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2005 Achievement Award Recipients

Nelson Duke
Class of 1940
Rev. Susan V. Thomas
Class of 1973
Marcia Gay Harden
Class of 1976


Nelson Duke

The first Achievement Award recipient is NELSON DUKE (40).  As noted in the February 2005 e-Notice, Nelson was awarded the French Legion of Honor, in a lovely ceremony at the French Ambassador's residence in D.C., for his bravery flying supplies to the besieged French Legionnaires at Dien Bien Phu in 1954.   At Surrattsville, Nelson was active in soccer, basketball and track.  He then attended the University of Maryland and studied engineering.  His studies were interrupted by World War II and he became a U.S. Navy pilot at age 19 and flew extensively in numerous types of aircraft all over the U.S., Europe and the Pacific.   After WWII, Nelson worked in general aviation for a few years.  One incident stands out from this period of Nelson's career: Nelson and a friend had an airport and sold air rides out of Colonial Beach, VA.  He had a Republic Seabee amphibian aircraft and made a forced landing in Mr. Pryde's (Surrattsville's principal!) cornfield when the fuel pump quit.  Nelson received the Air Medal as Aircraft Commander during the Berlin Airlift (over 100 missions) and also flew in the Korean Airlift.  As a Civil Air Transport (CAT) pilot in French Indochina in 1954, he evacuated refugees out of Hanoi to Haiphong.  He received the Legion of Honor for flying 12 missions under heavy fire in Dien Bien Phu, para-dropping desperately needed supplies to the beleaguered troops of the French garrison, which was surrounded and greatly out-numbered by the Viet Cong.  Two of his fellow American pilots were shot down and killed during these flights.  Nelson and his family moved to California in 1956, where he had an extensive career as an airline captain for Air California.  He also was very active for many years in real estate investment.  He and his wife Mary moved to Rockport, Texas in 1990.  We are very proud to recognize this Hornet member of "the greatest generation"!

Click here for French Ambassador’s remarks on awarding the Legion of Honor to Nelson


Rev. Susan V. Thomas

The second Achievement Award recipient is the late REV. SUSAN V. THOMAS (73), who at the time of her death on February 11, 2005 was pastor of Graceland United Methodist Church in Baltimore.  Susan was extremely active in community and church affairs, always extending a helping and welcoming hand to those in need.  She devoted her life to the service of others.  Her memorial service was attended by over 250 people whose lives she had touched through her caring, kindness and generosity.  Susan was a graduate of Duke Divinity School and was ordained an elder in 1981.  (An article on a typical friendship inspired by Susan can be found at Additional information about Susan's career can be found at We are proud to recognize this Hornet who devoted her life to the welfare of others.


Marcia Gay Harden

The third Achievement Award recipient is MARCIA GAY HARDEN (76).  Marcia is perhaps the most respected dramatic actress working in film today.  She won a Best Actress Oscar for her stunning performance in "Pollock" and has been nominated for numerous other Oscars and other awards (such as for her role in "Mystic River", where many believe she stole the entire movie).  An extensive biography of Marcia at notes her Surrattsville roots.  After Surrattsville, where she was very involved in drama, Marcia began her first year of college at Deree Pierce, in Athens, Greece, then transferred to the University of Maryland in Munich, Germany, and then returned to the states to earn a B.A. in theater from the University of Texas in Austin. After college, Marcia returned to the D.C. area to begin her career as an actress in local theater, and has gone on to star in dozens of films and in the revered TV show, "The Education of Max Bickford".  We are proud to recognize this former Hornet thespian who is believed to be Surrattsville's only Oscar-winner!