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July 4, 2012

Major James Ray Stegall

Major James Ray Stegall

James Ray Stegall was born in Bullard, Texas on February 6, 1922.  He died on June 18, 2012 [Major Stegall Funeral video]. The family moved to Austin, Texas where James grew up, attended schools in Austin, including Austin High School, where he graduated in 1940.

He joined the National Guard upon graduation from Austin High and went to England and then North Africa with the 36th Division in 1942. There he learned to fly his beloved L-4, a piper cub in olive drab—he was with the 36th division when they led the landing at Salerno Italy on Sept. 9, 1943. The landing was fiercely contested and Jim quickly unloaded his L-4 out of the 2 ½ ton truck and he flew many missions "ADJUSTING FIRE" for the artillery.

In December of 1943 his 65 mile per hour L-4 was attacked by several 360 mph Messerschmitts and a cannon shot almost took out the left wing strut.  Jim got the plane on the ground, got in another L-4 and went back in the contested airspace to complete his mission.  The Secretary of War records this bravery above the call of duty and he was awarded his first Silver Star with this conclusion:  "HIS DISPLAY OF COURAGE, DETERMINATION AND COMPLETE DISREGARD FOR HIS OWN SAFETY MATERIALLY CONTRIBUTED TO THE SUCCESS OF THE MISSION. HIS GALLANT ACTION REFLECTS GREAT CREDIT UPON HIMSELF AND THE ARMED FORCES OF THE UNITED STATES."

WWII ended but Jim was not anywhere near through with his heroics, as he was called to perform other and even more dangerous tasks in Korea.  By now Jim was married to his high school sweetheart Doris and they had two girls, Sue and Shirley.

Jim entered Korea during the desperate early days of that conflict and participated in all major actions of that war including the Inchon landing, march to the Yalu river, retreat from the Chosin Reservoir and the retaking of South Korea up to the 38th parallel. His second Silver Star came when he took that Grasshopper plane back over enemy lines during the retreat from the Chosin and rescued wounded American soldiers—SEVEN times. He was also awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with cluster and the Air Medal with 25 Bronze Oak-Leaf Clusters. The first Air Medal notes that he performed 35 Field Artillery Observation sorties against the enemy during the period 19 November 1943 to 18 December, 1943.  The remaining 25 clusters were awarded for his heroics in the L-4 and other versions of the Grasshopper planes during the war in Korea in 1950 and 1951.  Most of them read:  "By piloting an unarmed aircraft at low altitude over enemy territory Captain Stegall repeatedly subjected himself and his plane to enemy ground fire in his determined efforts to provide badly needed intelligence information obtainable only by aerial observation. The meritorious achievement and devotion to duty displayed during this period by Captain Stegall contributed materially to the success of the combat mission of the 7th Infantry Division and reflect great credit on himself and the military service. Entered the military service from the State of Texas; 25 times he was awarded additional clusters—but each award was for an extended period of time; the special awards for bravery added up to 225 days that he was in the air in an unarmed slow moving Grasshopper plane, over enemy territory providing valuable data while in harms way.—"meritorious achievement and devotion to duty."

In 2007 Jim was honored with a Joint Resolution from the Texas House of Representatives and the Texas Senate signed by the Speaker of the House, the Lt. Governor and the Governor for his loyal and brave service to his State and Country. In November of 2007 he was inducted into the Texas Aviation Hall of Fame recognizing his many acts of bravery in defense of our country and the State of Texas.

His book, GRASSHOPPER PILOT, is riveting reading of a dangerous time—when according to Jim explaining it all to his daughters—“I was just doing my duty, Sweetie.”

Jim lived in Austin for the rest of his life and he leaves his wife of 68 years, Doris “Hitto” Stegall, two daughters, Sue Werkenthin and Shirley Baugh, and six grandchildren and three great grandchildren and a host of family and friends.


L4 takeoff

Because of Jim and a generation like him America STANDS for FREEDOM; America has defeated powers designed to consume us and America still STANDS for DEMOCRACY and as we continue to fight for freedom and democracy we should HONOR those who have done their duty in defending this country GALLANTLY WITH GREAT DEVOTION TO AMERICA AND TRUE HEROISM—Let us SALUTE and give thanks for the life of James R. Stegall.

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