Jake Willimon, a Life Scout in Troop 551 of Spearman, has been working on his Eagle Scout Project for the past several months.
For his project, Jake chose to build a monument for Maj. Samuel B. Cornelius at Maj. Samuel B. Cornelius Field (Spearman Municipal Airport). He replaced the airport sign and is building a memorial in honor of Maj. Cornelius that will consist of a granite monument and a flag pole.
On September 17, 2010, National POW/MIA Recognition Day, Willimon hosted a dedication ceremony for the memorial. Boy Scout Troop 551 helped with the ceremony.
Following the Pledge of Allegiance, Sheryl Meek, Valedictorian of the Spearman High School Class of 1961, read a letter written by fellow classmate Malcolm Kirkland. A letter from Governor Rick Perry was also read, as was the inscription of the monument honoring Maj. Cornelius.
Among those attending the ceremony were Maj. Corneliusí widow, Lynda Hester and her husband, Paul, and Samís sister, Adele, and other family members.
Jake is the son of Mikal and Carla Willimon of Spearman.
Lt. Samuel B. Cornelius, Reese AFB, 1969
Jake Willimon is pictured with the new sign for Maj. Samuel B. Cornelius Field. Willimon built the sign as part of his Eagle Scout Project.
Samuel B. Cornelius moved with his family to Spearman in the summer of 1957. His father, Henry Cornelius, worked for Shamrock Oil & Gas. He had an older sister, Dell, and a younger brother, Edwin. All three graduated from Spearman High School (Dell - 1958, Sam - 1961, and Edwin - 1970).
Sam loved all sports, especially football. He played football for four years in Spearman, and received a football scholarship to Texas Tech, where he played for another four years. Sam was awarded the Del Morgan Courage Award for being an outstanding Red Raider, played in two Sun Bowl games and was recruited by the Kansas City Chiefs to play pro football.
Sam instead joined the U.S. Air Force and went through pilot training at Reese Air Force Base in Lubbock. He was commissioned as a Lieutenant and flew the F4 Phantom jet. He was stationed at bases in the U.S. from California and Washington State to North Carolina. He rose to the rank of Captain, and then Major.
Sam married Lynda Kilpatrick of McCamey, and they had a daughter, Leslie, in 1970, and a son, Doug, in 1973.
Sam made two tours to Vietnam, returning home safely from both. Early in 1973 a peace treaty was signed and the long Vietnam War stopped. All the Prisoners of War were returned to the states. Sam was stationed at Seymour Johnston AFT in 1973, and served as an escort to his friend, Brian, a released POW. These escorts flew to Washington, DC from North Carolina to pick up the returning men and take them back to their bases.
Soon after Brian returned home, and Samís son was about 4 months old, Sam volunteered for one more tour of duty overseas. He was based in Thailand and flew bombing missions into Laos and Cambodia.
In mid-June of 1973, Sheriff R.L. McFarland and two USAF personnel from Lubbock informed his parents, Mary and Henry that Sam and his co-pilot, Capt. John Smallwood, had crashed over Cambodia and were said to be Missing in Action. Reports said that no parachutes were seen by aircraft flying with Sam. Search and rescue missions continued for some time with no results. Eventually, the searching stopped. Some years later, Sam and John were listed as KIA (killed in action).
Their remains have never been found, and a DNA sample was sent by Dell to the Recovery Center in Hawaii and will be stored there to one day hopefully be matched with some of the discovered remains that still await testing.
Sam was thirty years old when he died. He met and knew people wherever he went. He loved to hunt and fish and always had dogs for pets. He lived a good life, and though it was a bit short. He gave his all for family, friends and country. He did the job he wanted to do and served his country.
Samís wife, Lynda, and the children moved back to Texas. She eventually remarried, to another Air Force pilot. They lived in the Arlington, VA area and both children attended colleges on the east coast.
Doug and his family, including a son, live in the DC/Virginia area. Leslie and her family, including a son and a daughter, live in Arizona.
Samís parents are buried at Hansford Cemetery. His sister, Dell, lives in Abilene, and his brother, Edwin, lives in Galveston.
Mary and Henry Cornelius
Sam Cornelius, 1960
Lynda and Sam Cornelius - July 29, 1967
Editorís Note; The following is the inscription that will be on the Monument at Maj. Samuel B. Cornelius Field in Spearman.
Maj. Samuel B. Cornelius Field Monument
This airport shall be known as Major Samuel B. Cornelius Field and is dedicated to the heroism, honor, and sacrifice of Major Cornelius.
Major Samuel Blackmar Cornelius was born April 2, 1943, and graduated from Spearman High School in 1961. He attended Texas Tech University and after graduation entered the United Sates Air Force. He was a member of the 336th Tactical Fighter Squadron and piloted F4 Phantoms. His electronic weapons systems officer was Captain John J. Smallwood of Marietta, Georgia. On June 16, 1973, during his third tour of duty, Samís F4 was hit by hostile fire and crashed in Cambodia. No parachutes were seen and no emergency beeper signals to indicate that the crew had ejected safely were heard.
Major Cornelius and Captain Smallwood were listed as MIA, and their bodies were never recovered. This incident occurred six months after the signing of the Paris Peace Accords.
This monument is dedicated in gratitude of Major Samuel B. Cornelius, Captain John J. Smallwood, those who have sacrificed their lives and freedom to serve our country, all former American Prisoners of War, those still missing, and those Americans who may still be held prisoner.