Flying High: Pearce, Gray, & Associated Families’ Connections to Aviation

Dedicated to my brother, Capt. Paul W. Pearce
on the occasion of his 80th birthday, 6/7/20
by little brother
Larry Pearce

Capt. Paul W. Pearce
with T-38 Supersonic
U.S.A.F. (c.1962)

Over the past two decades of researching and writing family history, certain commonalities seem to keep cropping up as I process all this information in my head. Recently, while posting articles about relatives at opposite ends of the age scale, 97-year old cousin Jim Stark and three of nephew Ken Pearce’s West Point Army attendees, all in their early 20s and 30s, it occurred to me that there are at least a dozen and a half highly accomplished and beloved relatives and namesakes who have been connected in some way to aviation, either through military service, careers, or just hobbies. As if ordained by a Higher Power, the publishing of this article comes as my oldest brother and strong influence in my life reaches his 80th birthday. What a perfect time to put him in the spotlight, the head of the esteemed line-up, numero uno for the purpose of this post. In order to keep simple the list of ones who come next, and in some cases protect the information associated with the still living, I’ll just offer a numbered list below. The best part of writing for the internet is that I can add, subtract, and modify at any time. That’s where you come in: To make a suggestion, please write to me in the “Reply” box below. I will review your comments and questions, and in some cases respond offline personally with you before posting. Also, this is only a series of biographical synopses. Click on the links for more detailed information and additional photos. Now, here’s our roster of aviators and associates:

1st Lt. & Mrs. Paul W. Pearce
Day of days, June 9 1962

1. Capt.Paul Wesley Pearce (b.1940), besides being my older brother, could be described as “farm boy to fly boy.” His success story begins with him working his way through college by doing farm chores. He joined the Air Force ROTC while at Penn State and was graduated, married, and commissioned the same day in 1962. The “height” of his five years of service was flying the B-52 over Greenland during the Viet Nam era, called the “Chrome Dome 24-hour Nuclear Detail.” After his honorable discharge, he literally flew his way all over the world, going from co-pilot to “the man at the wheel and in charge of the landing gear” for several airlines: National, Pan Am, and Delta. After retiring, Paul and his wife Cynthia settled in beautiful Charlottesville, VA, enjoying e-mails and phone calls from his kids and grandkids from Hawaii to the East Coast U.S.A. Brief summaries of his two boys, Stuart and Steven, can be found below. Oh, did I mention that Paul is my older brother and that I’m proud of him? Happy Birthday, Bro! Now, Let’s take a look at number two, a rather famous cousin from a different branch of the U.S. Armed Forces.

2. Lt. Cmdr. Robert “Bob” Austen Clarke (1920-2011) attended Colgate University with a major in Political Science. He  enlisted in the U.S. Navy Reserve his junior year. His pilot’s training was done in Florida at air bases in Pensacola and Miami. He flew fighter aircraft in WW II. On Christmas Eve, 1946, he joined the Navy’s Blue Angels flight demonstration team. His various roles included air show announcer and alternating between flying “wing” and “Beetle Bomb wing” (term used before modern Fandom game). He was promoted to leader of the team for the next two seasons and was responsible for the Blue Angel’s trademark “four plane diamond,” which replaced the three aircraft “V” formation. From there he became one of the Navy’s top test pilots. After his retirement in 1965, he worked with Boeing out of Seattle, responsible for their Pacific Rim Division. He was based in Australia where he remained after his second retirement. Commander Bob loved to sail in his free time and was known as a student of history and political commentator. He and his wife had two children. Bob and Jessie are buried together at Arlington National Cemetery. His Great-great grandmother Sarah Pearce Austen was my Great-great grandfather Richard’s twin sister, and their families emigrated together to  America 200 years ago.

