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Longest-serving adjutant general of Colorado and famed Minute Men pilot interred with full military honors

By Maj. Elena O'Bryan | Colorado National Guard | Oct. 27, 2015

Centennial, Colorado —

CENTENNIAL, Colo. – Retired Maj. Gen. John L. France, the longest-serving adjutant general of Colorado, was interred with full military honors Oct. 26 at Fort Logan National Cemetery in Denver.

France served as adjutant general and executive director of the Colorado Department of Military Affairs from 1979-1995 and was one of the last surviving Minute Men pilots.

The Minute Men were the first and only federally recognized aerial demonstration team in the history of the Air National Guard. 

As a member of the famed Air National Guard official precision demonstration team, France flew the F-86F jet aircraft during the late 1950s at air shows in the U.S. and five foreign countries.   

France passed away Oct. 15 in Denver.

"We have lost a great American – a legend in our time," said Adjutant General of Colorado Maj. Gen. H. Michael Edwards.  "He always, always pushed the National Guard forward to be engaged and utilized and funded for the readiness that we need."

Colorado Gov. John W. Hickenlooper attended the funeral.

Colorado Army National Guard Soldiers fired a 13-round cannon salute. 

Pilots from the Colorado Air National Guard's 140th Wing at Buckley Air Force Base wore Minute Men patches and flew a missing-man formation of F-16 fighter aircraft over the cemetery in memory of France.

Colorado Air National Guard 140th Wing personnel placed a wreath on France's Minute Men jet on static display at Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora, Colorado. 

A memorial service followed at Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum in Denver.  Former Colorado Gov. Richard D. Lamm attended the service.  Congressional delegate staffers, former adjutants general, serving and retired military personnel, and state senators and representatives were among the 400 attendees who paid their respects.

Retired Maj. Gen. Andy Love, Colorado National Guard former assistant adjutant general for air, said that France loved air shows.

"He wanted the National Guard to be seen by every person in Colorado," Love said.

Edwards painted a vivid picture of France's 42 years of military service by reading excerpts from France's officer effectiveness reports.

France enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in November 1952 during the Korean War.  He attended aviation cadet training and received his pilot wings and commission as a second lieutenant upon graduation in March 1955 at Webb Air Force Base, Texas.  Later he was based at Misawa Air Base, Japan, and flew F-86F Sabre jets.

After separating from the Air Force in March 1958, he joined the Colorado Air National Guard. 

He was mobilized for the Berlin Crisis in October 1961.

France mobilized again in April 1968 and flew his F-100C fighter jet for 239 combat missions while deployed with the 120th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Phan Rang Air Base, Vietnam. 

After his return from Vietnam, he was assigned as commander of the 120th Tactical Fighter Squadron, then commander of the 140th Tactical Fighter Group.  In 1974, he was appointed commander of the 140th Tactical Fighter Wing, located at Buckley Air National Guard Base, the first Air National Guard base in the nation.  He was also selected as commander of the Colorado Air National Guard in 1974. 

He was promoted to major general June 18, 1982.

In 1993 he was inducted into the Colorado Aviation Hall of Fame.

France served as president and vice president of both the National Guard Association of the United States and the Adjutants General Association of the United States.

After retiring in 1995, he served as board member of the Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum.  His A-7 aircraft is on display there. 

France is survived by his wife, Carole, and his daughters, Allison and Amie.