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Sioux Gateway Airport/Col. Bud Day Field abuzz with activity
George "Bud" Day talks to Maj. Gen. Ron Dardis, Adjutant General of Iowa, after the December unveiling of the Col. Bud Day statue at Sioux Gateway Airport. (Staff photo by Jim Lee and Jerry Mennenga)

Sioux Gateway Airport/Col. Bud Day Field was busy in 2002 with a formal name change, physical improvements, the addition of federal screeners and the decision to keep the designator SUX.

A new Interstate 29 interchange at the entrance to the airport will also mean airport users won't have to wait for trains. It is expected to be completed in October.

"I don't think it is going to increase business, but it will be more convenient because people won't have to wait for trains," he said.

The new bridge over the tracks will empty onto a new four-lane entry road to the airport that will be lined with trees and landscaping.

"For a lot of people who come into the community, the airport is the first and last thing they see," he said.

People who fly into Sioux City and have never been here before often form their first impression on the condition of the airport grounds. The landscaping and new entrance will hopefully make that first impression a positive one, he said.

Other improvements at the airport are coming about as the 185th Fighter Wing of the Iowa Air National Guard becomes the 185th Refueling Wing. Their ramp is being extended and a hangar is being added at the base as they make room for the KC-135 refueling tankers. Also, a section of a taxiway that runs parallel to the longest runway will be widened for the tankers.

A strong Sioux City airport is crucial to a strong local economy and the state, Glenn Januska, airport director, said. Companies looking to relocate to an area, such as the new biotechnology companies that are being courted by local economic development officials, often stress the importance of a local airport.

"Airports, air service and location are some of the key factors that businesses look at when they look at locating or expanding in a community," he said.

The state needs to think of airports when they look at the economic development big picture.

Col. Bud Day's big day

Sioux City's only Medal of Honor winner, George E. "Bud" Day, is now known to the visitors and citizens alike as they arrive at Sioux Gateway Airport.

In October of 2001, the City Council changed the name of Sioux Gateway Airport to Sioux Gateway Airport/Col. Bud Day Field to honor Day, a retired Air Force pilot, who fought in three wars and endured 67 months of brutal captivity in North Vietnam.

The name change originally was proposed by the 185th Fighter Wing of the Iowa Air National Guard and was supported by the Sioux Gateway Airport Board of Trustees.

Januska said the entire airport will now carry Day's name.

To date, he said, "We have installed the name on the signage on our doorways into the terminal buildings by adding Col. Bud Day to that. We're getting prices right now to find out what it would cost to add his name to the canopy. The new entrance sign will have his name on it, which we are doing as part of the road projects here."

As the airport needed to reorder stationery and business cards, Day's name was added to the letterhead, Januska said.

Day now lives in Fort Walton Beach, Fla. He was born in Sioux City in 1925, and grew up in Riverside. He fought in World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam War.

Day left Central High School to enroll in the Marines during World War II, and served 30 months as a noncommissioned officer in the South Pacific. After the war, he obtained his undergraduate degree in English and history from Morningside College, a master's degree from St. Louis University and a law degree from the University of South Dakota.

After completing his law classes, he was named a second lieutenant in the National Guard. He was called to active duty in the Air Force in 1951 and received jet pilot training. He served two tours of duty in the Korean War. He is credited with surviving the first "no-chute" bailout from a burning jet fighter in England.

On Aug. 26, 1967, Day, then a major, was forced to eject from his F-100 jet, Misty 31 Bravo, when he was hit by antiaircraft fire while hunting for a surface-to-air missile site in North Vietnam. He ejected, breaking his left arm and spraining his knee, and was captured.

By feigning a back injury, Day managed to lull his guards into complacency and escaped on Sept. 1,1967. He was free for 12 days, finding a few berries and raw frogs to eat. He managed to make it back into South Vietnam and was within two miles of a Marine base when he was caught by the Viet Cong who shot him in the left hand and thigh.

After returning to the same prison camp from which he escaped, Day was tortured and at one point hanged from a ceiling beam by his armpits. He was starved, dropping to 110 pounds from his normal weight of 170 pounds. He was refused medical treatment for his gunshot wounds, infections and broken bones.

