Date: July 23, 1967
Location: Dayton, OH
By: Jane Hamilton
Newspaper: Dayton Daily News
The age of heroes still exists – for Mike Stimac it is a way of life.
In 1961 an Ohioan descended into the land of the once-violent Mau Mau of East Africa. His task – to help these primitive people to acheive a final success in traming their wild land with science and technology. His resources – only an uncanny ingenuity and incredible determination that recognizes no obstacle.
And now in 1967, six nations have felt the impact of this brilliant American who worships the dignity of man wherever it is found and works with a true teacher’s passion for helping others.
Africa has broken the backs of British armies and German conquerors. Immense deserts, staggering jungles, and impossible terrain have negated the grandest efforts to conquer the land. From the arsenal of American technology our fellow Ohioan seized upon the ideal tactical tool, the perfected American light aircraft.
From his efforts, six beautiful ships sprang into the African skies and precipitated an unsuspected wave of incentive and industriousness for people waiting for direction.
This man became a llegend in East Africa over the course of a few short years. Working for world peace by directing foreign development came as a result of a national reputation for scholarship and educational success.
Following his graduation from the University of Dayton, he went on to receive a graduate degree in nuclear physics from Ohio State university and represented Ohio State at a national conference of physicists.
The same easy leadership emerged in Cleveland high schools where he led his students through innumerable successes in electronics and satellite tracking until they took to the skies in one of the nation’s first aerial classroom projects.
It was at this time that school men fumbling in the emerging countries of Africa, sought his services for their land. The lightning leaps which led from the past of teacher in a high school classroom lost in the African reserve of the British Kenya colony, to the presidency of an “aerial peace corps” six years later were the result of a crucial moment of history and the right man. The “peace corps” spans six African nations and weaves into the fabric of 10,000 American lives.
Mike came to Africa fully prepared to devote himself to the uplift of a primitive people. He found instead an ancient civilization different in appearance from our Western standards, but fully as capable of learning and doing.
In swift steps he passed from talking at the Africans to working with them. From elementary science, he led them rapidly into modern technology and crowned their opportunities of advancement with an airstrip carved in the middle of a pineapple plantation, and modern American aircraft dropped from the skies to become the flying laboratories for 2,000 African boys.
Mike’s vision was to prepare these young men for an industry that would sweep Africa where aviation is a natural solution to one of its greatest problems – isolation.
But this task soon had to be left to other willing hands, for Mike’s own hands, the airplane had become not only an educational tool but a symbol of hope and redemption for tousands of teachers, doctors, nurses, and development workers striving to help the Africans create farms, villages and nations.
Mike, with his qualification as a commercial pilot and his understanding of Africa was often asked to fly supplies, medicines, and personnel into bush areas. The reaction was explosive. Highly intelligent and well trained volunteers suddenly found it possible to establish programs and sustain them because critical supplies were never lacking now that planes had arrived. More than that, personnel did not have to be absent for weeks and weeks while trying to make their way in and out of the bush by land.
The fuse which really triggered development was the “mercy flight work” which became more and more frequent. It started when one day Mike was called to fly a sick missionary to a major hospital center because there was a suspicion of the dreaded pestilential black fever. Next it was a cancer ridden teacher who could no longer be transported by car, then it was a cardiac patient, then a bullet-wounded case with the slug still riding in his abdomen and finally a little white girl with a crushed forehead caused by a terrible fall far in the bush and whose life was saved by a dramatic flight straight to redeeming emergency surgury in Nairobi.
From this time on Mike’s life was no longer his own to live.
This joining of Mike and destiny was a wedding arranged by fellow Americans of great vision who could not leave their native land but could support the work. Dwight Joyce in Cleveland rallied his flying friends and alone instigated the donation of $7.000. George Haddaway in distant Dallas accumulated a treasure trove of electronic equipment, Archie Yawn in Georgia found funds for aircraft, and Joe Fabick in St. Louis provided a coordinating office.
The flame spread in Dayton, where the almost missionary zeal of this land of Americans inspired the cooperation of the University of Dayton and the Marianists. The cast iron framework on which all the pieces were firmly bolted was the durable Mike in the African bush, and the name UMATT – United Missionary Air Training and Transport – which he created for the work.
The endeavor of those men and their leader are aptly symbolized on a flag that waves in the African breezes and marks the tails of UMATT planes – a white dove streaking across a blue sky. This is the UMATT banner, an international symbol of WINGS for PEACE.
