MacDill recognizes veteran POW with lasting impact on personnel

  • Published
  • By Stephen Ove, 6th Air Refueling Wing historian

MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. – Veterans of MacDill pause to reflect the passing of one of their finest, Colonel Leroy W. Stutz on July 9th.

Stutz served 30 years at duty stations across the Air Force beginning his career in 1964 earning his wings as a RF-4C Phantom II pilot before completing his upgrade training and heading to the growing conflict in Southeast Asia.

A combat veteran of 64 missions there, it was on his final mission over North Vietnam Leroy was shot down and captured December 2, 1966. He was listed as MIA for the next three years. His status was changed to POW in 1969 and he remained in captivity.

It was not until the Paris Peace Accords were signed on March 3, 1973 that Leroy was released and he could finally return to the United States and his family.

The core of the life he left behind was his relationship to his wife Karen. Leroy always talked about how much Karen had endured and supported him. As he couldn't be married as a cadet, Karen had waited four years to marry. After two short years of marriage, he left for Vietnam. Then Karen waited once again, almost seven years, for him to be found and ultimately for his return home.

Upon his return to the United States in 1973 he was medically grounded from flying. Victim of harsh treatment at the hands of the North Vietnamese for almost the entirety of that conflict, Leroy and his wife Karen could be forgiven from ending their time with the Air Force.

They decided to continue to serve.

Among the remaining seven tours with the USAF, Leroy spent the most of his time after Vietnam at MacDill, crosstraining as logistics officer. Ever the humble servant, his presence inspired members over the two tours and eight years he spent at MacDill as a member of the 56th Tactical Fighter Wing.

Denny Cole, then a junior Airman at the base, joined a chorus of other veterans of the unit in reflecting on Stutz impact on the base. “At didn’t know at first about his reputation, but I noticed him by the way he carried himself,” said Cole. “His demeanor was so calm, just like he was one of the guys. He never talked about his service but that added to the respect he earned by all. I’ve heard it from so many of the others that served with him-- to this day, I have never met a man that inspired so many people, enlisted and officers alike.”

Col Stutz’s military decorations included two Silver Star Medals, two Legion of Merit (one with V), one Distinguished flying cross, two bronze star medals (both with V), two purple heart medals, four Meritorious service medals, six air medals, POW medal, and others.