Schenectady County

General who pioneered 109th mission dies

From his grade school days, Stanley Hemstreet was determined to fly airplanes.
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From his grade school days, Stanley Hemstreet was determined to fly airplanes.

The Schaghticoke native signed up for the Army Air Corps before graduating from high school in 1943 and was about to be shipped overseas when World War II came to an end in 1945. After two more years of aeronautics schooling in Oklahoma, Hemstreet returned to his hometown a second lieutenant and applied for a job at a new National Guard base opening in Glenville.

But the flood of post-war pilots quickly filled all the aviator spots at the 109th Airlift Wing and left only a few spaces at the base for mechanics, restricted to enlisted men. The Guard ultimately gave Hemstreet a choice: either retain his commission and keep looking for a job or accept a demotion and start a different line of work.

“So he resigned his commission and became an enlisted man,” recalled Stana Iseman, his eldest daughter.

Within a year, Hemstreet was back in the cockpit at the 109th, the unit he would fly with and eventually command until his retirement 37 years later, in 1985. Hemstreet, the third person ever hired at the base and the man affectionately known as the “father of the 109th,” died Sunday at the age of 82.

As base commander, Hemstreet is credited with bringing in the unit’s trademark C-130 transports equipped with ski landing gear and establishing supply missions to both polar icecaps. When he retired from the Guard, he set the record for the longest time on active flying status — 42 years.

“The missions he brought to the 109th have kept the 109th here for as long as it’s been,” said Col. Edward Kinowski, the vice commander of the 109th. “He emulates what I would call the true citizen soldier.”

On the eve of his retirement, Hemstreet was promoted to brigadier general, a post the Guard had offered to him several times during his service. He passed on the promotion each time because it meant he would relinquish his flying duties, Iseman said.

“He was happiest when he was flying,” she said.

Among his more than 10,000 hours of flight time, Hemstreet was the first pilot from the 109th to airlift supplies into Berlin during the unit’s service there in 1961. He also flew numerous supply missions into Vietnam during that war.

However, Hemstreet’s legacy isn’t limited to the military. He operated his family’s farm in Schaghticoke, raising beef and dairy cattle, corn and other crops.

Even while he was active in the Guard, Iseman said, her father would wake at dawn each day to tend the dairy cows. She said her father was always fully charged and ready to tackle the day.

“He’d already done a half-day of work before he got to the base,” she said. “And he’d hit the ground running.”

Longtime friend and neighbor Warren McGreevy remembered Hemstreet as a man who was utterly committed to whatever he set out to do. He said his neighbor’s determination was often contagious.

Hemstreet was also a descendant of the Knickerbockers and an instrumental member of the Knickerbocker Historical Society, an all-volunteer group dedicated to restoring the family’s historic mansion. The former president of the society, he led the effort raise more than $800,000 to restore the mansion.

An avid skier, Hemstreet helped build the lodges and cut the trails for the Willard Mountain Ski Area in Washington County. In fact, Iseman said, an old engine from her father’s truck once powered the first tow lift up the mountain.

But above all, friends and family recall Hemstreet as a consummate family man. Whenever he was unable to be with his family, Iseman said her father always made sure to return with both his sense of adventure and his tales from abroad.

“He led us along on the adventures either verbally with what he was telling us or with what we were doing,” she said.

Calling hours will take place from 2 to 8 p.m. today at the Stratton Air National Guard Base where a memorial service is planned at 10 a.m. on Thursday. Burial with full military honors will follow at the Elmwood Cemetery in Schaghticoke.

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