Morganton resident Robert Pruett has been recognized for years of outstanding service to the state and his community with the North Carolina Order of the Long Leaf Pine.
“The Order of the Long Leaf Pine is among the most prestigious awards presented by the governor of North Carolina,” information about the award reads. “The Order of the Long Leaf Pine is presented to individuals who have a proven record of extraordinary service to the state. Contributions to their communities, extra effort in their careers and many years of service to their organizations are some of the guidelines by which recipients are selected for this award.”
Pruett was born in Casar in Cleveland County, then moved to Kings Mountain when he was 3. He lived there on a farm until his father was killed in a farming accident in 1941. His brothers went to serve in the military in World War II, so he and his mother moved to the Salem community in Morganton when he was 10 years old to be closer to his sisters.
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He graduated from Salem High School in 1950 as part of its first graduating class. He spent a year working at his brother’s tire service before joining the Air Force to serve in the Korean War. During the war, he jumped into B-26 planes and flew 25 missions over enemy territory, firing at targets as a gunner with the 17th Bomb Wing of the 37th Bomb Squadron, according to a previous News Herald article. After the war, he became a radar operator with an aircraft control and warning squadron in California until 1955.
After leaving the military, Pruett joined the State Highway Patrol, eventually working with the License and Theft Bureau as an enforcement officer. He worked for the patrol for 38 years.
During his spare time, he earned his private and commercial pilot’s licenses and instructor, instrument and multiengine ratings. These gave him the certifications needed to teach flying lessons part time for six years with Thermal Belt Air at the Morganton-Lenoir Airport.
“I always wanted to learn how to fly,” Pruett said. “I had the use of the GI Bill, but I couldn’t go to college because I had to work shifts, so I went to school and got my pilot’s license.”
Pruett has involved himself in the community for years. He has been a member of the Catawba Valley Masonic Lodge in Morganton for 64 years. He also helped found the History Museum of Burke County.
“I’ve always liked history,” Pruett said. “It’s one of my favorite subjects.
He supervised the acquisition and renovation of the current museum building as chairman of the properties and facilities committee. He also served as a museum docent and as a member of the board of directors for several years.
He and his wife, Jackie, have been married for 63 years and are longtime members of Salem United Methodist Church. They have one surviving son and one late son.
The Democratic Party of Burke County presented the award to Pruett on Oct. 6 at its headquarters in Morganton, a news release says.
“It was a total surprise to me, and one that I certainly appreciate,” Pruett said. “I had seen those things in various people’s offices all over the state of North Carolina and often wondered how they got them. I feel real good about receiving that.”
Staff writer Tammie Gercken can be reached at email@example.com.