HIStory’s affect on me

By Tech. Sgt. Anthony Nelson Jr.
Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs Command Information

What is history? What I remember from school is history is the study of past events; events such as the War of 1812, the fall of Adolf Hitler and the dropping of the atomic bomb by the Enola Gay. History is written documentation of events, people and places most of the time from eyewitness accounts.

Being an Air Force photojournalist, it is my responsibility to document, photograph and tell the Air Force story. In this particular case, the Air Force story was living, breathing and walking right before my eyes. On this day, I was exposed to history in a brand-new way.

Air Medal presentation photo
Retired Air Force Maj. Louis F. Tornabene listens to opening remarks from retired Col. Fred Borch, JAG Corps Regimental Historian and Archvisit, April 29, 2015, during Tornabene’s Air Medal ceremony held at the Hall of Heroes in The Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School on the campus of The University of Virginia. Tornabene was recognized for his work in the Manhattan Project. The Air Medal was established by Executive Order 9158, signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, May 11, 1942. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech Sgt. Anthony Nelson Jr./Released)

I had the opportunity to spend some time photographing and interviewing a 96-year-old World War II veteran, retired Maj. Louis Tornabene, at his home in Charlottesville, Virginia. Tornabene was awarded the Air Medal in 1946 for his work as a flight engineer on the top-secret Manhattan Project, but didn’t receive one at that time because of a shortage of medals. On April 29, 2015, almost 70 years later, the Air Force formally presented Tornabene the medal during a ceremony at the Hall of Heroes in the Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School at the University of Virginia.

In late 1941, after the Japanese bombing on the United States Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, the United States designed and built an atomic bomb that received the code name – the Manhattan Project. In 1945, the White House directed the use of this nuclear weapon to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Air Medal photo
The Air Medal is presented to Retired Air Force Maj. Louis F. Tornabene during a ceremony April 29, 2015, at the Hall of Heroes in The Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School on the campus of The University of Virginia. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech Sgt. Anthony Nelson Jr./Released)

What really struck a chord within me was that if Tornabene can continue to be a living legacy for his family, the Air Force and American history, then I have no excuse or rational justification why I cannot be a great Airman, father, husband, son and brother.

“I started out as a private and retired as a major,” Tornabene said. “I enjoyed all the ranks.”

After the interview, I sat down with the Tornabene family and truly learned this family practiced the Air Force core values long before we officially adopted them into our way of life.

Service before self: All four of the Tornabene sons honorably served in the military.

Excellence in all we do: Tornabene was selected to work on the Manhattan Project to develop the world’s first atomic bomb. His professionalism and excellence in the performance of his duties directly impacted the development of the bomb, code-named “Little Boy.”

Integrity first: Tornabene promised his wife after the war was over she could go back to school and pursue higher education. Tornabene kept his word and his wife completed her college degree and later became a dean at McNeese State University in Lake Charles, Louisiana.

Now that I have been exposed to a tangible reminder of what our core values truly mean, I am challenged to promote the things in life that can uplift, inspire, encourage and create change. Not only for my generation, but for those who will come after me.