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Fellow Americans often term them "heroes" -- those World War ii combat veterans who emerged as members of the nation's "greatest generation". They grew up in the Great Depression fought and toiled, and many died for freedom's cause. They helped mold new world yearning for peace and prosperity and hope. But in their humility and gratitude and sentimentality, they, if still among the living, may say they simply were doing their duty serving their country.

Eight of them, including former President George H.W. Bush, 77, and an airborne combat unit were honored on Friday night in their induction into the Confederate Air Force's American Combat Airman Hall of Fame in the Midland Center.

Bush, a former Midlander, who became the nation's 41st president. in 1989, was a U.S. Navy TMB Avenger (torpedo-bomber) pilot who earned the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) for a strike against enemy radio towers on a Japanese-held island in the war's Pacific Theater. His mission was accomplished even though his aircraft was crippled by heavy enemy flak. Bush Served on the aircraft carrier USS San Jacinto. Bush, who now lives in Houston, was unable to attend the ceremony and was represented by a friend, Midland rancher Bobby Boll.

Past recipients of the honor, both living and dead, include aces Joe Foss in the Wildcat fighter, the late Richard Boug in the P-38 Lightning and the American Volunteer' Group (AVG) termed "the Flying Tigers"

Hap wearing his medal

"I"m proud that I did (serve in World War II)", said 79-year-old Ray "Hap" Halloran, a 2001 Combat Airman Hall of Fame honoree. "We always did our best. I kind of like to recall those great days."

Halloran was a navigator in the B-29 Superfortress named "Rover Boys Express" that was shot out of the sky at high altitude over Japan in January 1945 on a bombing raid. Subsequently, he was captured, beaten repeatedly and confined in a dark, dreary cage.

"To be captured in Tokyo was not a good thing in those days", said Halloran, who noted that he was "pretty fortunate to have survived at all. Many didn't.

"I prayed a Iot" he said.

Some of his crew members "did not come home," Halloran said.

"I visit some of their grave sites and I just talk with them and tell them that I'm sorry about what happened and glad we flew together. "

Bobby Grace, the B-29's bombardier, "did not make it home"' after bailing out after the four-engine bomber was attacked by a Japanese fighter aircraft at 32,000 feet. Their target was a Japanese aircraft factory.

"I now know he was eliminated when he hit the ground in a chute, as were others," Halloran said. "But, you could expect that".

His pilot, Snuffy Smith, survived the war. "He didn't last long after we came home", Halloran said. "He had a tough time readjusting."

Of the Combat Airman Hall of Fame honor, "I'm not sure I really earned this," said Halloran, who lives in California. "But I like to be associated with something that is positive about the guys in the events of World War II. I think it's nice." Hell, we were all dying," he said. "That's just the way it was."

Halloran said he will be "buried in Arlington National Cemetery, and I figure that's a good ending. I learned a lot." "In adversity, if you listen and watch you can learn a, lot about life. And little things that I used to take for granted I really appreciate now -- a pillow, a nightlight."

In 1945 as a prisoners of war, 'I was incarcerated in a black, cold, dark cage for a long time in solitary. "So, to be out and to be able to walk around has a high value."

Others inducted in the Hall of Fame in 2001 include: Col. Clarence E. "Bud' Anderson of Auburn, Calif. He flew 116 combat missions in World War II and was a triple ace by downing 16-1/4 enemy aircraft in aerial combat. He piloted a P51 Mustang.

Chuck Yeager, a World War II fighter pilot who, in 1947, was the first person. to break.the sound barrier in the Bell X-1 rocket-powered airplane, has described Anderson as "the best fighter pilot I've ever seen."

U.S. Navy Commander Harold L. Buell of St. Augustine, Fla. Buell piloted the Douglas SBD Dauntless dive-bomber assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown. He flew during the battles of the Coral Sea and Midway and at Guadalcanal. Later, he served on the USS Enterprise and the USS Hornet from which Jimmy Doolittle in 1942 had commanded a flight of B-25 Mitchell bombers in a bombing raid over Japan. Buell also flew the Curtiss SB2C Helldiver. Buell earned the Navy Cross, Silver Star, three DFCs and two Purple Hearts.

Wayne C. Coffey of Seattle, Wash. Colley was a radio operator-gunner in Scouting Squadron 2 on the USS Lexington when the United States entered World War II following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He participated in the Battle of the Coral Sea and was credited with shooting down four enemy aircraft. He also served on the USS Lexington.

Left to right: Dan Halloran (Hap's son), Hap, Jenna Welch
(Laura Bush's mother), and Ed Todd, a newpaper reporter.

Lt Gen. Keith K. Compton of San Antonio. He played a vital role in developing the Strategic Air Cornmand - America's bomber force. He was in the U.S. Army Air Corps' first unit to be equipped with the four-engine B17 Flying Fortress. In February 1943, Compton was commander of the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF) 376th Bomb Group which in July of 1943 joined other bomb groups in "Tidal Wave" - a low-level bombing run on the German oil refinery complex at Ploesi, Romania. He was awarded the DFC, Distinguished Service Medal and Air Medal.

Col. Ralph Parr of New Braunfels. Parr is a veteran of five combat tours in four types of fighters and flew 641 combat missions in three wars - World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam war. He piloted a P-38 Lightning in the Pacific Theater of Operations in World War II, flew the F-80 Shooting Star in Korea and flew a F-4 Phantom in Vietnam. He became a double ace. He was awarded the Air Force Cross for valor, skill and bravery

Lt. Gen. Jay, T. Robbins (posthumously honored) During World War II, Robbins was-assigned to the USAAF's Fifth Air Force and was in a fighter squadron in the Southwest Pacific. Robbins flew 181 combat missions in the P-39 Airacobra and P-38 Lightning. He destroyed four enemy aircraft in aerial cornbat. Robbins earned the Distinguished Service Cross, Distinguished Service Medal, DFC, Silver Star and Air Medal. Robbins' widow and son accepted the honor for him.

19th Bomb Group. The USAAFs 19th Bomb Group was twice cited with the Distinguished Unit Citation for "gallant performance in combat" early into World War II. Many, of the 19th Bomb Group's B-17s were destroyed by the attacking Japanese on December 8, 1941, at the Philippines' Clark Field. Later, the 19th BG flew missions against Japanese targets in the Solomon Islands, and at Rabaul. In 1944, the unit was equipped with the heavier B-29s in assaults on Japanese targets. The 19th BG earned Distinguished Unit Citations.

The CAF's American Combat Airman Hall of Fame was the vision of Lloyd Nolen, who, in 1957 was a co-founder of the CAF. The honorees' wartime deeds and valor are recognized via displays in the American Airpower Heritage Museum in CAF headquarters at Midland International Airport.

To see actual invitation and closeup of medal click here.