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Of all the schools in San Diego County, there are few that have a history as dramatic as Hawthorne School's. In our quiet neighborhood school at lunchtime Dec. 4, 1959, a military fighter plane on a routine flight met with trouble. When the 21 year old pilot realized his aircraft was headed straight toward Hawthorne School and its 700 students who were out on school grounds, he made the split second decision not to eject from the disabled plane. And survive. Instead, he wrestled with the F3H Demon aircraft until he was clear of the children. But he was too close to ground to eject. He died in the crash. The school and its 700 students were unscathed. Pilot Ensign Albert Joseph Hickman was a hero. After his death, he was awarded medals. The school district named a new elementary school in his honor, Hickman Elementary in Mira Mesa. Nearby Kearny Mesa now has Hickman Field Athletic Area. An American Legion Post was dedicated to Hickman. Hawthorne students and their parents wrote letters to Hickman's family in Iowa thanking them for raising such a heroic son. At the school, a memorial was created in his honor. At a ceremony at the school, Hawthorne student Kay Schade, 11, the student body president, gave a speech that was quoted in the San Diego Union: "Ensign Hickman not only saved our lives but left us an ideal by which to live. Let us strive to be as brave and courageous ourselves as he was." · October 27, 2013
It's time to honor Ensign Hickman
May 28, 2009 12:00 am SIOUX CITY -- With Memorial Day just having passed, I believe it is fitting to once again bring to light the extraordinary sacrifice of Sioux City native Ensign Albert Joseph Hickman. On Dec. 4, 1959, Ensign Hickman, a Navy pilot, was on a routine training mission over San Diego, Calif. During that mission, the engine on his jet fighter malfunctioned, causing the airplane to lose control and plummet toward the earth.
At the time of the engine malfunction, Ensign Hickman's jet was directly over an elementary school playground, crowded with children on their noontime recess. Instead of simply ejecting from his crippled jet, and having it crash into that playground, Ensign Hickman stayed with the aircraft, and steered it into a remote canyon well behind the school playground. In doing so, Ensign Hickman lost his life. He posthumously was awarded a medal for heroism.
I think it entirely appropriate, that given the fast-approaching 50th anniversary of Ensign Hickman's extraordinary sacrifice, that the city of Sioux City DO SOMETHING to recognize and to memorialize this extraordinary, forever 21- year-old native of Sioux City. Indeed, the city of San Diego named an elementary school after Ensign Hickman. Yet, in his home town ... not a street, not a building, not even a plaque exists to remind subsequent generations of his heroism.
It's well past time to honor this brave man in some permanent, tangible way. -- Peter Hittle
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