Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has directed flags to half-staff on Saturday to honor aviation pioneer Air Force Col. Joseph W. Kittinger Jr., who died last month. He was 94.
He was born in Tampa and grew up outside Orlando. Upon his death, the New York Times called him "an aviation trailblazer ... , paving the way for America’s first manned spaceflights."
According to a memo from the Governor's Office, Kittinger served 29 years in the Air Force, including three tours in Vietnam.
He "spent 11 months as a prisoner of war in a North Vietnamese prison after shooting down a Vietnamese jet fighter. He received many military awards including two Silver Stars, two Purple Hearts, and a POW Medal," the memo said.
Before that, Kittinger "was a NATO test pilot in Germany until 1953, when he was assigned to the Air Force Missile Development Center at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico," according to the New Mexico Museum of Space History.
It was over New Mexico that Kittinger made the world record for highest skydive in 1960, holding it till 2012, when Austrian parachutist Felix Baumgartner broke the record by jumping more than 120,000 feet from a Red Bull Stratos capsule under a high altitude balloon. Kittinger helped him prepare for the jump.
Kittinger wrote a book about his high dive experience, "The Long, Lonely Leap." In 1984, he also became the first man to make a solo crossing of the Atlantic Ocean in a gas balloon.
In his 2010 autobiography, "Come Up and Get Me," he explained, "I was born in the age of the barnstormers and lived to fly supersonic fighter jets. I have flown on four continents, across both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, and have logged more than 16,800 hours in 93 different aircraft. I flew 483 combat missions, made 102 parachute jumps, and ejected twice from disabled jets."
He went on: "My ambition has been as singular as it has been transparent. From the instant of that first takeoff in Phil Orr’s Piper Cub at Lake Tibet Butler when I was sixteen, all I’ve ever really wanted to do is fly— which, in my mind, is to be part of something altogether glorious."
In a statement, DeSantis said Kittinger "accomplished much in his life and will be remembered for his dedicated service to our country and the notable legacy he left behind."
To "honor (his) memory ... and his service to our country, I hereby direct the flag of the State of Florida to be flown at half-staff at the Seminole County Courthouse in Sanford, the City Hall of Altamonte Springs, and at the State Capitol in Tallahassee, from sunrise to sunset on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2023."
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