Public petitions county to rename portion of Wayah Road in honor of POW


Brittney Lofthouse – Staff Writer

Vietnam Air Force veteran Dr. Tom McNish and his family have long had ties to this area, and while not a native of Franklin, is loved and admired as one. Because of his ties to Macon County, and his service to the country, residents have petitioned the county to rename a portion of Wayah Road, near Dr. McNish’s family home place in his honor. County commissioners unanimously voted last week to ask the North Carolina Department of Transportation to rename the road in his honor. 

Tom McNish was born in 1942 in Madison, Tenn. He attended North Carolina State University for one year before entering the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1960. McNish graduated and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant on June 3, 1964, and completed Undergraduate Pilot Training and was awarded his pilot wings in September 1965 at Williams Air Force Base in Arizona. He next completed F-105 Thunderchief combat crew training before being assigned to the 354th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Takhli Royal Thai AFB, Thailand, in June 1966. Lt McNish was shot down over North Vietnam and was taken as a Prisoner of War on Sept. 4, 1966, while flying his 45th combat mission in Southeast Asia.

After spending 2,373 days in captivity, he was released during Operation Homecoming on March 4, 1973. He was briefly hospitalized to recover from his injuries at Maxwell AFB in Alabama, before beginning his pre-medicine classes at Emory University. Capt McNish graduated from Emory University School of Medicine in June 1978 and interned in the Department of Family Practice at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio, Texas. 

He completed family practice residency in 1981 and then began a residency in Aerospace Medicine at Brooks AFB, Texas, where he graduated in June 1983. During this time he was selected for the USAF Pilot-Physician program. Dr. McNish served as Chief of Aeromedical Services and Commander of the Air Transportable Hospital at Myrtle Beach AFB, South Carolina, from December 1983 to May 1985, and then as Commander of the USAF Hospital at Myrtle Beach, where he served until July 1986. During this time, he maintained mission-ready qualification in the A-10 Thunderbolt II, flying with the 354th Tactical Fighter Wing, and was designated by Tactical Air Command as the weapons system flight surgeon for the A-10. Col McNish next served as Commander of the 833rd Medical Group and the 833rd Tactical Hospital at Holloman AFB, New Mexico, from July 1986 to October 1988. He flew the AT-38 Talon with the 479th Tactical Training Wing while at Holloman. He was then assigned as Chief of Flight Medicine in the Office of the Air Force Surgeon General until June 1991, when he became the Command Surgeon in the Office of the Air Force Reserve at the Pentagon, where he served until his retirement from the Air Force on July 1, 1994. 

McNish’s bravery in combat earned him numerous medals including the Silver Star with two oak leaf clusters, the Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Bronze Star with “V” device for valor, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Air Medal with four oak leaf clusters, the Air Force Commendation Medal, the Air Force Achievement Medal, the Presidential Unit Citation, the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry and the Vietnam Service Medal with 15 capping starts. 

Now that the board of commissioners have supported renaming the road, the request will be forwarded to the North Carolina Department of Transportation for consideration and ultimate approval.