What made UMATT outstanding at that time and still does, is that these men represented Unitarians, Baptists, Catholics, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodists, Mennonites, Jews and many others concerned with African development. With such backing Mike vigorously crashed through barriers that had held apart good people working at common goals in Africa, merely because of incidental differences of opinion to serve all people. UMATT – Wings for Peace was and is a real vehicle for brotherhood of man – developed as well as the developing.
So treasured are the concepts of that supporting members gathered in Dayton recently and formally established the organization as UMATT, Incorporated. Now UMATT – WINGS for PEACE is a permanent entity – humanitarian, non-profit, non-denominational and the members unanimously voted Mike Stimac president of the new coporation.
Courage is not lacking in Americans and so a young navy pilot raced to the rescue when a second UMATT airplane appeared in Africa and needed a pilot. A young peace corp lad still hungering for fulfillment after two years of trying the Peace Corp in Africa, eagerly joined UMATT when an opportunity occurred. Canada and England joined in support of UMATT with aircraft and operating funds. From medical missionaries came a “Flying Nun” to join the pilot staff. From the USAF came a colonel, and from civilian ranks came doctor and nurse volunteers to spell the full time pilot, as well as to handle the office details that keep a fleet of airplanes flying.
The pace was set by Mike himself who during one of the busiest months spent 160 hours in the air over African bush, a part of the effort which would leave him with a record of 1/4 million miles of mercy missions flown on the Dark continent.
The challenge was not lost on his companion pilots and so with courage and commitment, the WINGS for PEACE planes roar down sandswept dirt airstrips, challenge the elements to save lives, destroy the traditional inhibitors of development – the ancient problems of communications and isolation, the first problems to be overcome in any developing country.
Mike is the Legend of East Africa. To the Africans from Ethiopia to Zambia, Mike Stimac and hope are one. Dressed in his desert khakis, eyes shaded with sunglasses, the crew-cut pilot is as reliable to the Africans as the sun.
Often neglecting the rigid rules of flying, Mike always responds to the worried voice on the radio set pleading “Emergency. Emergency.” Thank-yous for Mike’s effort, come from the Africans in strange ways. Mike recalls an emergency plea from the Turkana desert.
“It was late. I couldn’t make it in daylight. I knew well the terrors of night flying in Africa, but the pleading voice made me consent. It wasn’t long before I was airborne. As the last rays of daylight flicked off the top of the mountains guarding the path to King Solomon’s mines, I took a final visual bearing from these mountains. Then I relied on clock and compass.
“As was the custom with the Turkana people, with the darkness came the small flickering fires. Time had run out. Then suddenly ahead two parallel line of fire spread rapidly along the black ground. After a moment of panic, I realized that this was the mission landing strip aglow for me!
“Down safely the story of the mysterious glowing landing strip unraveled. When the people realized that I would be arriving after dark, the school children were quickly organized to gather thorn bushes and live them up near the landing area. They waited impatiently on the ground listening and looking into the blackness of the African night until they heard the hum of my plane. Then quickly the children put matches to the bushes and the welcoming beacon for me streaked across the unknown below. What a welcome home.”
UMATT and its pilots might be the legend of East Africa, but the beauty of the legend lies in the ingenious and practical solution for countries bound and isolated by lack of sufficient communication and transportation.
Mike says, “We don’t want another Vietnam where we wait until military aid and self-development are needed simultaneously. Now is the short period of grace and the time of interest among the people when high speed development can be achieved. Delay means deterioration – as Nigeria, Ghana, and the Congo showed through their internal collapses. A sense of emergency about doing it now becomes more and more obvious. We see that we don’t have tomorrow available to correct the mistakes of today.
“With more than one-third of the world population under Communist domination, the remaining countries will only resist if they have something to fight for. Every incentive must be utilized in the free world to establish things worth fighting for. UMATT is providing for numerous constructive activities to make Africa strong, free world in itself.
“The uninformed blame people for Africa’s primitiveness. But they little realize that existence of that continent so large that it has a single desert bigger than our whole country. Just try to build industrial complexes while having to walk around a territory like that.”
Mike and UMATT have brought to Africa the almost forgotten drama of man’s conquest of our own wild west.
Bringing construction of civilization of the developed world to people hungary for advancement, assisting the African peoples to enter the world community, helping them to continue to treasure life, liberty and their own energetic pursuit of happiness, all without outside military assistance, is truly one of the great inspirations of our time.
It inspires to know that in our complex, mechanized world it is still possible for one man to change the course of history.