Stuart Dean Pearce

3. Stuart Dean Pearce (b.1963), my brother Paul’s youngest son, earned a mechanical engineering degree from Georgia Tech and married a beautiful southern belle named Beverly. He signed on to the U.S. Navy as a civilian employee at the base in Charleston, SC, and helped raise a family of three. A man of great energy and many talents (including the bass fiddle) Stuart still manages to find time to do volunteer work through his church. He was encouraged by his career-pilot father to get his pilot’s license. As far as we know now, Stuart has limited his accomplishment to staring at it, mounted on the wall. We’ll see what the future holds.

Sgt. Steven Pearce
Kuwait, 2019

4. S/Sgt. Steven Paul Pearce (b.1962), like his younger brother, was born while his father was in the military and probably has taking orders in his blood. After college, Steve married, helped raise two kids, and worked several jobs. His loose connection to aviation came later in life after looking for extra income to support his family. Steve joined the North Carolina National Guard for the extra income and benefits. Most recently he was deployed to Kuwait as a Staff Sergeant in charge of supplies supporting the U.S. military effort in the Middle East. “His” planes and helicopters come and go from the base to at least a half dozen countries. Steve is set to retire in several years.

Carl D. Pearce
Patuxent Naval Air Station, MD (1960)

5. Seaman Carl Dale “Butch” Pearce (1942-2004), like his older brother, got to do what he loved during the Viet Nam War, “fix stuff.” As we said, Paul served above the ground, but Carl stayed safely on the ground, keeping airplanes flying. Growing up, Carl loved the water and could often be found boating and water skiing on the Allegheny River with friends. When called to serve his country, he must have thought the U.S. Navy would suit just fine. After basic training at the Great Lakes Naval Air Station, he was assigned to aircraft repair at the base on the Patuxent River, MD. Ironically, Carl married a beautiful woman who had been raised not far from the Allegheny River and together they raised two children and helped with grandchildren, several of whom would earn their wings, as we’ll see below. Both Butch and Jean are gone now, but they rest in peace in  the cemetery near the little town he loved, Mars, Butler County, PA.

Lts. Ken & Niki Pearce
on their wedding day
1987

6. 1st Lt. Kenneth James Pearce (b.1964) & Capt. Niki Kotchman Pearce (b.1963) met while both were enrolled in the Army ROTC program at Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, where Niki was a nursing student. She began serving in the Army Nurse Corps in 1986. Simultaneous to her duties, she worked for her Masters from Case Western Reserve in Cleveland. A year after graduating in 1993, she left the Army with eight years of service. She is now a senior mid-wife nurse with the Cleveland Clinic. After graduation from Pittsburgh’s Point Park University in Journalism and Communications, Ken served the Army Aviation branch where he flew the UH-1 “Huey” and OH-58 “Kiowa” helicopters while serving as an Aero Scout platoon leader in the 4th Army Calvary, 1st Squadron. His tour of duty ended in 1990 after four years of service. After marrying, the couple raised two children while on duty, but having “done their time” in serving their country, they returned to near  Niki’s hometown in Northern Ohio and had two more kids, this time twins. More about all these prodigies below. Ken is presently a senior Enterprise Business Information (EBI) database developer with the Cleveland Clinic.

Capt. Taylor Ridge
at the controls of a
MEDEVAC helicopter

7. Capt. Taylor Sutton Pearce Ridge (b.1989) has had U.S. Army blood in her veins from the day she was born. After high school, she and two brothers, Logan and Nolan were fortunate, and intelligent, enough to attend the West Point Military Academy. That’s not to say the other brother, Garrett, wasn’t all that as well. He chose the R.O.T.C. program at his college, Case Western Reserve. Captain Taylor took on the challenge of flying the UH-60 “Blackhawk” Medevac helicopter. She graduated from the Flight School in Fort Rucker, Alabama, in 2013, after which she served in South Korea and then Afghanistan, where she was appointed Pilot-in-Command. Her accomplishments were highlighted in the TV mini-series FlyGirls. She is now back in the States, married to David Ridge, raising two children, and preparing for her next duty station in Hawaii.

