Tag Archives: veteran

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.

Continue reading HIStory’s affect on me

‘You always get back up’

By Staff Sgt. David Salanitri
Airman Magazine

Retired Master Sgt. Tony Anderson spends time on the beach
Retired Master Sgt. Tony Anderson has taken part in the Navarre Beach Surf Warrior program for three years. Anderson, a wounded warrior, believes spending time on the water is the best therapy for him. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. David Salanitri)

As he sinks his toes into the white sand, the familiar saltwater air fills retired Master Sgt. Tony Anderson’s nose.

The former special operations Airman’s chest expands as he draws in a deep, deliberate breath, attempting to capture some sort of relaxation in the air. Exhaling, he releases his breath forcefully, pushing out any anxiety or inner demons.

The crashing Florida Gulf Coast waves echoing in his ear is a comforting sound he’s heard since childhood, growing up less than 12 miles away in Milton, Fla. They also serve as a reminder that his life hasn’t always been a calm, peaceful existence. Continue reading ‘You always get back up’

Military memories

By Senior Airman Sarah Hall-Kirchner
375th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

Twenty-five B-24 Liberators were lost during his last mission during World War II.

His airplane had been among those that went down when his crew had to ditch their plane over the North Sea. Luckily, he was rescued from the waters by an English air-sea rescue ship.

Dale VanBlair sat and told me about his experiences during the war and beyond in a busy restaurant on his 93rd birthday.

Continue reading Military memories

Major General Flowers: An inspiration for us all, July 19, 2012

By Staff Sgt. Amanda Dick
Air Force Public Affairs Agency

I recently had the opportunity to interview a truly inspirational veteran, retired Maj. Gen. Alfred Flowers, who served just a little more than 46 years and retired in January 2012. Only a fraction of the information would go into a piece about him for Pioneers in Blue, but I felt it was a waste not to tell the masses what he had to say.

From the moment the Public Affairs team entered his house, he lent an air of warmth and wisdom. Before I even interviewed him, I knew I would be sharing his story. So, here I am writing a blog about this experience.

Flowers grew up in what he calls a “very impoverished” upbringing. “I’m a product of teenage parents. One was 16 and one was 17 when I was born; they kind of gave me to my grandparents to raise, who were very socially, economically and environmentally impoverished.”

He went on to explain his grandfather was a share cropper who one year only made $300 – some years they had nothing at all. He knew he wouldn’t be able to afford college but wanted to rise out of his situation. The Air Force gave him this opportunity, as well as providing a way to earn four degrees.

“I can’t be more thankful and more blessed for that opportunity. My message to anybody who’s thinking about the military and having second thoughts, if you don’t have another plan, [the military] is the way out of any situation. You can always rise above your situation – it just takes perseverance. You’ve got to perform, have a good positive attitude and stay with it.”

Flowers’ second assignment in the Air Force was to Da Nang, Vietnam, during the Vietnam Conflict. “I was there as a 19 year old who served in all of the Tet Offensives of 1968. My first few months in Vietnam were unlike anything I’ve ever experienced, unlike anything I could imagine.”

As he sat there answering my question about his time in Vietnam, his eyes teared up.

“I had the opportunity – actually it was part of my job – to work on air and mobility teams. What we did in the evenings or early morning, we’d go out into the jungles and haul out dead bodies, wounded bodies, prisoners who had been captured. I won’t go into it, because I get very emotional about it. The number of young Americans we have moved, who I’ve assisted in moving, in transfer cases and body bags – I will never forget!”

Serving in both the enlisted and officer corps, Flowers had many accomplishments during his years of service – you can see them throughout his office. One accomplishment fulfilled a dream of his – when he was in charge of the Air Force’s budget as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Budget, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Financial Management and Comptroller.

Another accomplishment resulted in a display case sitting in the corner of his office that included a military training instructor hat and rope he received from the MTI training corps.

“There’s another opportunity I had that I thought was very important and right up at the top of all of my experiences. It was as commander of 2nd Air Force – the numbered Air Force responsible for training Airmen.”

He said when he first arrived at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., his focus was on the enlisted force – how they were doing and what was being done to make Airmen. He was disheartened when he was briefed on the MTI force and found they were 58 to 59 percent manned.

“I took on an effort to improve the manning in the military training instructor force, and when I left 2nd Air Force, they were manned at about 98 percent. I am very proud of that. I think we did some good.”

Flowers also values his enlisted heritage, saying it helped him as an officer to understand how the enlisted force works. “That experience will make you a better person, will make you a better officer and will make you a better Airman. I’m very proud of that service.”

His service is what he hopes to leave as his legacy to the thousands of Airmen he crossed paths with.

“I’ve always believed the job of every supervisor and every leader was to make sure the folks you lead, mentor and train reach their fullest potential. It’s never been about me as a leader. What I want someone to say about me when they write my obituary and plant me in Ft. Sam National Cemetery in Texas is ‘there are thousands of officers, Airmen, NCOs and civilians serving who Al Flowers touched during his 46 years, 5 months and 24 days of service.’

It’s never been about me; it’s always about service and others. None of us are smart enough, none of us are bright enough and none of us are good enough to make ourselves successful; it’s other people who make us successful. I believe if you lead with integrity, do the right thing – I call it leading with heart – and have humility, enthusiasm, attitude and trust; if you focus on those four things and lead with heart, you’d be amazed at how successful the organizations you lead will be, how successful the folks will make us as individuals.”

As he sat there in his civilian attire, Flowers reflected on what being an Air Force veteran meant to him and how civilian clothes were now his uniform.

