In terms of military achievement and aviation fame, one cannot imagine Alexander “Mac” Macdonald without Darrol Schroeder and vice versa. Both men were raised in Davenport, North Dakota, and both developed a longtime love of aviation and all things airplane-related. Macdonald enlisted in the military at age 19, becoming a mechanic and pilot who flew 36 combat missions in Korea. He became commander of the guard unit and sent the first woman pilot to Air Force training.
He spent 13 years as commander of the North Dakota Air National Guard (NDANG) 119th Fighter Group, the Happy Hooligans. During his time, Macdonald gained national prominence by winning the National Flight Safety Record Award, thrice winning the all-Air Force William Tell air-to-air competition, and the Daedalion Maintenance Award. Macdonald became the first North Dakota Air National Guardsman to assume the state’s top post of adjutant general.
Macdonald earned a North Dakota Distinguished Service Medal for safely landing a transport aircraft carrying Governor Bill Guy and First Lady Jean Guy. He earned the highest rating as an air defense pilot — Master of Air Defense — and retired in 1993 after 45 years of military service.
Meanwhile, Schroeder began his aviation career when he hitchhiked to Hector Airport to take lessons, eventually flying a 65-horsepower Aeronca Champ solo at age 16. During his senior year of high school Schroeder joined the North Dakota Air National Guard and was commissioned after he graduated from NDSU in 1951. He became an Air Force instructor, flight examiner, and test pilot.
He served 40 years of active duty in Germany, France and the National Guard, eventually serving as Major General. At his retirement in 1989, Schroeder had accumulated more than 5,000 fighter aircraft hours. While serving, Schroeder founded Schroeder Aviation, Inc., an agricultural aviation and fixedbase operation in Davenport. He operated a fleet of 12 aircraft and accumulated more than 12,000 aerial application hours serving area farmers until 1989.
Schroeder also helped lead the Happy Hooligans, first as flight commander and later as director of group operations, mentoring many young fighter pilots assigned to him. In 1974, Schroeder was promoted to Brigadier General and Chief of Staff of the NDANG. In 1983, he was assigned as ANG assistant to the commander of Air Forces in Europe.
After retiring from the military, Schroeder became director of business development for the UND Aerospace program and played a key role in acquiring the first civilian high altitude pressure chamber in the United States. As a civilian, Macdonald worked as chief executive officer of Dakota First Capital Corporation, a small business investment corporation in Fargo.
He and Schroeder combined their aviation passion and business savvy to found the Fargo Air Museum, becoming instrumental players in the effort to keep the organization solvent. In founding the museum, Macdonald and Schroeder helped develop a mission statement and long-term plan, and opened the first hangar in 2001. Both continue to be involved with the museum in a variety of ways; in 2013, Macdonald served as a guide for an aviation history tour at the museum, discussing the Cold War with approximately 150 West Fargo sophomores. Both Schroeder and Macdonald were inducted into the North Dakota Aviation Hall of Fame in 2009 and 2010, respectively.
Schroeder’s other civic contributions include serving as treasurer for the National Agricultural Aviation Association, a member of the National Aviation Hall of Fame Nominating Committee, North Dakota Aeronautics Commission, MeritCare board of directors (a role that led him to initiate the first air medical operation in the area), the governing board and building committee of the North Dakota Veterans Home, and the North Dakota Aviation Association. He also served a four-year term on the Forces Reserve Policy Board after being appointed by the secretary of defense.
For 20 years, Schroeder has served as the co-chairman of the biannual Fargo Airshow, an event that brings people from beyond the region and offers tangible value to the local economy. In 1987, Schroeder received the North Dakota National Leadership Award of Excellence and the FAA Master Pilot Award in 2005 for 50 consecutive years of accident-free flight. Macdonald’s civic contributions include serving on the Municipal Airport Authority for more than 20 years, president of the state Elks Association, commander of the American Legion Post, chair of the North Dakota State Games and chairman of the North Dakota Veterans Cemetery Foundation.
In 2013, both Schroeder and Macdonald witnessed the last Learjet leaving the 119th Wing in Fargo, leaving the Happy Hooligans without a manned flying mission for the first time in their distinguished 66-year history, according to an Aug. 27, 2013, Forum article. After returning to Fargo after his tour of duty in the Korean War, Macdonald piloted the P-51 Mustang, the first fighter plane to fly under the umbrella of the newly formed NDANG.
North Dakota remains the only state in the nation without a manned Air Guard flying mission. Schroeder and Macdonald are active members of The Chamber’s Military Affairs committee and the Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Air National Guard Support Group, and as such, both have traveled to Washington, D.C., with Chamber leadership to lobby in support of reinstating a manned flying mission in North Dakota.
Macdonald and Schroeder will be honored at The Chamber’s Fourth Annual Meeting on September 11.