Lt. Logan & wife Amanda Pearce

8. Lt. Logan James Pearce (b.1992), an accomplished high school football player, followed his sister to West Point, but with the intentions of excelling on the football field. Impatient to get playing time, he switched loyalties to rugby. Maybe that move was in his name and ethnic heritage: “Logan” was the first King of Scotland and “James VI” was promoted from the King of Scotland to become James I, the famous King of England.  After graduating, he married the lovely Amanda and, in keeping with their British lines, named their first born daughter Charlotte, which was also his aunts’ name in two generations of long ago. We are limited in what we can say about Logan now as he is on active duty except to say that he, like his sister, is also a Pilot-in-Command of a “Blackhawk” Medevac helicopter. He is preparing for deployment to Afghanistan. Stay tuned.

Stanley “Dick” Gray
Mars High School, 1950

9. Seaman Stanley “Dick” Wayne Gray (b.1933-) was named for his uncle Russell Stanley Gray (1891-1955), who owned a Ford dealership in West Deer Township, Allegheny Co., PA. My Uncle Dick, as we called him, always loved mechanical things, especially cars. It seemed natural that he would join the Navy during the Korean War and be part of a supply chain on board the 8VR Lockheed Constellation Military Transport. Stan shuttled back and forth between Pearl Harbor and Tokyo to keep the soldiers supplied. After the war, he married, started a family, and took advantage of the GI Bill to became the first one in his family to go to college, my alma mater, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, studying Business and, of course, Drivers’ Education. Being attracted to what is now Florida’s beautiful “Space Coast” as early as 1949, when his parents visited there, he took jobs with various NASA contractors as a fireman and mechanic. Eventually, after they learned of his wartime experience in the NAVY, a NASA mainstay, Harris Corporation, hired him to market radio transmission equipment with subsidiary, Gates. He was an integral part of the space industry and more.

Steward Cyndi (back L.) with
Mike Huckabee

10. Cyndi Marie Gray Winterkamp (b.1961) is Uncle Dick’s youngest off-spring and only daughter. After growing up in sunny Florida, graduating from college, and marrying, she and her family never left the southern latitudes of the United States. She retired to Texas, having been a flight attendant with Delta Airlines, and continued that line of work with the company jets of the Ross Perot and Sons Corporation. This has allowed her to continue to rub shoulders with lots of famous people as pictured above.

Lawrence “Doc” Gray, USMC
“at ease”

11. Corporal Lawrence “Doc” Lorraine Gray (b.1935) didn’t waste much time after graduating from Mars High School to join the U.S. Marines, as had three of his brothers before him. After the cease fire in Korea in 1956, Uncle Doc returned home to marry his high school sweetheart Carol and raise a myriad of kids, grandkids, and now, great-grandkids. As did his brother Stanley, he was immediately attracted to the sunny clime of Florida and accepted a job with Pan American World Airways, which was a contractor with NASA back then. Doc began in the maintenance department at the nearby Patrick Air Force Base technical laboratory. He was eventually transferred to The Cape where he worked for 23 years in a variety of posts, including the fire department, the various launch complexes where he handled propellants, and finally as pad mechanic. In 1963 Pan Am was replaced by other contract companies, and Doc continued until his retirement in 2001, ending a 38-year career serving America’s space program. His experience on the Cape is the stuff movies are made of and can be followed in more detail in the link above.

M/Sgt. Charles “Doug”
Duggan, U.S.A.F.

12. M/Sgt. Charles Stephen “Doug” Duggan (1918-1991), the late husband of my Aunt Mary Gray and father to four children, was Program Director for Air Force  Communications for the European Theater of Operations. This included both radio and the new medium of Television. The family was stationed in various places around the world, including Ramstein AFB, near Frankfort, Germany, and Crete. They eventually came home to America and after his retirement from the Homestead AFB near Miami in 1971, Doug and Mary settled near other family in Satellite Beach, FL, on America’s Space Coast, several of whom have worked in that industry.

