Through some internet magic and the know-how of local veterans, Allen resident Brig. Gen. Jerry Dalton was transported Friday to the Pentagon so his groundbreaking contributions to U.S. Air Force public relations could be honored.
In a live videoconference with Air Force Office of Public Affairs (SAF/PA) Director Brig. Gen. Ed Thomas, SAF/PA staff and members of the Air Force Public Affairs Alumni Association (AFPAAA), Dalton looked on as the SAF/PA conference room in the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. was officially christened the “Brigadier General H.J. Dalton Jr. Conference Room” in his honor.
Dalton, 92, is enjoying his retirement as a resident of The Heritage at Twin Creeks in Allen but made his mark on history as the first career public affairs officer to serve as Air Force Director of Public Affairs during a time when less qualified men led the office.
Dalton, on the other hand, earned his journalism degree before joining the Air Force, so public affairs was a natural fit as a military occupation for the San Antonio native.
Retired Col. Dave Shea, who helped facilitate the presentation from the Pentagon, said that in the 1950s public affairs in the Air Force was perceived to be less important than it is now.
“The Air Force was more concerned with flying and fighting, and not worrying about public opinion that much,” he said. “So as time went on, particularly during the Vietnam War and other events like that, they can see that you had to have public support of your mission, what you’re about. You just can’t say here we are, we’re the Air Force, trust us.”
He said that with Dalton’s appointment in 1975, that trust was able to start building again.
And, Dalton became the first public affairs officer to climb through the ranks to make it to the top job in Air Force public affairs.
“And besides that, he was a great guy and a mentor to so many of us, and well respected,” Shea said. “That’s why he was chosen.”
While Dalton humbly recognizes his place in history, from his perspective he was merely doing his best work.
“It was an interesting experience with my guys and gals that worked with me,” he said. “We learned how to keep both sides happy, and I think we did a pretty good job.”
Three plaques are now displayed near the conference room honoring its namesake. One of those refers to Dalton as a “legend in public affairs.”
“General Dalton was a true professional, inspirational leader, visionary and role model to countless public affairs men and women, including officers, enlisted and civilians,” one of the plaques states. “The Air Force Public Affairs Alumni Association and the entire Air Force public affairs community are proud to salute this great American by having this conference room named in his honor.”
One plaque is at the outside entrance of the conference room, one is posted at the entrance to the room from Thomas’s office and one is inside the conference room.