Marilyn Monroe once said that the three men with whom she’d most like to be stranded on a desert island were Joe DiMaggio (no surprise), Albert Einstein (surprise!) and Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg — yes, the same Vandenberg whose name graces the Air Force base in Lompoc.
I make note of this because the Central Coast Veterans Memorial Museum (located in the lower level of the San Luis Veterans Memorial Building at 801 Grand Ave.) is unveiling a display honoring the four-star general on Tuesday at 10 a.m. The public is invited to see the display and tour the museum at noon.
Vandenberg was quite a player before dying in 1954 at age 55 from prostate cancer. Not only was he a good-looking guy, featured on the covers of Time and Life magazines and described by the Washington Post as “the most impossibly handsome man on the entire Washington scene,” he was also brilliant.
In addition to being a decorated combat flyer, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross and Silver Star among dozens of other commendations, Vandenberg served in various top jobs for the Army Air Corps and then as chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force from 1948 to 1953.
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In between those commands, he served as director of intelligence for the War Department, and was appointed by President Harry Truman as director of central intelligence, a precursor to the CIA.
Although smart, apparently he wasn’t a wonk 24/7. According to various bios, when he wasn’t crunching data and directing operations, he could be found on the golf course, playing to a scratch handicap, or enjoying a Scotch or Western movies; kind of a “man’s man” of the Greatest Generation.
How the general’s uniform, flags and domestic medals (his foreign decorations from countries as disparate as Luxembourg and Chile have gone to the U.S. Air Force Academy) wound up in the Central Coast Veterans Memorial Museum is a story unto itself and starts with retired Army Col. Jack Jones.
The 80-year-old San Luis Obispo resident was the 75th commander in chief of the Military Order of World Wars, a position that military notables such as Generals Douglas MacArthur, Dwight Eisenhower and Omar Bradley had held since the organization was formed in 1919.
Jones, now a member of the local Military Order of World Wars, Vandenberg Chapter, received a call from Vandenberg’s son, retired Maj. Gen. Hoyt “Sandy” Vandenberg Jr., about a year ago.
Sandy, who noted in a 2007 article in Air Force Times that “I’m the son of a pioneer airman who I think is the greatest son-of-a-bitch who ever lived,” told Jones that his wife had died and his kids didn’t want the senior Vandenberg’s military memorabilia.
Sandy, a highly decorated veteran in his own right, with more than 100 combat missions in Vietnam, wanted to know if the MOWW, Vandenberg Chapter, wanted the material, no strings attached.
The chapter said yes, the museum’s board of directors said yes and the display, which cost around $2,000 to set up and house, will now become part of the permanent displays at the museum.
This collection is part of our heritage. Take the time to visit and honor those who served and those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
Bill Morem can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 781-7852.