During the torture, his right wrist was broken. He then gave false information about his mission and aircraft. For a number of months, he shared a cell with John McCain, now a senator from Arizona and former presidential candidate.

Day was moved to other prisoner of war camps, including the infamous "Hanoi Hilton." He was released on March 14, 1973.

In 1976, in recognition of his bravery as a POW, Day was presented with the nation's highest honor, the Medal of Honor. He holds more than 70 military decorations and awards.

After his release from prison, Day served as vice commander of the 33rd Tactical Fighter Wing at Elgin Air Force Base, Fla. Mostly recently, he has practiced law in Florida. He wrote his memoirs, "Return with Honor" about his experiences.

Federal screeners

Passengers checking in for flights at Sioux Gateway Airport/Col. Bud day Field in November of 2002 were among the first in the nation to have their baggage checked for explosives.

At the time, the Sioux City airport was one of about 10 airports in the country to have such a system implemented, said Januska.

Installation of the explosive-detection systems is required by the Transportation Security Administration in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. All 429 commercial airports were required to have Explosive Trace Detection systems in place by Dec. 31. Baggage started being screened for explosives in early November of 2002 at Sioux Gateway Airport.

To use the equipment, Januska said the screeners wipe around the outside of the baggage to see if there is a trace of explosives. If the alarm sounds, they open the luggage for visual inspection.

The TSA has subcontracted with Boeing Co. for the ETDs.

Another TSA requirement was the hiring and deployment of federal screeners no later than Nov. 19, 2002, at all commercial airports in the country. Those were hired by the deadline.

Januska said the TSA has had to balance security with customer service.

"I think they have done the balance very well by increasing the level of security with explosives detection in doing it in a way that has never been done before," he said. "They are also doing it with good customer service that doesn't distract people."

In Denver, the TSA screeners made the security screening process more kid friendly by putting dinosaurs on security stations and on the electronic metal-detection wands.

Sioux Gateway still SUX

The Federal Aviation Administration said in November of 2002 that Sioux City will remain known as SUX.

The FAA denied the city's request to change the three-letter designation for the airport. Last March, the Airport Board of Trustees and the City Council authorized Januska to try once again to get that moniker changed.

The impetus for the request was the recently approved change in the airport's name to Sioux Gateway Airport/Col. Bud Day Field. City leaders contended SUX is offensive and demeaning and does not tell a traveler or pilot what airport it represents.

However, the FAA issued a decision to deny it, Januska said. They didn't provide the cost on the changes, something Januska said did not satisfy him. He said the airlines cited costs associated with the changeover that he didn't think the airlines would be responsible for handling. The airlines provided no specific figures.

The three-letter airport letters are used by the FAA to designate routes and control air traffic. SUX is affixed to luggage tags and airline tickets.

Januska said he was looking for a cost-benefit analysis to explain the FAA's decision, but the FAA did not provide one. In the past, the FAA said it was too expensive to change the name because new flight guides, navigational charts and other brochures would have to be reprinted. However, he said, those brochures are updated every 50 to 60 days.

With computer software now used for tickets and tags, Januska said, "there's not a mountain of boxes of old baggage tags lying around. You would just have to change the software."

Januska said he intends to write another letter to the FAA.

"I will tell them why we would like reconsideration and here's the reason why," he said.

In 1988, city officials petitioned the FAA to change the name and enlisted the assistance of its congressional delegation.

At one point, the FAA offered the city five options -- GWU, GYO, GYT, SGV and GAY. The Airport Board of Trustees said it didn't want the airport to be GAY. In the end, the trustees called the whole thing off.

In the past, airport trustees suggested SGA, for Sioux Gateway Airport. Januska later found out SGA is used to designate an airfield in Afghanistan. Other choices were SCI for Sioux City, Iowa, and SOO. Another reason given for denying SGA was that it was too close to SGS, the designator for an airport in South St. Paul, Minn., that was too close to a 200-nautical mile limit for similar designators to avoid confusion. SGS is actually 242 nautical miles, Januska said, so he contends it is outside out the 200-mile limit.

Januska said SUX has a derogatory connotation for Sioux City and that he could not even get an Iowa personalized license plate with SUX on it.

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