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Local vets receive first DAR distinguished citizens award
National Defense Chairman Connie Tucker of the Col. William Candler Chapter DAR in Gainesville awarded the first two Distinguished Citizen Awards to Newman A. Jacobs and retired Col. Bilton Vance. From left are Elsbeth Vance, Col. Bilton Vance and Connie Tucker.

National Defense Chairman Connie Tucker of the Col. William Candler Chapter Daughters of the American Revolution awarded the first two Distinguished Citizen Awards to Newman A. Jacobs, a former aviator with the U.S. Navy and retired U.S. Army Col. Bilton Vance.

The Distinguished Citizens Medal was recently established by the national society of the Daughters of the American Revolution to recognize citizens who fulfill the qualities of honor, service, courage, leadership and patriotism.

“The design of the medal features a federal eagle symbolizing strength, power and freedom while its wings reflect protection,” Tucker said. “An olive branch beneath the eagle indicates peace and victory. A torch on the back represents enlightenment and hope.”

Jacobs’ story

Jacobs was born July 19, 1923, and raised on a farm in Grayson.

He wanted to join the Navy after his high school graduation, but followed his parents’ wishes and moved to Atlanta. He worked at Southern Bell and attended Georgia Tech’s school of business at night.

When Pearl Harbor was bombed, Jacobs was in Atlanta and recalled papers being “hawked” on the street with news of the attack. Within a year, he volunteered for service and reported for duty with the U.S. in February 1943.

Airplanes flying over the family farm had always fascinated him, so he considered his enlistment in naval aviation fortunate. He took his first solo flight after 10 hours of training at the base in Macon.

Pre-flight instruction and learning to swim were completed at the Naval school in Athens; he earned his flight wings in Memphis, Tenn., and received his commission in Pensacola, Fla. He had additional training in Atlanta, California, Maryland and Virginia before his first assignment in Maryland.

Jacobs firmly believed in planning ahead and focused his flying skills on a possible future as a commercial pilot. Within a year, he was based in Hawaii and told he was the youngest flight commander in service.

He flew from one point to another over a period of days and spent nights at bases along a route. He flew a different plane each day, never knowing his crew or destination until leaving. His return trips often held soldiers wounded in battle.

He recalls flying many VIPs and even had Charles Lindbergh as a passenger.

Jacobs served in the Navy with the ranks of ensign and lieutenant junior grade. He was discharged in December 1945.

He served in the Naval Reserve and was promoted to lieutenant in 1950.

After receiving his degree in architecture from Georgia Tech, Jacobs began teaching in the school of landscape design at the University of Georgia.

Jacobs moved to Gainesville in 1958. His one-man firm soon grew into Jacobs and Matthews and then Jacobs, Matthews and Parker. Jacobs designed many buildings, including Gainesville’s 1960 courthouse, area elementary, middle, and high schools and stadiums, the First Baptist Life Center, the Georgia Mountains Center (now Brenau Downtown Center) and buildings at Young Harris, North Georgia (now University of North Georgia) and the University of Georgia.

Vance’s story

Bilton Vance was born April 16, 1928, in Neibert, W.Va. and raised on a farm in coal-mining country.

During his sophomore year in high school, he changed his birth certificate by two years to volunteer for service during World War II. In December 1943, the 15-year-old reported to the Great Lakes Training Center. He also was stationed at Brown’s shipyard in Houston and in San Diego before leaving on a ship for the Pacific.

The young sailor became head quartermaster on a ship stationed in Okinawa before the war ended.

His initial commitment led to service in the Naval Reserves, the Air Force and both of the branches’ reserves.

His duty started during World War II, but continued in Korea, Vietnam, the Cuban and Belgian Congo crises and the Cold War. He was stationed in the Pacific, Europe, Africa, Southeast Asia and the United States.

Vance graduated from Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning as a Distinguished Military Graduate on Sept. 26, 1952, with his next duty assignment on the same base. He was a platoon leader for the 508th Regimental combat team.

Throughout his career, he was recognized for his dedication and volunteering to serve in difficult combat assignments, such as “command of the 501st Signal Battalion, 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam and of the Communications and Electronic Engineer agency in Thailand.”

Service medals he has received include three Legions of Merit, the Bronze Star, two Air Force medals, two Army commendation medals, meritorious service awards, the joint service commendation, the good conduct medal and numerous service ribbons.

Upon retiring with 30 years and six months of service, Vance was selected from 34 candidates to become NATO’s telecommunications engineer and chief project officer in Brussels, Belgium. He worked with NATO from June 1976 to August 1986. He also served as director, vice president, and president of the Armed Forces Communications Electronics Association Chapter in Brussels.

Vance was inducted into the U.S. Army Infantry Hall of Fame at Fort Benning in 1997 in recognition of his outstanding career.

He continues to serve our country by volunteering at the Northeast Georgia History Center and speaking at local schools about the importance of military service.

DAR Historian Helen Martin and Stephen Gurr recorded the stories of N.A. Jacobs and Col. Bilton Vance.

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