13. Capt. Matthew David Gray (b.1974) is a pilot for the famous Hershey Company, founded by Milton Hershey in the 1880s. Today, the enterprise employs some 18,000 people under President and CEO Michele Buck. In addition to Matt’s regular job of “hauling” employees and corporate officials around the country, he has flown several famous persons including Hillary Clinton. This is all in line with the corporate motto: “Our rich history of corporate citizenship is rooted in one giant leap of faith by a person who believed that if you do good, you will do well.” Capt. Gray is the son of my cousin David.

14. Capt. Stanley Curtis Campbell (1931-1956) was my Great uncle Cliff’s son, a graduate of Grove City College, 1953, with a degree in Business Administration. Just after joining the Air Force, and marrying, he and wife Joanne and became the proud parents of a New Year’s baby. Tragedy struck when Stanley was killed just 10 weeks later when the cargo plane he was piloting exploded on take-off from the Air Force base at Argentia Bay, Newfoundland. The mission had stopped there for refueling on a trans-Atlantic flight to the Azore Islands. His body was never recovered. If there is any bright spot to this sad story, it’s that Joanne remarried several years later and the new father adopted Scott. The couple later had another son.

Sgt. Richard O. Miller
U.S. Army Air Corps 1945

15. S/Sgt. Richard “Dick” Orville Miller (1920-2015) was my wife Susan’s father. Like so many other young men who reached maturity at the start of World War II, he felt it was his duty to enlist. Richard trained as an infantryman, but before long he was asked, probably because of his small stature, to be a ball turret gunner in the bomber of the day, the B-17 Flying Fortress. He was shipped to England where, after surviving 35 treacherous missions over Germany, he returned home to his bride, Hilda. Between then and the end of the War he was promoted to Staff Sergeant and became involved in U.S. Army schools of training. Much more has been written about his life and experiences and Hilda’s, who we called “Rosie the Riveter.” We will simply direct you to the “Table of Contents: Miller.”

16. Capt. Stuart “Stu” Graham Pearce (1942-1976) was the New Zealander father of famous Australian actor Guy Pearce (b.1967), no apparent relation to us. The family moved to “the Land Down Under” after Stuart accepted the position of Chief Test Pilot for the Government Aircraft Factories (GAF) in Victoria. He had flown for the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) and the English counterpart (RAF) for 12 years.  He was killed five years later in a crash caused by mechanical failure while on a test flight. Capt. Pearce has been associated with the development of the Hawker Siddeley Harrier, originally a British military aircraft, the first fighter that could take off and land vertically. The maiden flight was the year Guy was born, 1967. From then, it has been adapted and manufactured by Boeing in America.

Jim with daughter Janet
and Cessna (c. 1988)

17. Hobbyest James “Jim” Stark (b.1924) is whom I refer to as a “cousin-in-law.” Jim was kind enough recently to write his inspiring autobiography. All I had to do was add a few pictures and post it. The reason he is included here is that, among all his other accomplishments, he earned his pilot’s license and flew his own planes. In his own words:

A fellow at church was interested in flying, So we decided to check around and we found this one  for sale. It was an old Aircoupe, probably first manufactured back in the late 40s.  We bought it . My partner had his license and he was a good teacher. I learned to fly and got my license. We decided to make a few repairs to it, so we took it to the air strip near our church. First, we decided to replace some of the metal . We took the wings off and brought the plane over to my basement garage in two parts . We towed the fuselage with a VW car and put the wings on my truck. It wasn’t long until we were satisfied that it was ready to take back to the air strip and put the wings back on. It was a very simple plane to fly. The coordinated controls were all connected to the wheel so all we had to do was drive it – oops, I better make that “fly.” I had many hours of pleasure in the air, maybe 50. After that we decided to get a plane with all controls available, like today’s modern planes. We bought one for $2,100 and sold it for $4,000.

