By James Niedzinski
---- — LONDONDERRY — Veterans, friends, family members and airplane enthusiasts gathered earlier this month for a new exhibit at the New Hampshire Aviation Historical Society.
The new exhibit honors Capt. Joseph McConnell of Dover.
McConnell remains one of America’s top pilots, shooting down 16 Soviet fighter jets in the Korean War in a four-month period, said Wendell Berthelsen, special assistant to the executive director of the museum.
The new exhibit includes pictures, letters and models of McConnell and his plane, a F-86 Sabre.
McConnell was also the first jet-on-jet fighter ace and ranks among the top 10 aces in world aviation history.
He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and Silver Star for his combat heroism.
“The McConnell Story,” a 1955 film starring Alan Ladd and June Allyson, was shown during the exhibit’s opening.
Berthelsen said McConnell died in 1954 when he was test piloting a plane in California.
Patricia McConnell, Joseph McConnell’s daughter, tried to hold back tears as she spoke.
“The work you have all done for this exhibit is amazing,” she said. “My father would be proud.”
She flew in from San Diego to attend see the new exhibit.
Also in attendance was retired Sgt. Joseph Hartwell of Nottingham, McConnell’s nephew.
This was the first time Hartwell got a chance to meet Patricia McConnell, his cousin. Hartwell and Patricia McConnell had chance to talk and reminisce after the exhibit.
“It’s a bittersweet day,” he said.
A member of the Korean Consulate from Boston also spoke, honoring those who died to defend South Korea.
Eun Chul Lee said he noticed New Hampshire’s state motto on license plates as he drove to Londonderry.
“It gave me a glimpse of just how significant and deep the people of New Hampshire cherish freedom,” he said.
McConnell was not the only New Hampshire native honored that day.
Laconia native Brig. Gen. Harrison Thyng was honored for his efforts in World War II and the Korean War.
His son, retired Lt. Col. James Thyng, spoke about his father’s exploits and the new exhibit.
“It is time we stop referring to the Korean War as the forgotten war,” he said. “Nobody has forgotten what those men fought for.”