LEWISTON — More than the sun, the speeches or the new stars on his shoulders, the sight of the man in the front row shook Donald McCormack.

“I’d like to honor my dad,” McCormack said, lowering his eyes as his voice shrank to a whisper. Dignitaries sat silently as McCormack took a couple of long breaths to gather himself.

His dad, Fred McCormack, sat in his wheelchair and smiled.

And Maine’s newest general went on.

He described how his father grew up in Aroostook County, served in the Air Force and went to college on the GI Bill. He then went to work at Lewiston High School, where he taught for more than three decades. He now lives at the Maine Veterans’ Home in South Paris.

His life — his hero’s life — was one of service.

“It means a lot to have him here,” Donald McCormack said before the ceremony that would make him a brigadier general.

On Thursday, Gov. LePage appointed the Lewiston native to the role of Maine’s assistant adjutant general. His job will be to assistant Maj. Gen. John Libby and lead the state’s 1,121 Air National Guard men and women.

On Saturday, a change of command ceremony will formally install him in command.

But first he needed to be promoted.

More than 200 people gathered at Veterans Memorial Park on Friday for the promotion ceremony. Many were friends and relatives: uncles, aunts, cousins and guard personnel in Air Force blue and Army battle dress uniform brown.

They were there to honor the Lewiston High School Class of 1975 student who was nominated to the U.S. Air Force Academy by former Defense Secretary William Cohen, then a young Republican from Maine in Congress. 

McCormack left the Air Force in the late 1980s after 10 years of distinguished service. He flew search-and-rescue helicopters credited with saving 18 lives before being assigned to fly presidential support helicopters from Andrews Air Force Base.

But he didn’t want to keep uprooting his family, his wife, Diane, and their two sons, Joseph and Gregory.

“In six years, we moved six times in six households,” McCormack said. “It was too much.”

He went to work as a civilian engineer with success, but he couldn’t stay out of uniform. In 1991, he took a job with Maine Air National Guard, first serving in a unit in South Portland. Three times, his combat communications unit was honored as the best Air National Guard unit of its kind in the country.

“It’s a streak that’s never been matched,” McCormack said.

He continued his climb up the chain of command, eventually serving as the chief of staff at Camp Keyes in Augusta.

“He really has done all the things that round out an officer to take on this responsibility,” Libby said. He also credited McCormack with being a candid leader.

“When he’d come to my office and ask to close the door, I knew what was coming,” Libby said,

During the 40-minute ceremony, Libby pinned an Army Commendation Medal on McCormack and a Legion of Merit Medal. And with Diane McCormack, exchanged his colonel’s eagle insignia with the shining new general’s stars.

McCormack thanked everyone including Diane, whom he called “my biggest cheerleader, my harshest critic and my absolute best friend for 31 years.”

Then he walked to his father and gave him a hug.

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