The United States military has presented the Cheney Award every year since 1927. That predates the actual forming of the United States Air Force and in its early days the award was presented to Army fliers.
The award is named in honor of an early pilot. Lt. William Cheney, killed in a mid-air collision over Italy during the Great War. It was given to fliers who showed extreme valor or self-sacrifice in a humanitarian interest.
And the 1929 award went to a local man.
The Jan. 20, 1930 headline Jamestown Sun headline read, â€œCarrington Flier Wins Cheney Award.â€ The story went on to say Lt. William A. Matheny, whose home was in Carrington, received the award for rescuing a fellow pilot and crewman after a crash in Panama.
The mission was a bit of an experiment for the Army Air Corps. It was the first attempt to fly the Keystone Bomber to Central America.
The incident occurred in August, 1929. First one engine failed forcing them to run the other engine flat out to stay in the air.
And if you guessed that caused the second engine to fail youâ€™re way ahead of me.
With both engines out the plane went one direction, down. Despite being soaked in aviation gas from the broken fuel tanks Matheny went back into the flaming wreckage to pull the other two people on the plane to safety.
Not letting a little thing like a near fatal crash into the jungle deter him, Matheny made military aviation his life..
During World War II Matheny served with the Pacific Fleet and was decorated by Adm. Chester Nimitz for his efforts. He continued to serve in the Air Force rising to the rank of Brigadier General and serving as Chief of Staff for Allied Air Forces in Northern Europe.
He also had a command a little closer to home when he led the 31st Air Division at Fort Snelling, Minn.
Mathenyâ€™s heroics made headlines at a time when aviation was getting a lot of press coverage. The simple fact the military was trying to fly a squadron across the northern part of the United States during the winter made headlines in January, 1930.
The squadron was initially slated to stop for fuel in Jamestown but weather delays changed those plans.
And the search for Carl Ben Eielson continued off the coast of Russia where his plane had crashed during a rescue effort.
Even the same day the Matheny award was announced the paper contained a headline of two air crashes that claimed 19 lives in California.
When a local person is recognized for their heroics it likely prompts an interest in following in his footsteps. But I think the interest in aviation in 1930 had to be a little tempered by the way the planes kept running into the ground.