Elias "Al" Joseph Stetz, a former Navy commander who flew missions in Antarctica and Vietnam, died July 19 at his home in Locust Valley. He was 81.
Born to Ukrainian immigrants, Stetz grew up in Hicksville. In 1953, he enrolled at the Colorado School of Mines, studying geology and engineering.
He was the first person in his family to go to college, said his daughter, Marion Walsh, 49, of Cortlandt Manor.
But that year, during the Korean War, Stetz was drafted. He joined the Navy as a pilot and wound up serving for 26 years.
He eventually finished college in 1965. He later earned a master's degree in business administration at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
"He always put his service above himself and risked his life as needed," Walsh said. "He believed our country was extraordinary and unique. His sense of honor, duty and discipline always moved me and showed his character."
Stetz began flying scientific missions in Antarctica in 1960 as part of "Operation Deep Freeze," studying polar conditions and climate.
In 1961, he survived the crash landing of his Neptune P2V combat aircraft at Wilkes Station, a U.S. research facility in eastern Antarctica. The crash, caused by a fuel leak and fire, killed five of the eight people aboard, Walsh said.
Stetz also flew Cold War reconnaissance missions over Soviet air space out of Turkey and served in Vietnam in 1965-66, flying 27 combat missions along the Cambodian-Vietnam border, the family said.
He retired from the Navy in 1979. Over the course of his service, Stetz was awarded the Joint Service Commendation medal, the Navy Commendation Medal, three Vietnam service medals, and the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for rescuing a drowning man while stationed at Pearl Harbor.
After leaving the military, Stetz moved to Locust Valley with his wife. He worked for 11 years at National Westminster Bank as vice president of international and domestic banking operations.
Stetz was also a member of The Creek Club golf course in Locust Valley for 33 years. He wrote a book about military golf courses and testified before Congress in the early 1990s about keeping military golf courses open, Walsh said.
Stetz's death was due to complications from a stroke, the family said.
Survivors include his wife of 51 years, Nancy Burke Stetz; another daughter, Susan Trout of Richmond, Virginia; and six grandchildren. A funeral was held July 23 at St. Patrick's Catholic Church in Glen Cove. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.