Base Gym with a "personal" trainer two to three times a week. He was well known for his love of ice cream too. He rarely finished up his day without a bowl of ice cream.
Captain Virginia Lynn Starzy, United States Navy, Retired, second generation military, Locust Grove. Undergraduate degree from Arkansas Tech, Russellville, before entering the Navy. She earned two masters degrees while on active duty and following retirement, a Specialist in Education, Arkansas State University. Her military awards include the Defense Superior Service Medal, three Meritorious Service Medals, the Joint Service Commendation Medal, two Navy Commendation Medals and the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal. Captain Starzy retired following twenty-four years active Federal service
Since retiring from the Navy after 24 years, Capt Starzy has served as Executive Director of the Batesville Area Chamber of Commerce (1 year). She then taught at Southside School District until officially retiring in 2010. Other activities include serving on the Main Street Batesville Board of Directors for 4 years and as its president two of those years; past member of the Batesville and Southside Kiwanis Club; past member of 97th Composite Squadron, Civil Air Patrol located in Batesville. For three years she was a mathematics seminar instructor and ACT instructor for the UPWARD Bound students at Lyon College. She has also served as the Director of Vacation Bible School at her church for 5 years.
James Sturch State Senator District 19 says “One thing I believe sets Mrs. Starzy apart is that her service did not end when she concluded her distinguished career in the Navy. She did not set out to simply retire but decided to give back to her community in a variety of ways. Mrs. Starzy first continued her service by returning to the classroom and making a difference in the lives of her students. She also became very involved in her church. I have personally seen her dedicated service as a volunteer, as a giver of talent and treasure, most notably as the Vacation Bible School director for several years.”
Technical Sergeant William C. Toombs, Sr., North Little Rock. Sergeant Toombs enlisted in the Army Air Corps 31 October 1942. He was assigned as a flight engineer and top turret gunner with the 493rd Bomb Group, 8th Air Force, European Theater of Operations. Sergeant Toombs flew twenty missions in a B-24 Liberator before transitioning to the B-17 Flying Fortress. Then, having flown only four missions, 11 September 1944, with two of the four engines shot out they crash-landed in a Belgium turnip field. Sergeant Toombs’ military awards include the Distinguished Flying Cross and four Air Medals. He is an active member of the 8th Air Force and Distinguished Flying Cross organizations.
Technical Sergeant William C. Toomb’s Distinguished Flying Cross narrative reads: “Technical Sergeant, Army Air Forces, United States Army, For extraordinary achievement while serving as top turret gunner on many high altitude heavy bombardment missions against the enemy over Continental Europe, during a period ending 27 September 1944. Sergeant Toombs repelled numerous hostile fighter attacks by his excellent marksmanship, there by assuring the safety of the crew and aircraft. The courage, presence of mind and devotion to duty while engaged in aerial combat on all these occasions are in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Army Air Forces.”