At 80 years old, Maiden-born, three-star Air Force General Joe Lineberger still works for the United States Department of Defense in Washington, D.C., the place where he chose to settle after 28 years of active military duty. As a result, the military recently awarded him the departmentâ€™s Spirit of Service Award.
He was chosen for the rare honor on account of his more than 50-year military career, one of the awardâ€™s chief criterions.
However, itâ€™s not the first military honor heâ€™s received throughout the more than five decades heâ€™s served his country. Lineberger has been awarded at least 12 military honors, six of which he received during active duty alone.
Awards included the Bronze Star Medal, Meritorious Service Medal, Air Force Commendation Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, Legion of Merit and Air Force Organizational Excellence Award, among many others.
Lineberger pointed out how the Spirit of Service Award is inaccessible to a majority of military men.
â€œThere are very, very few people who receive this award,â€ he said.
â€œThere are just too many unattainable criteria that have to be met. Odds are stacked against any human being.â€
Lineberger also noted that the honorary award represents more than just a plaque and a pin.
â€œIt meant that I was successfulâ€¦that my health was good â€¦ that you lived long enough to accrue being on the job that long â€¦ you could keep your mind and body healthy, active and in great shape,â€ he said.
But most importantly, the awardâ€™s given him â€œthe interest and dedication to continue on past retirement age,â€ he noted.
However, Linebergerâ€™s successful career almost didnâ€™t happen. Growing up with somewhat poor roots in Maiden during the 1930s and 1940s, Linebergerâ€™s family couldnâ€™t afford to send him to college. He even spent years working the local cotton fields in order to provide his mother with additional funds.
It was only through Duke Universityâ€™s ROTC program, a golden opportunity for him, that he was able to receive a four-year college education. Through the program, Lineberger was able to enter the Air Force in the early 1950s, bypassing the lower ranks and marching straight in as a second lieutenant. He eventually attained the rank of Colonel by the end of his active duty.
Lineberger has served in a number of areas across the globe including Air Force basesÂ across Canada.
He even fought in South Vietnam during the TET Offensive in 1968, a time when the war was at its â€œheaviest fighting,â€ he said. During the war, he was â€œengaged in close order combat with enemy forcesâ€ including North Vietnam and Russia.
During the early 1950s, when Lineberger was stationed on Greenland, the worldâ€™s largest island, he found himself pitted against the Russians almost a decade before the unprecedented conflict in Southeast Asia.
Less than 800 miles away from the Arctic Circle, he was forced to endure months of darkness at a time in addition to wind gusts exceeding 100 miles an hour and temperatures that reached nearly 100 below zero.
He noted that the purpose of his 14-month mission was to monitor the area for Russians during a time when the United States was wary of a foreign attack.
â€œWe would have been the first U.S. military unit to encounter them because that is the route they would have taken to reach the United States,â€ he said.
Notable domestic places where Lineberger has worked include Headquarters U.S. Air Force and Office of the Secretary of the Air Force.
In addition, he still maintains several titles such as Senior Executive Service member, Director of the Air Force Review Boards Agency and Office of the Secretary of the Air Force for Manpower and Reserve Affairs.Â He also operates and manages several ruling military bodies including the Air Forceâ€™s Personnel Council, Board for Correction of Military Records and Civilian Appellate Review Office.
Lineberger retired from active military duty in 1980 and immediately went to work at the Pentagon. Heâ€™s also currently stationed at Andrewâ€™s Air Force Base in Oneida, Md., but lives in the city of Oxon Hill. He also boasts a Masters of Business Administration degree from the University of Chicago.
Lineberger has credited his extraordinary success to the residents and North Carolina communities that surrounded him for the first 18 years of his life.
Even after he moved from Catawba County, he never lost sight of his roots.
â€œDuring all of that time, I still considered Maiden my permanent home,â€ he said. â€œThe integrity, credibility, truthfulness, determination, education and attitude are the things I brought with me from the area.â€
Lineberger directly addressed Lincolnton residents and those in surrounding counties and thanked them for their inspiration, encouragement and support.
â€œI have worked very hard over the 64 years I have served my country and you good people all around Maiden, Lincolnton, Newton and all the counties in general,â€ he said.
In addition to showing bravery to his country, Lineberger has also been a model of courage to his family.
â€œMy grandfather has always been my hero and role model,â€ his grandson Brian Boyle said.