Fort Johnson airfield redesignated for former Polk aviator, Desert Storm hero

By Chuck CannonJuly 17, 2023

Fort Johnson airfield renamed for former Polk aviator, Desert Storm hero
From left: Brig. Gen. David W. Gardner, Josh Maks, Jason Maks and Command Sgt. Maj. David P. Hanson stand in front of the newly redesignated Fort Johnson Maks Army Airfield July 10. (Photo Credit: Chuck Cannon) VIEW ORIGINAL


Public Affairs Office

FORT JOHNSON, La. – “Our dead are only forgotten when their names are no longer mentioned. 1st Lt. Maks will always be remembered.”

Those words, spoken by Shane Denning, manager of Fort Johnson’s Maks Army Airfield, captured the sentiments of those who attended a redesignation ceremony July 10 at the Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Johnson.

A large crowd cheered as the airfield was renamed Maks Army Airfield, in honor of 1st Lt. Joseph D. Maks, a Fort Johnson (formerly Fort Polk) aviator, who along with his crew, perished in a helicopter crash during Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm on March 12, 1991.

Maks and his crew, members of the 36th Medical Detachment (MedEvac), 5th Infantry Division, were transporting two badly wounded Iraqi resistance fighters to a hospital during a nighttime thunderstorm when their UH-60 Blackhawk crashed. There were no survivors.

First to speak at the ceremony was Maks’ oldest son, Jason Maks. Jason, who choked back tears throughout his tribute to his dad, thanked those responsible for redesignating the airfield in his father’s name.

“This is a tremendous honor,” he said. “To have my dad’s name unveiled here today means the world to all of us. My father was a loving husband, committed father and a loyal friend. The limited time God gave him on Earth did not go wasted. He was an example of how each of us should love one another without restrictions.”

Maks said his father’s untimely death in 1991 while trying to get Iraqi resistance fighters the medical attention they needed was a great testament to his love for all people.

“Regardless of where a person came from, what they believed, or what they thought of him, my father always chose kindness,” Maks said.

Maks said his purpose in addressing those in attendance was not to reminisce about the past or the days following his father’s death, but instead to encourage others to show kindness and perseverance like his parents did and his mother continues to do.

“Maks Army Airfield is a testament to sacrifices made by both of my parents: one through the ultimate sacrifice, and the other to her continued commitment to their relationship, their boys and their country,” he said. “I am forever grateful to have grown up to witness a household of selfless dedication.”

Maks said although the airfield bears his father’s name, it also honors the crewmembers who lost their lives that day, as well as their Families.

“To the Donaldson, Smith and Phillips Families, you should know this honor is as much about your family as it is about mine,” he said. “Your sacrifices are no less important than any of those who have passed in service to this great country.”

Maks closed by saying the airfield holds good memories for him and his Family.

“I pray that it continues to build good memories for others,” he said.

Following Maks’ comments, Brig. Gen. David W. Gardner, commanding general, Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Johnson, spoke. He said it was important to honor the sacrifices Maks made on behalf of his country, and his legacy serves as a reminder that we have a duty to a cause greater than ourselves.

“Lieutenant Maks embodied the best of what our Army represents: loyalty, courage, and unwavering commitment to protecting our nation and the freedoms we hold dear,” Gardner said. “Throughout his distinguished career he demonstrated unparalleled skills and a passion for flying that set him apart from his peers, but his contributions extended far beyond the skies. He epitomized the values that define a true leader, inspiring those around him and forging bonds of camaraderie that transcended the bounds of duty.”

Gardner said the airfield will stand not only as a shining reminder of the legacy of Maks, but also a testament to the indomitable spirit of brave service members who put their lives on the line for freedom.

“It will serve as a powerful reminder of the sacrifices made by all our service men and women, and stand as a beacon guiding future aviators with inspiration, reminding them of the tremendous responsibilities they carry on their shoulders,” Gardner said.

While some may see Desert Storm and Desert Shield as “easy,” Gardner said it was not easy for the Maks, Donaldson, Smith and Phillips Families.

“This will serve as a reminder that whenever we put America’s men and women in harm’s way, there are those that may be called to provide that ultimate sacrifice,” he said. “The Maks Army Airfield will continue to ensure that this story does not fade into obscurity, but that it will be etched into the records of our military heritage, reminding us of the unyielding spirit and unmatched bravery of those who served.”

Gardner said choosing to redesignate the airfield after Maks was an easy decision.

“This was the Fort Polk community as we got ready to become the Fort Johnson community, coming forward in unison saying this ought to be the Maks Army Airfield,” he said. “May this renaming ceremony mark the beginning of a new chapter in the distinguished history of this airfield, a chapter that continues to honor and pay tribute to this crew.”

In closing, Gardner challenged those in attendance to carry forward the legacy of 1st Lt. Joseph Maks, “a true American hero,” and to strive each day to embody the same sense of duty, honor and courage he exemplified throughout his life.

“Let us never forget the sacrifices made by him, his crew, and countless others who have answered the call of duty in defense of our great nation,” Gardner said. “May the memory and spirit of this crew forever inspire us to soar to new heights both personally and as a nation.”

Following the ceremony, Sue Maks, Joseph’s widow, said she and her Family were honored by the airfield’s redesignation.

“We just found out a few weeks ago,” she said. “We were so touched. Joe is probably looking down from above, asking ‘Why me?’ Our whole Family is just overwhelmed.”