City aviation icon ‘Buzz’ Sawyer dies

Published 11:10 am Thursday, July 5, 2012

A Demopolis icon died Sunday, leaving behind a legacy few can ever expect to.

Julian D. “Buzz” Sawyer, 83, died Sunday after a brief illness. Funeral will be Friday, July 6 at 11 a.m at the Alabama National Cemetery in Montevallo with full military honors.

The namesake and driving force for decades of the airport in Demopolis, Sawyer was honored by induction into the Alabama Aviation Hall of Fame and the Alabama Military Hall of Fame. And, in April 2011, the Demopolis City Council voted to rename the Demopolis Airport to the Julian D. “Buzz” Sawyer Airport.

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He is survived by his wife, Kaye Miles Sawyer; daughters, Pamela Marker of North Myrtle Beach, S.C. and Skylar M. Sawyer of Fairhope; brother, Donald Sawyer of The Philippines; four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

A distinguished veteran, Sawyer grew up in Mobile and started his Air Force career in 1948. He served in the United States, Europe and Vietnam on assignments after flight training.

He was awarded the Soldier’s Medal after helping rescue an injured crewman whose F100F aircraft crashed and burst into flames on Sept. 24, 1959, at Myrtle Beach Air Force Base, S.C.

As a wing commander and fighter pilot in Vietnam, he earned the Silver Star, five Distinguished Flying Crosses and 23 Air Medals. He provided close air support for U.S. Army ground forces.

Sawyer’s work in civil aeronautics was what he was most recently recognized, earning the respect of not only those in Demopolis but of his peers around the state.

“Buzz wasn’t just about military flying — he truly felt the call to continue to serve his community and when he had the chance to return to Demopolis and his native Alabama, he took it. As the airport manager, Buzz single-handedly built the Demopolis Municipal Airport from an underfunded, substandard airport into the vital economic portal it is today,” Col. Al Allenback, USAF (Ret.), head of the Airport Planning and Engineering Department at Goodwyn-Mills-Cawood. “His efforts developed the Demopolis airport into a valuable economic resource for the City of Demopolis, Marengo County and West Alabama. This earned him the distinction of having the airport renamed in his honor … In addition, Buzz’s long term accomplishments in support of aviation in Alabama were recognized by his induction into the Alabama Aviation Hall of Fame last year.”

“I didn’t do anything alone,” Sawyer said in an interview with The Times at the times of his Aviation Hall of Fame. “I had the support of every mayor and every council the whole time I’ve been here. We’ve gotten financial help from state aeronautics and federal funding…All of this contributed to the airport becoming what it is.”

What the airport is now is fully equipped for general aviation, capable of servicing corporate jets and helicopters and is open seven days per week with on-call access around the clock and during inclement weather.

Other improvements include upgrades in lighting, automatic weather reporting and the addition of hangars.

Those attending services in Montevallo are invited to join the family for a bereavement luncheon at Fox & Pheasant Inn in Montevallo. Kirk Funeral Homes Demopolis Chapel is directing.