Former SMDC commander celebrates 97th birthday

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Posted: Wednesday, December 12, 2012 8:06 am

MADISON – Friends, community members and leaders from the Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command gathered Nov. 17 at Iveys Restaurant in Madison to wish retired Brig. Gen. Ivey O. Drewry Jr., an early 97th birthday.

Born in Birmingham on Dec. 17, 1915, a then Col. Drewry came to Redstone Arsenal in June 1962 to serve as the project manager of the Nike-Zeus project. While at the Arsenal, he would become the third commander of what is now SMDC/ARSTRAT.

Friends and family members sang along as members of the Army Materiel Command Band played “Happy Birthday” for the retired general.

“I am amazed,” Drewry said. “This was totally unexpected. I can’t believe this. I want to thank everyone for coming today. I am honored.

“I can’t explain 97 years,” he added. “I’ve never known anyone this old before to ask them anything about life. I am truly blessed to be here.”

The system Drewry helped develop was ultimately deployed at the Stanley R. Mickelsen Safeguard Complex near Grand Forks, N.D. Although operational for only a short time as an antiballistic missile defense system, part of the complex continues in operation today as an early warning deep space tracking component.

In 1965, Drewry was awarded the Toftoy Award for outstanding technical management by the Alabama section of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. He was the first military person to receive this honor.

On Sept. 1, 1966, Drewry was promoted to brigadier general and retired from the Army on July 31, 1969. In June 1990, he would receive the National Space Club’s John B. Medaris Award for Army Achievement in Space.

As the people gathered for the birthday party, a friend said one of the reasons it was held early was because with the upcoming holiday season, this was the best time everyone could come together to honor Drewry and show their appreciation for him.

“I love him, he’s one of the nicest people you could ever meet,” retired Lt. Col. Stephen Lee said. “He’s a class act and a gentleman of the first degree. We sit here and pontificate every Saturday and solve all the world’s problems.

“I have built up a great respect for him,” he added. “He deserves this and I am glad I could be a part of this great event to honor this great man.”

The current SMDC leader took the time to honor one of the command’s pioneers and show his appreciation for all Drewry has done, not only for the Army and the command, but also for the nation.

“We’re here to celebrate the 97th birthday of General Drewry,” said Lt. Gen. Richard Formica, SMDC commander. “I just wanted to come by and do that command connection and honor this public servant for all he has done.

“I was walking in the office and ran into Mr. Lee who knew Col. Drewry, who commanded USASMDC/ARSTRAT in one of its predecessor organizational formations a long time ago,” he added. “He mentioned that they were having a 97th birthday party and I asked if we could come by and honor him, too. So we are here to see retired Brig. Gen. Drewry and celebrate with him.”

SMDC’s senior enlisted Soldier was also present to honor Drewry and thank him for his service to the country and to the Soldiers he commanded.

“It is a good thing to celebrate his life and his service,” SMDC Command Sgt. Maj. Larry Turner said. “I hope I can live that long and be honored as he is being honored. It is a great thing to come out and celebrate 97 years of life and a career of service.”

With so many people honoring the general, Drewry’s son thanked all those who took the time to come out and honor his father and make it a very special occasion for him.

“His neighbors and friends really admire him,” said son Ivey O. Drewry III. “He is where they would like to be, he still has his senses, he’s still healthy, and he’s still having a good time. He represents to them the goal of life. He still goes to breakfast with his friends and he still plays poker once a month.

“For him, it’s great to be around such young people,” he added. “And I’m talking young like their 70s and 80s. For them, it’s nice to be around someone who is older and still active. He still tells them stories about his time in the service.”

The son said his father was overjoyed and how much it meant to have everyone come celebrate the occasion.

“He deserves this,” Drewry said. “He is one of the forgotten heroes and he has done great things. He truly appreciates this and I will hear about it all the way home and for a long time after.”

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