TALLAHASSEE — Three local veterans will be among the inductees into the Florida Veterans' Hall of Fame when the Class of 2018 is announced Tuesday.
The Hall of Fame honors veterans who "through their works and lives during or after military service, have made a significant contribution to the State of Florida." Nominations for the Hall of Fame are reviewed by a panel of state appointees and nominees are forwarded to the governor and the state Cabinet for final action.
Locally, this year's class will include retired Army Maj. Charles E. Merkel Jr., who will be honored, in part, for his humanitarian work during his military service.
Merkel, who holds a doctoral degree in history from Florida State University, performed his last active government service as historian for the 53rd Wing at Eglin Air Force Base. From late 2009 through early 2010, those duties took Merkel to Afghanistan as part of the 451st Air Expeditionary Wing. While there, he launched a campaign with school districts, church groups and individuals in the United States to collect school supplies and helped distribute them to children. He was awarded an Exemplary Civilian Service Medal, a Global War on Terrorism Medal, and a special award from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
In 2013, Merkel was deployed to Southwest Asia as part of the 386th Air Expeditionary Wing. He received another Exemplary Civilian Service Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal and the Air Force Expeditionary Service Ribbon.
Merkel spent more than 20 years on active duty with the Army in a variety of assignments. He piloted UH-1H helicopters in Vietnam, where during off-duty hours he worked to support both a Christian and Buddhist orphanage by collecting school supplies and clothing and distributing them to the children.
Merkel subsequently went to Korea, where he served with the 2nd Infantry Division. While there, he was elected as honorary mayor of Kwang Am-Ri, and honored by People to People International for his work with orphanages, Sunday schools and the Korean people.
Merkel's military decorations include the Legion of Merit, Bronze Star with one oak leaf cluster, Purple Heart, Meritorious Service Medal, Air Medal with 11 oak leaf clusters, Army Commendation Medal with four oak leaf clusters, and an Army Achievement Medal.
Also being inducted Tuesday into the Florida Veterans' Hall of Fame is retired Army Brig. Gen. Patt Maney, a wounded warrior who is also a retired Okaloosa County court judge.
Maney, a pioneer in Mental Health Court and Veterans Treatment Court, was honored by the Florida Legislature in 2012 when the Veterans Treatment Court Act was named after him.
In 2007, Maney started an annual community-based Stand Down for Homeless Veterans. He led successful efforts for the VA to establish a Vet Center in Okaloosa County.
Judge Maney acquired a UH-1 “Huey” helicopter to recognize the service of Vietnam veterans including a local Medal of Honor recipient. He also located and acquired the bell from the World War II Liberty Ship USS Okaloosa for the county. Both are now displayed at the Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport.
Maney served almost 37 years in the Army Reserve, including over eight years of active duty with service in Panama, Haiti, Bosnia and Afghanistan. In Bosnia, he served at the Office of the High Representative, an international peace implementation organization. In Afghanistan, he was a senior advisor for the U.S. ambassador, and an advisor to various Afghan government ministries.
While in Afghanistan, Maney was wounded in an IED blast and spent almost 20 months at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. Among his major military awards are the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart. He also holds the Department of State Meritorious Honor Award, the Secretary of Defense Outstanding Public Service Award and the Afghan Ghazi Mir Batcha Kahn Superior Medal.
Maney served six years on the Florida Supreme Court’s Task Force on Mental Health and Substance Abuse and now is on the Florida Steering Committee on Problem Solving Courts. He has recently been appointed to the Mid-Bay Bridge Authority and the Southern Regional Education Board.
On Monday, Maney was sworn in as northern Florida's new civilian aide to the Secretary of the Army in a Pentagon ceremony.
Also in the 2018 Hall of Fame class is retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Gordon “Gordy” Fornell. Fornell, who accumulated more than 7,000 flight hours in more than 50 types of aircraft, holds a number of military awards including the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal with 11 oak leaf cluster and the Air Force Commendation Medal. Fornell's military service included time as commander of the Armament Division at Eglin Air Force Base
Fornell, of Niceville, retired from military service in 1993 and now serves as chairman of the Mid-Bay Bridge Authority and the Air Force Armament Museum Foundation. He is also vice chairman of the Fisher House of the Emerald Coast board and is active with the Niceville-Valparaiso Chamber of Commerce Military Affairs Committee, Emerald Coast Military Affairs Council, Enterprise Florida and the Defense Support Initiative of the Okaloosa County Economic Development Council.
Fornell has led numerous visits by local representatives to Washington, D.C., advocating for the interests of military personnel, families and veterans in Northwest Florida. He is the founder of the Gate-to-Gate Run at Eglin Air Force Base, a 33-year Memorial Day weekend tradition.