Maj. Edward Stiles Sr. is the honoree, is the grandfather of Lovinggood’s assistant band director Michelle Koenig. Under her direction, the Silver Hawks Band performed a selection of songs dedicated to the WWII veteran.
“It was real nice,” Stiles said after the show. “I just enjoyed every bit of it.”
The 93-year-old was captivated, tapping his feet to “The Flying Tiger March” by John Edmondson, the song Koenig found last fall and decided to have her students play to honor her grandfather.
Before Koenig led the band of eighth-graders in the tune, the audience was shown a slideshow featuring photographs of Stiles when he served overseas in the first strike against Japan following the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor in the group famously nicknamed the Flying Tigers.
Eighth-grade symphonic band member Jordan Keith also read a report he compiled on the history of the Flying Tigers, explaining how the group of about 300 were the first American volunteers sent over to China, comprised of pilots from the Army, Navy and Marine Corps and commanded by Gen. Claire Lee Chennault.
“Their role as the Flying Tigers was to defend China from the Japanese during WWII,” Keith said. “The group first fought in combat on Dec. 20, 1941, 13 days after (the attack on) Pearl Harbor.”
Keith went on to describe the Flying Tigers’ notable success in giving hope to U.S. citizens that American forces would triumph in the conflict, with records after the war revealing the Tigers destroyed almost 300 enemy aircraft while only losing 14 pilots on combat missions.
To conclude the performance, band director Joe Heiberger presented Stiles with a plaque in recognition of his service and dedication of the performance.
“As the son of a veteran and the grandson of a WWII veteran, veterans hold a special place in my heart,” Heiberger said.
After being de-commissioned by President Roosevelt in July 1942, Stiles re-enlisted in the Air Force and became an instructor pilot on B-52 bombers and C-119 cargo planes throughout his 30-year military career.
A native of Struthers, Ohio, Stiles now lives with his son, Edward Stiles Jr., and daughter-in-law, Sandy, in Sarasota, Fla. His beloved wife Ethel, “the sweetest girl (he’s) ever known,” passed away a few years ago at 86.
After the concert, Stiles signed autographs and shook hands behind a table in front of the auditorium, filled with various medals, decorations and several pictures taken during his time with the Flying Tigers.
“He loves connecting with that and he loves being with the remainder of the guys,” his son said. “He enjoys it.”
Stiles Jr. said his father’s seven months with the Flying Tigers was at a time when the country was in low spirits following the Japanese attacks and a failing war with Germany.
“At that point, it was the only positive PR the country had going, what these guys were doing,” he said.
Koenig said she was happy she could give her grandfather recognition for his service and to give both Stiles and her students a memorable gift.
“We kind of talked about this and they thought it was really neat,” Koenig said of discussions with her class about the performance. “Especially because he’s one of four alive and he was in his early 20s when all this happened.”
Koenig said she vividly remembers her grandfather telling stories of famous fighter pilot and flying ace Tex Hill.
“He just loves flying and this is very special for him,” she said.
Stiles, who now gets around in a wheelchair and is a little hard of hearing, joked with attendees to see if they could point out his light-eyes and blonde hair among the crew, pictured huddled in front of one of the legendary shark-toothed decorated planes.
“That was after I had come back in Richmond, Va.” he said, pointing to the photograph. “I was master sergeant then. I ended up as a major.”
He also reminisced with interested parents and students on the glory days of being a pilot.
“The wild blue yonder,” he said with a laugh, when asked what he missed most about flying.