U-2 pilot who took photos for the White House during Cuban Missile Crisis among those honored in County Commission program

Retired Brigadier General McIlmoyle leads Pledge of Allegiance during Oct. 2 meeting

Image courtesy Sarasota County Government via Twitter

On April 9, Sarasota County Commissioner Christian Ziegler asked his colleagues to consider allowing a veteran to lead the Pledge of Allegiance during each meeting. Ziegler said he had suggested his proposal to representatives of the Sarasota County Veterans Commission, who “loved the idea.”

Noting that about 42,000 county residents are veterans, Ziegler added, “I think this is a great way for us to engage [them] in the community.”

To ensure the action would carry no political overtones, the board members asked staff to look into the proposal.

Finally, on July 9, veterans did indeed begin leading the Pledge of Allegiance at County Commission meetings.

On Oct. 2, arguably one of the county’s more distinguished veterans was introduced by Chair Charles Hines. The board members were meeting in a joint session with the North Port City Commission at the R.L. Anderson Administration Center in Venice.

Hines explained to the audience, “Sarasota County has adopted a policy to ask veterans in our community to come in and lead us in the Pledge.” That day, he continued, it was his honor to introduce Air Force Brigadier General (retired) Gerald E. “Jerry” McIlmoyle.

First, Hines said, he wanted to read a list of the honors and medals that McIlmoyle earned during his military career: the Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Bronze Star, the Air Medal, the Joint Service Commendation Medal, the Air Force Commendation Medal, the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award Ribbon, the Army Good Conduct Medal and the Small Arms Expert Marksmanship Ribbon.

“Watch out for him,” Hines said with a laugh, referring to the latter honor.

Hines added that since retirement, McIlmoyle has remained active in the community. McIlmoyle is involved with the Knights of Columbus, Hines noted, and he is the Rosary leader every fifth Sunday at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Venice. Further, McIlmoyle is a volunteer patriotic speaker with the Sarasota County Historical Society.

Then, Hines pointed out, “Here’s the really interesting part, if that’s not interesting enough.”

McIlmoyle was a U-2 pilot, Hines said. During the October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, McIlmoyle took photos of the nuclear missiles the Soviet Union had installed on Cuba “and brought them back to President Kennedy.”

(County Media Relations Officer Brianne Grant told The Sarasota News Leader that two surface-to-air missiles were fired at McIlmoyle’s U-2 during the mission.)

This Mitchell U-2 Superwing is on display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center of the Smithsonian Institution in Dulles, Va. Photo by Mark Pellegrini via Wikimedia Commons

President Kennedy personally thanked McIlmoyle for enabling him to settle the crisis peacefully, Hines added.

In an article for the Knights of Columbus’ Fathers for Good initiative, John Burger pointed out that the Cuban Missile Crisis, “dramatized in the film Thirteen Days, with Kevin Costner, ended with the Soviets withdrawing the missiles. President Kennedy later toured the U-2 aircraft that played such a crucial role in resolving the impasse, and McIlmoyle was chosen to conduct the tour.

“’He put his arm around my shoulder and his face almost next to mine and he said, ‘I’ll never be able to thank you guys enough for those pictures you brought back,”’” McIlmoyle told Burger, relating his experience with Kennedy. “‘“It allowed me to negotiate a peaceful settlement to this crisis,”’” Kennedy added.

“It’s an honor to be here,” McIlmoyle told the commissioners on Oct. 2.

After the Pledge, McIlmoyle generated laughter among the audience members when he asked permission from Hines to relocate from his front-row seat to a chair next to his wife, further back in the Chambers.

“You’re a brigadier general,” Hines responded with a laugh. “You can do whatever you want.”