Tag Archives: Tribute

Honor: the first of four pillars of the USAF Band of the West

120922-F-GN140-0728Senior Airman Daniel N. Thrower
USAF Band of the West

Editor’s note: This is the first part of a four-part series on the pillars of the USAF Band of the West.

An extraordinary thing happened to me recently as I was driving to work. It isn’t uncommon to encounter a homeless person begging at an intersection in San Antonio, and it isn’t unusual for me to rummage through my things to try to find something to offer. That morning I had nothing, so my head and eyes remained straight forward as the man positioned himself between the two lanes of cars to saunter toward us with his cardboard sign. When he spotted my uniform, he stopped, took off his hat and rendered a slow, tentative salute. After I graciously acknowledged, the light changed and my direction of traffic resumed. As I reflected on that somber salute, I found that I had to turn off the radio—that man’s image in my mind tore me up! Even this homeless American recognized the honor of the uniformed services, and what we all collectively do to allow him to be free to supplicate on a street corner.

What we do as Airman musicians, though much more formally, produces similar feelings in those for whom we perform. I never tire of playing the service songs in various concerts, from brass quintet to full concert band, and seeing men and women stand proudly as their song resounds through the air. The enthusiasm is electric, and tears tend to come easily. Patriotic tunes and meaningful messages in songs also instill a deep sense of honor for our great country and the freedoms we enjoy. But of all the millions of notes I have performed in uniform, one “simple” composition consisting of 24 slow notes trumps all: the poignant solo bugle call, “Taps.”

Of course, as a civilian musician for many years before joining the Air Force, I was able to play Taps on many different occasions. But, to perform it in uniform in an official capacity, fulfilled a childhood dream I harbored since I was a Boy Scout.

I’ll never forget playing for my first active-duty funeral in uniform. Joining 23 honor guard members from Randolph Air Force Base, we rehearsed the honors a couple of times before patiently waiting for several hours for the family and friends to arrive from the funeral service. We were given a 20-minute heads-up to get in our places. As people began to arrive, I stood at attention with as little motion as possible. The mosquitoes were terrible, and I felt one land on my cheek as I heard my MTI’s voice echoing from the not-too-distant past, “You don’t move at the position of attention!”

The flag-covered casket was extracted from the hearse and a lump formed in my throat. This was real! I absorbed all the details I could without moving my head: the unison steps of the honor guard pallbearers, the color guard’s call to attention, the firing team’s well-rehearsed movements to my left, etc. The seven riflemen fired three volleys, and after the last volley, I slowly raised my trumpet and sounded the military swansong—the final farewell to this Senior Airman whose name I never did learn. To me, this became the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, so to speak. My attention to detail in every note’s length and dynamic, the precise moments of vibrato, the drawn out decay of the final note, the deliberate final salute with my white-gloved hand, all were calculated to honor him by saying, in essence, “Thank you for your service.” I am confident that if he were there, he would have graciously accepted that honorable tribute on behalf of all who serve, have served and especially the millions who paid the ultimate sacrifice so I can freely sit here and write this without fear.

PHOTO: Senior Airman Daniel Thrower, USAF Band of the West bugler, performs “Taps” for Memorial Day at the Texas State Cemetary in Austin, Texas, May 27, 2013. (Courtesy photo)

A tribute to a warrior, patriot and hero to all Airmen

Col. George E. "Bud" Dayby Gen. Mark A. Welsh III
U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff

I am the very proud son of an American fighter pilot, one of that treasured group who served in three wars, built an Air Force, and gave it an enduring example of courage and mission success.

My dad was a hero. As a young man, I asked him who his combat heroes were; he gave me only two names. One was Major General Frederick “Boots” Blesse and the other was Colonel George E. “Bud” Day. My dad was not easily impressed, so I knew that if they were his heroes, they were very, very special men. I was right.

Earlier this year, my wife Betty and I had the distinct honor of attending Boots Blesse’s funeral at Arlington National Cemetery. And earlier this week, I heard that Col “Bud” Day had also “flown west.” Our Air Force is in mourning. We know we can never replace him, but today, as he is laid to rest, we can honor him.

Many of you know his story. He fought in the South Pacific as a United States Marine in WWII and later became the Air Force’s most highly decorated warrior. He was a Medal of Honor recipient with nearly 70 decorations, which span three wars and four decades.

The medals say a lot about Bud Day, but they cannot capture his unbreakable spirit, the life-saving impact he had on his fellow prisoners during his time in captivity, and the inspiration he has been to countless Americans who’ve been fortunate enough to have heard his story or shaken his hand.

In Vietnam in 1967, Major Day commanded a squadron of F-100s, the “Misty” FACs (Forward Air Controllers). Theirs was one of the most dangerous combat missions of the war, and they suffered high casualties.

On August 26 Day was shot down and captured. Seven days later, despite having a dislocated knee and a badly broken arm, he escaped captivity and evaded the Viet Cong for 10 days. He was recaptured just two miles from a U.S. Marine Corps camp at Con Thien. Getting so close to freedom only to be recaptured would have broken the will of most men. Not Bud Day.

He was eventually moved to a prison camp known as The Plantation, where he was tortured daily, and was later moved to the Hanoi Hilton. Due to his resistance and toughness, Day became an inspiration to other POWs. His roommate at The Plantation, Senator John McCain, wrote, “He was a hard man to kill, and he expected the same from his subordinates. They (his roommates) saved my life–a big debt to repay, obviously. But more than that, Bud showed me how to save my self-respect and my honor, and that is a debt I can never repay.”

In 1973, after more than five and a half years in captivity, he was released. The damage by the enemy permanently scarred his body, but his spirit emerged unbroken. A year later he was back on flight status, he became vice commander of the 33th Tactical Fighter Wing, and retired from active service in 1976.

Col Bud Day spent a great amount of his remaining years sharing his story with our Airmen, young and old. Over the past 22 years, many of those Airmen have experienced multiple combat deployments themselves, leaning on the lessons Col Day passed on to all of us, including his two sons, who proudly serve.

He deeply understood the challenges we face as a military service, “trying to keep America aware of the fact that Airpower has been a substantial reason that we exist as a free nation.”

I spoke with Col Day on the phone a couple of months ago, simply to introduce myself and thank him, on behalf of our entire Air Force, for his remarkable lifetime of service. I hung up feeling incredibly proud to be an Airman, and grateful that my real-life hero was even more impressive than I had imagined.

Future Airmen will honor his name and treasure his story, not because of the awards and buildings named in his honor, but for the legendary character, the unbreakable spirit and the values he demonstrated each and every day.

Airmen today strive to embody the same honor, courage, and integrity shown by Col Day and those who fought beside him. And we honor the sacrifices they made in the spirit of airpower and freedom.

“Push it up” Sir…we’re still following your lead.