Laurent Lee Gourley

Lee Gourley was the only student in his class in country school, Douglas #8, in Morton’s Mill, so he joined Villisca’s 8th graders for second semester. He already knew he wanted to attend the Air Force Academy. As a young person he could be found lying in the yard at night talking to his friends and looking at the stars. Lee would point out Sputnik or some space craft and say all he wanted to do was fly. He was a natural leader; he played basketball and track, lettered in baseball and football. He held offices in FFA, Chorus, Student Council, Hi-Y. He was Class President, National Honor Society, and Valedictorian of his VHS Class of 1962.

He received his appointment to the United States Air Force Academy, the first in the history of Villisca. He graduated with highest honors from USAFA in 1966 with a degree in Aeronautical Engineering. While at USAFA, Lee would hang the Villisca Review on the bulletin board for all to enjoy! Lee earned his Master’s Degree in Astronautics from Purdue University in only six months.

A story which illustrates who Lee was is shared by one of his friends: “During his second year at the Academy, he came home for Christmas break. The old gang was together and we were contemplating playing a joke on Policeman Jake Butler. It seems that all the Christmas lights were plugged into one outlet so some thought it would be fun to pull the plug. Being true to the Honor Code at the Academy, Lee said, ‘I want you to know that if we get caught and we get questioned, I’m not going to lie.’ We did not pull the prank, and he’s still my best friend, even now. He made a footprint right on my forehead.”

Lee went to Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT) at Williams Air Force Base in Arizona and earned the distinction of “Outstanding Graduate.” Upon completion of that training, he was selected to fly the F-100s and trained at Luke Air Force Base in Phoenix.

By November, 1968, Lee was an F-100F (fighter) pilot based in South Vietnam for a one year tour of duty. He volunteered for a 90-day assignment as a Forward Air Controller (FAC) with the elite “Misty” unit. That was his mission when his plane went down over the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos, August 9, 1969.

Lee was declared Missing in Action in 1969. In October, 2002 his remains were returned to Villisca for burial with full military honors. His awards and medals include one of the highest honors, the Silver Star, awarded for Gallantry in Action (July, ’69).

The efforts of patriotic Americans to determine the fate of those who were left in Vietnam at the end of the war, meant that Lee’s life influenced thousands of people who never met him.

Lee is remembered for his intellect and wit, sense of humor, loyalty, respect, integrity, his sense of duty and honor, and the simple belief in doing what was right. The legacy he left to Villisca was possible because Lee took advantage of the environment of the time and used it in the most positive way.