All posts by ktomlin

In memory of my father

Earlier this month, we asked you all to share some of your stories with us. To get the ball rolling Capt Millerchip shared her life changing experiences working with the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operation Center in “Cherishing life, past heroes.” Dave Steele was one of many who answered our call…

By Dave Steele
Son of Col. Ralph J. Steele

Mr. Steele's father in group photo

Dear Captain Millerchip,

I read your blog posting regarding Memorial Day stories and wanted to share mine with you.

I’m not a veteran but Memorial Day and Veterans Day have a special meaning to me. My dad passed away on Memorial Day back in 2000. He was Col. Ralph J. Steele and served in the Army Air Corps and U.S. Air Force from 1942 until his retirement in 1972. He was assigned to the 21st Weather Squadron during WWII stationed in England and eventually France, served in Korea and in the 1960s became the first commander of the Air Force Global Weather Center (AFGWC) located at Offutt Air Force Base where he worked in the famous “Building D.” He served our country with honor and dignity throughout his career and was instrumental in helping develop computerized systems for weather data gathering during his time at Offutt. His decorations include a bronze star with oak leaf clusters and two Legion of Merit awards.

When he passed away he was buried at the Portland National Cemetery in Oregon with full military honors. I still get emotional when I hear Taps. One of the most poignant moments for me during the ceremony was when they handed the flag to my mother – I will never forget that. In effect, my mother served alongside my father, as do all military wives. They had been married for 58 years when he died. They were married in 1942 and three weeks after their wedding my father was on the Queen Mary bound for England not knowing when he would return. When my father retired my mother was also presented with a certificate of service for her steadfast years of supporting my father and his service to our country.

This Memorial Day was the first year that my mother could not visit my father’s grave to put flowers on it. The National Cemetery in Portland is on a beautiful rolling hillside. On Memorial Day, when the flags are all out and the color guards are there, it is a very emotional and inspiring sight. I am quite proud of my father’s service to our country and my mother’s support of him and our family during his service. I was 15 years old when my father retired and we settled in Corvallis, Ore. To this day, one of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t continue in his footsteps and also serve our country.

 Young Dave SteeleWhen I see or read stories of our brave men and women serving our country in these difficult times it always makes me think about my father. I know he would be extremely proud of all the service members and their sacrifices to ensure our freedom and the threats to freedom everywhere.

Thank you Captain Millerchip, for your service and for your efforts in honoring our past and present service members.

 

Photos: (Top) A picture taken of my father when he was in England during the war. (Bottom) A picture of me taken in the AFGWC cement bunker in Building D in 1968 during a family visit day.

An Airman rises to honor a fallen Soldier

By Maj. Rosaire Bushey
AETC Public Affairs

Today I had the privilege to be a very small part of several hundred people who gathered to honor a fallen warrior. Army Sgt. Thomas Bohall returned to Texas today from Afghanistan and he was met by a line of respect that stretched for more than half a mile.

Fallen Soldier Words, however, are a poor substitute to the sights and more specifically to a single face in which a whole world of non-verbal emotion collided.

Lining the road there were uniforms, mostly ABUs, the odd BDU, flight suits, civilian slacks, skirts, suits. They were representative of the team that makes the military work. They were worn by every skin tone you could consider and they came equipped with boots, shoes, pumps, and heels; with berets, flight caps, garrison caps and even cowboy hats, and they stood under a double line of 50 state flags – everywhere you looked you could see all of America represented.
At the end of the line, through the base gates, two ladder trucks from local fire departments formed an arch across the road, with an American flag hanging. And as the procession approached, what little noise there was ceased. Cars stopped, contractors doing grounds maintenance stood at attention and doffed their hats, uniformed service members saluted.

As Sgt. Bohall passed I dipped my eyes and in a fraction of a second, locked eyes with a woman who I can only assume was a wife, girlfriend or sister. I’ll never know. She was no more than two feet away. She was sitting sideways in her car, facing directly into the row of us lining the road. Her face, wracked with grief and desperately straining to hold back tears that would end her connection with us, was a storm of emotion.

Salute a fallen SoldierBarely visible beneath the grief there was also a hint of a smile on her tear-stained lips. That near-smile and her wide eyes spoke clearly of pride – the pride she had for Sgt. Bohall – Thomas — regardless of the relationship they shared. Mostly, however, I saw in her face thankfulness. She was staring at people who had never met Thomas, never met her or her family, and yet here they were. On some level I think she probably understood at that moment that Thomas had always been around family, even when he was far from home.

In a second, she was gone, replaced by the low rumble of 74 motorcycles from the Patriot Guard, providing top cover for Sgt. Bohall and his family.

