NO. 17746 • 29 July 1926 - 7 September 1955
Died at Stewart AFB, Newburgh, NY
Interred in Independence, KS
IN THE LATE SUMMER of 1955, a T-33 military jet took off from Stewart AFB just north of West Point with two of our classmates on board. The pilot was Eugene Charles "Gene" Etz and the passenger was John Hall. Two minutes after take-off, the plane experienced engine trouble and Gene radioed the control tower that he was returning to the field. With the plane circling for the landing, Gene made the decision not to drop an external fuel tank because he was over a housing area in Newburgh, and John Hall concurred. As the T-33 approached runway number nine, it crashed and burst into flames, and both occupants were killed instantly. It was 5 Sep 1955, just five years and ninety-two days after graduation.
It is ironic that Gene survived combat operations in Korea, only to die in the relative safety of the skies over the Hudson Valley. Extracts from his combat citations read, "1 LT Eugene C. Etz distinguished himself by meritorious achievement while participating in aerial flight over enemy held territory from 18 Dec 1951 to 15 May 1952 ... operations included dangerous low level attacks against enemy rail and transportation routes... [and] ... long range escort and patrols deep into enemy territory. During these flights, LT Etz was subjected to intense anti-aircraft and small arms fire. Many of his targets were tenaciously defended by enemy jet aircraft."
Those of us who knew Gene as a cadet remember his zest for life and for sports - especially track - and his enthusiasm for flying. Even before becoming a cadet, Gene earned a private airplane pilot license. He joined the Army Air Corps Reserve in August 1943, only enhancing his love of flying. A classmate also remembers Gene's devotion to his one-and-only, Jacque, whom he married after graduation. The classmate recalls, "my thoughts about Gene are that he was a very positive, energetic person who was madly in love with his girlfriend, Jacque." Another classmate adds to Gene's devotion to flying and sports with, "His priorities were his girlfriend, the Air Force, and track." As a cadet, Gene enjoyed participating in various forms of athletics. He was a formidable opponent in Plebe boxing and a fierce competitor in all the other sports. He won major A's in corps squad track, excelling in the quarter-mile. His aggressive spirit enhanced his martial military spirit. It always was his life's professional goal to fly high-performance aircraft in the Air Force, and he was especially well suited temperamentally, physically, and mentally to become the outstanding fighter pilot he proved to be. His record as an F-86 pilot in Korea is outstanding.
After graduation, Gene underwent the usual Basic Flight training at Goodfellow AFB, TX, followed by Advanced Flight training at Williams AFB, AZ. In October 1951, he received jet fighter-bomber training at Nellis AFB, NV, before he was off to the air war in Korea. Reporting for duty there in November 1951, Gene was assigned to the 182d "Red Tails" Fighter-Bomber Squadron, 136th Fighter-Bomber Group, Fifth Air Force, with which he flew 70 combat missions over Korea.
Gene was among our very first classmates to return to the Academy as an instructor. In June 1955, he reported to the Department of Military Topography and Graphics in preparation for teaching duties in the fall. Gene, his wife Jacque, and their two daughters Candace and Penny, lived in the Central Apartments housing area on West Point. The Etz family looked forward with great expectations to the next three years in the beautiful surroundings of West Point. Instead, unaccountably, this ideal scenario ended abruptly and all too soon in the sunny skies of a September afternoon. For those who knew Gene - his family, friends, and classmates - this accident was a tragedy we could scarcely grasp.
Now, 45 years later, we remember Gene as a man of integrity and purpose, summarized in these words from one of his classmates in Cadet Company I-1, "Gene was a good friend who always was willing to assist, whether on the track or in daily routines. His diligence and perseverance exemplified, to a great degree, his sense of direction. His positive self-assurance and confidence served as an incentive to me. He always was well organized and dedicated to his immediate tasks. His ability to succeed was influenced by his constant love for flying. I admired his steadfast motivation to achieve his goals. In track, he never stopped trying to achieve and to win. He seemed to be a person who knew what he wanted to do and then proceeded to expend his energies to do it."
Requiescat in Pace.
Classmate Leo Romaneski