Curtis J. Irwin
November 4, 1922 - October 5, 2011
Brigadier General Curtis J. Irwin (Ret.), 88, died Wednesday Oct. 5, 2011, peacefully at his home in North Syracuse after a brief illness, with his daughters present. He was born in Syracuse on Nov. 4, 1922, to the late Joseph A. and Violet M. Irwin and also was preceded in death by his wife, Natalie J. Irwin "Noble Nanny" and his sister, Marilyn J. Irwin Boison.
A combat veteran of WWII, he served as commander of the 174th Fighter Wing, (formally the 174th Fighter Group) New York Air National Guard at Hancock Field from Jan. 1, 1958, until March 13, 1977. He retired from the New York Air National Guard on Aug. 31, 1978.
General Irwin’s flying career covered a span of more than thirty-five years, beginning when he was still attending North Syracuse High School. Working weekends at the old Amboy Airport, washing airplanes, he received compensation for his labor in flight instruction.
He began his military service in August 1942 and entered pilot training the following March. After winning his wings and commissioning as a Second Lieutenant in the Army Air Corps in May 1944, he served in the Pacific Theatre of Operations as a fighter pilot flying the P-47 Thunderbolt.
Campaigns in which he participated include the China Offensive, Western Pacific, Air Offensive of Japan and the Ryukyus Islands. He was decorated with the Air Medal and Oak Leaf Cluster and four battle stars for his wartime service.
Following World War II, General Irwin was an original member and assisted in the organization of the Air National Guard in Syracuse.
While commander of the 174th Fighter Wing, General Irwin saw the unit undergo many aircraft conversions and unit changes. It was the first unit to operate jet aircraft in New York State. In 1951, it was selected as one of the two units in the country to test a secret program of runway alert to augment the Air Force. The results were so successful that this program is, to this day a vital part of the air defense of the United States.
In 1960, the 174th was recognized by the National Guard Bureau as the most combat-ready F-86 unit in the country.
During the Berlin Crisis in 1961, the 174th was activated and within thirty days all personnel, planes and equipment were deployed to Phalsbourg Air Base in France. This was the largest movement of jet fighter aircraft in Europe since World War II. General Irwin led his unit’s planes and crews island hopping across the northern Atlantic route via Labrador, Greenland, Iceland, Scotland and on to the mainland of Europe. Despite many dramatic moments (some pilots taking off from their stations in raging blizzards) all arrived safely on the continent.
The unit was again called up during the Pueblo Crisis and was deployed to Cannon AFB in New Mexico. General Irwin established a school to train other pilots as Forward Air Controllers for duty in Southeast Asia.
General Irwin was active in the local community serving on several boards, including North Syracuse Cemetery. He was instrumental in linking the 174th Fighter Wing with the local community. He organized a program of community education for planning and zoning actions compatible with aviation growth. Honors include: Thompson Road through Hancock Air Base being named "General Curtis Irwin Parkway", being awarded the Governor's Trophy in 1960, 1973 and 1976, receiving the first Department of Defense Award for Domestic Action in 1971 and was named to the North Syracuse School District Wall of Distinction in 1990.
Surviving are his children, Laurinda "Laurie" A. Irwin, Cottage Grove, MN, Sheila M. (Lester) Austin, Lafayette, NY, Lisette "Lisa" Damon, North Syracuse; several nieces and nephews; his long time companion Betty Tryon, Liverpool, and his 174th Fighter Wing Family.
The family would like to extend their thanks to his doctors, caregivers and hospice for the care given to their father over the past years.
Services: 10 a.m. Wednesday Oct. 12 at at St. Rose of Lima Church with burial following in North Syracuse Cemetery. Military honors will be accorded. Calling hours: 4 to 8 p.m. Tuesday Oct. 11 with the wake service at 7:30 p.m. at the funeral home, 215 South Main St., North Syracuse. Memorials, in lieu of flowers, are preferred to the "174th FW Family Readiness Group”, which will continue General Irwin’s care, concern and support to the “troops”, may be sent to 174th Fighter Wing/Family Programs, 6001 E. Molloy Rd, Syracuse NY 13211-7099. Memorial messages may be left at fergersonfuneralhome.com.