Salutes were lowered, cars moved, groundskeepers went back to work, but it was all quieter now. Did it matter that we were there; that we took an insignificant portion of our lives and saluted a fallen comrade?

Had you seen this woman’s face, her eyes, her gratitude, you wouldn’t even ask.

It made a difference. It mattered … a lot.

Photos: (Top) A U.S. Army carry team transfers the remains of Army Sgt. Thomas A. Bohall, of Bel Aire, Kan., at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas, June 7. Sergeant Bohall was assigned to the 4th Battalion, 101st Aviation Regiment, 159th Combat Aviation Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), Fort Campbell, Ky. (Bottom) A crowd gathers as a motorcade processional transporting the remains of Army Sgt. Thomas A. Bohall. Sergeant Bohall was one of six soldiers from Fort Campbell who were supporting Operation Enduring Freedom and killed by an improvised explosive device during an insurgent attack May 26, 2011 in Kandahar province, Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force photos by Don Lindsey)

 

Remember our heroes, and their families, this Memorial Day

By Master Sgt. Scott T. Sturkol
Air Mobility Command Public Affairs

In 2008, I went to a military funeral at Arlington National Cemetery for an American hero. The hero I saw laid to rest that day was surrounded by many, many more heroes — his family. Memorial Day flag folding

That funeral was held on April 9, 2008, for Maj. Robert F. Woods, an Airman who was missing in action and buried at Arlington nearly 40 years after he went missing in Vietnam June 26, 1968. Attending the funeral were dozens of members of the Woods family from all over the U.S.

What I remember the most of that funeral was the way the family talked about Major Woods like they had just seen him even though four decades had passed since he left their lives. “How amazing,” I thought that they remembered him so fondly after such a long time and how appropriate it was that Major Woods received full military honors for paying the ultimate sacrifice.

It’s because of people like Major Woods, and his family, that we have Memorial Day. According to www.usmemorialday.org, Memorial Day was “officially proclaimed” May 5, 1868, and first observed May 30, 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate Soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.

“Memorial Day is not about division — it is about reconciliation,” the website states. “It is about coming together to honor those who gave their all.”

I couldn’t agree more.

In looking back at American history, there are millions of Americans who have paid the ultimate sacrifice in service to their nation. They are all heroes and should be remembered as such forever.

Every one of those heroes, like Major Woods, also had families who paid a high cost in sacrifice and support. While their loved one is off doing their part as a military member, they manage the homefront and do whatever they can to support their warfighting family member. To me, those family members are heroes as well.

That day I spent at Arlington with the Woods family, I watched as the folded flag was presented to the family by the Air Force Honor Guard. I watched the tears fall and saw as granddaughters and great-granddaughters touched the casket of a man they had never met until that day.

Later, in talks with Major Woods’ daughter, Lana Taylor, I learned about a man who loved his family deeply and “always went when his country called.”

Major Woods had served more than 20 years when he went missing. He began his career as an enlisted Airman who served in the Berlin Airlift in the late 1940s, and was a Korean War veteran who flew KC-97 Stratotankers during the conflict, earning an Air Medal.

Major Woods’ granddaughter, Courtney Woods, recalled of how fondly her grandmother, Mary Woods, talked about a man she’d never met and how that shaped her image of Major Woods as “more than a war hero.”

“One thing my Nana wanted my brother Mac and me to know was what a wonderful man my grandfather was,” she said. “He would write to her every single day; he never missed a single day. His letters go right up until the day he went missing. She would let us read them, and by reading his words, we were able to see the meaning and thoughtfulness that went into each and every letter.”

Also at Major Woods’ funeral was Lt. Col. Phil Heseltine. He’s not a family member but might as well have been. Colonel Heseltine presented a POW/MIA bracelet he wore for 18 years that had Major Woods’ name chiseled into it.

“I purchased the bracelet in 1990 during a POW/MIA event at my Air Force ROTC detachment,” Colonel Heseltine said.

Colonel Heseltine brought along his wife Jenny and daughters Alexa and Livie. It was a gesture that Mrs. Taylor later said “just overwhelmed” her. When asked about his family meeting the Woods family, Colonel Heseltine said, “I’ll admit I was nervous. But once they arrived and I met them I saw what wonderful people they all were.”

Some of those same “wonderful” people will be visiting with Colonel Heseltine again in June 2011 in North Carolina. The 911th Air Refueling Squadron — where Colonel Heseltine is the commander — will be dedicating the Robert F. Woods Memorial Auditorium at Seymour-Johnson Air Force Base June 26.

The auditorium dedication is another way of remembering Major Woods and his family of heroes. It also serves as a reminder to all of us that our fallen heroes like Major Woods, and their families, are the people who we should remember this Memorial Day.