Then we found a Cessna 150 [above] for $4,500, inspected and ready to go. We bought it and flew it for about 100 hours. Eventually, we decided to sell it too, but first it needed some outer polishing. After a bit of work we sold it for $7,000. My pal was now older. At least he said that this was his reason for selling. Well, that ended my days of flying too. The old plane is now about 100 miles from here, completely restored, and for sale for $25,000.

18. G. Ross Forward (b.1821) was a lawyer who came from a long line of lawyers, judges, congressmen, and other public officials. The tiny Somerset County, PA, village in which I live, Forwardstown, was named after him. His famous uncle, Walter Forward, was very active in national and regional public life. His farm is now known as the affluent Squirrel Hill section of Pittsburgh, and nearby Forward Township is also a namesake. Ross was known as a curious young man with an instinct for invention. He took part of his savings and bought two successful iron furnaces in our county, both listed in the 1859 Iron Manufacturers’ Guide. Somerset Furnace had been established in 1846 and had been the name of our village before it was renamed Forwardstown.

Prototype of mid-19th century Somerset Furnace

After his time in Somerset County and the Pittsburgh area, Atty. Ross Forward moved to Cincinnati to re-establish his law practice. During this turn of the century period, interest in possible manned flight was rampant, and the Wright Brothers of Akron, OH, became famous for their experiments at Kitty Hawk. In the race to “be the first to fly,” Ross was apparently, “a day late and a dollar short.” He had used his mechanical aptitude to its fullest extent in trying to develop a flying machine, but being advanced in years, he realized it was time to give up. The last family record of Mr. Forward was that of a visit he made to his sister, Harriet Ogle, wife of a Washington diplomat. Mrs. Ogle recalled him saying as regards to his aviation aspirations, “I can’t do anymore, but someone else might build on my work later.” While the Wright brothers donated all their early airplane prototypes to the Smithsonian, Ross is said to have offered his to what is now the Virginia Air and Space Center, part of Langley Air Force Base in Hampton, VA. He had become acquainted with Samual Pierpoint Langley, after whom the base is named and the one-time director of the Smithsonian Museum as well as the famous Allegheny Observatory in Pittsburgh. Langley, of course, was in competition with the Wrights and had had a successful unmanned flight as early as 1896.

No familial relationship here but a fascinating story nevertheless, one known by very few Americans. Forwardstown is not on any map that I know of, and it took a convincing letter from one of our town’s seniors, Arthur James “Jim” or “A.J.” Spory,  to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to have road signs erected at either end of our locale along Rt. 985, or Somerset Pike, to offer the traveling public a small sense of history. A.J. was proud of his grandson Shawn Eshleman, a distant relative of Susan, for his service in the U.S. Air Force keeping the airmen’s teeth in order as a Dental Assistant. I’m sure he would have been even more proud of Shawn’s daughter, A.J.’s great-granddaughter Anna, for continuing that Air Force tradition. Having finished basic training, she is stationed in Oklahoma now, waiting for a permanent assignment.

So there it is: an admittedly incomplete list of family, friends, and persons even remotely associated with my families in aviation history and service. If I have missed someone who comes to your mind, please write a brief response below. I will reply, possibly including your suggestion(s) in a future edit of this article,  giving you credit, of course.

Last revised 6/9/20

2 Responses to Flying High: Pearce, Gray, & Associated Families’ Connections to Aviation

  1. Jim Gray says:

    Hi Larry ~
    What a wonderful bio and such an interesting connecting of the ‘aviation dots’
    Thanks for sharing and for all the time that must have gone into this…
    Stay well; best wishes,
    Jim Gray
    (Stan and Catherine’s oldest son)
    b. July 7, 1958

    • admin says:

      Great to hear from you, Cousin Jim. Your dad and I spent some time recording family history last year. I’m glad to have included him above for posterity. You and I have communicated via e-mail as well and hope we will continue. Stay well and stay in touch,
      Cousin Larry

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