Kentucky Guard honors founding father

Staff Report with contributions from Jim Warren, Lexington Herald Leader

Judge Henry Meigs II

Henry Miegs II, former Franklin Circuit Court Judge and founding father of the Kentucky AIr National Guard. (Courtesy photo)

FRANKFORT, Ky. — Former Franklin Circuit Court Judge Henry Meigs II was a hero and a visionary who helped found the Kentucky Air National Guard.

Meigs died Dec. 5 in Louisville, Kentucky at the age of 93.

Born in New York, Meigs earned a law degree from the University of Kentucky after his service in World War II. He served as an Army Air Corps fighter pilot in the Pacific, flying the P-38 Lightning, shooting down six Japanese planes. He received the Silver Star and Distinguished Flying Cross among numerous other air medals.

Enlisting into the Army in 1942, Meigs trained as a fighter pilot at Shaw Field in South Carolina. He then transferred to the 6th Night Fighter Squadron, flying missions in the South Pacific around Guadalcanal. Meigs would win at least three of his victories against Japanese bombers here, including the reported feat of shooting down two enemy planes within 60 seconds.

In 1944, Meigs married Sara Lesley Willis, daughter of Kentucky Governor Simeon Willis. The wedding was the first and so far only time the governor’s daughter was wed in the Governor’s Mansion.

While in law school, Meigs accepted a position as the first air officer in the Kentucky Guard in 1945, assuming the rank of lieutenant colonel. At the same time, the National Guard Bureau was generating interest among the states for the creation of Air National Guard units. In 1946, Gov. Willis sent his son-in-law to Washington D.C. to meet with officials about bringing an Air Guard unit to Kentucky.

Through correspondence with Brig. Gen. Gustavus H. May, Kentucky’s adjutant general, that meeting led to the 123rd Fighter Group coming to Standiford Field in Louisville.  Through his hard work and determination, Meigs led the charge to bring the new air assets to the Commonwealth. A few months later, in 1947, the 123rd was federally recognized and then-Lt. Col. Philip Ardery took charge as the wing’s first commander.

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Kentucky Adjutant General, Maj. Gen. Edward W. Tonini presents the burial flag to Sara Willis Meigs at the funeral of her husband Henry Meigs at the Frankfort Cemetery in Frankfort, Ky., Dec. 5, 2014. A World War fighter pilot, Meigs would help found the Kentucky Air National Guard. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Scott Raymond)

“The Kentucky Air National Guard has a storied history of excellence, and it all started with Judge Meigs and Philip Ardery in 1947,” said Maj. Gen. Edward W. Tonini, Adjutant General for Kentucky.  “Judge Meigs led quite a distinguished life, from a World War II Ace to a prominent fixture in the courtrooms of the Commonwealth.”

“We are grateful for his vision and resolve that helped shape the Kentucky Air National Guard into a major player in the defense of this country and the security of our state.”

Click here to read more about the history of the Kentucky Air National Guard.

Meigs practiced law in Frankfort from 1949 until 1960, when then-Gov. Bert Combs selected him to serve as the first circuit judge of the newly created 48th District.

Because the court was based in Frankfort, Judge Meigs immediately was called on to handle cases testing the constitutionality of many pieces of state legislation and issues ranging from Christian schools to the Ten Commandments and the separation of powers in state government.

A second judgeship for the 48th District was created in 1974, and Squire Williams Jr. joined Judge Meigs on the bench. When the two retired in 1983, it marked the closing of “an important chapter in the history of the Kentucky judiciary,” the Herald-Leader reported.

After leaving the bench, Meigs moved to Louisville, where he practiced law until retiring in 2000.

In addition to his wife, Judge Meigs is survived by two sons, four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

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