Reno, Nev. — For Naval Flight Officers, the wings of gold that get pinned to their chests mark a proud moment at the beginning of a demanding career.
But the ceremony can be just as meaningful for those legends long past their training days.
Which is why William “Willie Irish” Driscoll, a Navy ace from the Vietnam War, didn’t hesitate when he was asked to affix golden wings to a young flight officer at this year’s annual Tailhook Association convention.
“They asked me if I would be willing to do this and the answer was ‘yes,’” retired Cmdr. Driscoll said after the ceremony last week. “I represent naval aviation from the past. What we’re looking at today is the naval aviation of the present and future.”
It was the American military's first shootdown of an enemy plane since 1999
Naval Flight Officer Driscoll and his F-4J Phantom pilot — Randall “Duke” Cunningham — shot down five North Vietnamese jets, including three MiGs during a single 1972 mission.
A recipient of the Navy Cross, the nation’s second-highest award for battlefield valor, two Silver Stars and 10 Air Medals — plus the Purple Heart — Driscoll received his Naval Flight Officer wings in 1970 after completing advanced training at Naval Air Station Glynco in Georgia.
Those wings meant so much to Driscoll that he made sure they mean something to Ensign Changdae Hahm, too.
Driscoll pinned Hahm with his own wings earned nearly a half-century ago.
“He’s a legend in naval aviation,” said Hahm, who was born in South Korea and raised in Colorado. “To have his wings on my chest is not only a lot of pressure, it’s an honor.”
A U.S. Naval Academy grad, Hahm considered joining the Marines or becoming a submariner, but the lure of flying grabbed him.
Not to be outdone at Tailhook, retired Rear Adm. Mike “Nasty” Manazir also used the wings he earned in 1983 to pin pilot Lt. J.G. Blake Leming.
The former commanding officer of both the “Tomcatters” of Fighter Squadron 31 and the aircraft carrier Nimitz, Manazir recorded more than 1,200 arrested landings during 15 deployments.