“I believe at some point we need to make the transition, once we retire. That uniform we wore proudly all the years we wore it and served in it. But, we have to move on. This is my uniform now – red, white and blue with the American flag and the Air Force symbol on the lapel, on the left side.”

Flowers wishes he could have stayed in for 56 years serving in the military branch he loves.

“I loved every day of what I did. Believe it or not, I would go to bed at night thinking about the difference I could make the next day and what opportunities and challenges [would be presented] that would allow me the opportunity to make a difference in our Air Force or an Airman’s life. I don’t know how many lives I’ve touched, I don’t know how many I’ve changed, I don’t know how many I may have saved, but I know that every one of them were important.”

Well, sir, you have definitely touched my life! I will keep the sound bite from the interview I had with you and play it anytime I get discouraged or lose sight of the path I’m on to reaffirm just why I want to serve my country in the Air Force. My hat is off to you Major General Flowers – thank you for your 46 years of service!

Maj. Gen. (ret) Alfred Flowers

Photo 1: Maj. Gen. (ret) Alfred Flowers served from August 1965 to January 2012, serving in both the enlisted and officer corps. (Air Force photo)

Photo 2: Maj. Gen. Alfred Flowers, U.S. Air Force retired, poses for a portrait during an interview for Pioneers in Blue, July 16, 2012, San Antonio, TX. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Vernon Young Jr.)

Photo 3: Maj. Gen. Alfred Flowers, U.S. Air Force retired, admires his Order of the Sword, July 16, 2012, San Antonio, TX. The sword was presented by the enlisted force of Air Education and Training Command April 6, 2012. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Vernon Young Jr.)

Our veterans, my heroes

By Col. George Farfour
90th Missile Wing vice commander

As we approach Nov. 11, Veterans Day, I am reminded more readily that those of us wearing the uniform have a special bond with those who have worn the uniform — our veterans. We share an identity that transcends any differences we may have. We unite in a duty to serve and sacrifice for our great nation, to ensure liberty and freedom continues to have a solid foundation in America as the beacon of hope for the world. I submit for your consideration the story below which occurred earlier in my career. Remembering this story helps frame for me, on a personal level, our obligation to our veterans. I hope it does for you as well.

After an uneventful visit to the base barber shop, I thought I would kill some time in what had promised to be an uneventful day. I decided to visit the clothing sales store — not to buy anything, but just to browse around.

Upon entering, I circled around toward the book section to see what was new. As I picked up a copy of some book, I noticed out of the corner of my eye an older gentleman, perhaps 70, struggling to pick out some merchandise. I paid closer attention and saw he was having trouble reading the tags.

Not wanting to appear patronizing, I just watched a while, not offering any assistance. As time progressed and he made no headway in his search, I felt something inside tell me to help. Maybe it was the small Purple Heart pin on his hat that motivated me, I really don’t know. Slowly, I moved toward him and asked if I could help him find something.

I was relieved when he turned and pleasantly said, “Yes, I can’t seem to find the American Defense Service Medal ribbon.” Immediately, I noticed a sheet of paper organized in lists in one hand and ribbons in the other. He was obviously reconstructing his old ribbons and medals for display or wear.

We worked through the list together, talking as we went. He told me how he was finally going to get all of his medals together and put them in a shadow box on the wall for his grandchildren. He had recently received word that he was awarded several medals and decorations from World War II that were forgotten as he was a medic assigned to another unit. The list outlined awards and decorations from World War II and Korea.

As we double checked the list, he explained what each attachment meant. “This arrowhead means an amphibious assault landing — went in on the first wave at Normandy. This Combat Infantryman’s Badge means I was in continuous combat with the enemy for 30 days in a row. We got this one and the Combat Medic’s Badge. This is a new one, the Prisoner of War Medal. Didn’t have that one when I was a POW. This one here, we all got for going to defend South Korea in 1950.”

He didn’t brag, he just stated matter-of-factly what they all meant.

In the course of our conversation, he learned I was an Air Force officer. From then on, he addressed me as “Sir.”

He acted glad that I’d helped, and was even more appreciative when I asked the clerk to run a copy of the “order of precedence” ribbon chart for him to take home. As he walked to the counter to pay for his ribbons and badges, I told him I was honored to help him. He replied, “Thank you, sir.” I thought it was odd for a man of 70 to be calling me sir, but I guess that’s just the type of man he is.

As I walked toward my car, my thoughts turned to the hundreds of injured soldiers he must have helped, the faces he must have looked into and reassured as bombs fell around them and bullets whizzed by, the helplessness he must have felt as he watched someone’s son, husband, father and brother die in his arms. The great exhilarations of battle, the fear of death he faced each day, all swirled in my head. Each time his country called, he was there, ready to do what had to be done. I owe him — we all owe him, and all those like him — for what we have today. This world is not perfect, but it is closer due to their sacrifice.

From the beaches of Normandy to the hills of Korea, he served his country with pride and, from the number of awards, with great distinction. There are many veterans out there with a similar story. Whether it is the jungles of New Guinea, the deserts of Africa, Kuwait or Iraq that their stories highlight, the frigid cold of a Korea or an Afghanistan winter or the rainy season in the Mekong Delta, they all have done this country a great service. When we think of war, we tend to think most often of the dead, but Veterans Day is a day to also remember all those who served their country. Gen. George S. Patton said it best in a post-World War II speech: “Everyone always talks about the heroic dead, well damn it, there’s a lot of heroic alive ones out there, too!”

We see those “heroic alive ones” every day. Perhaps it’s a Veterans of Foreign Wars cap, a sticker on a car, a pin on a suit, a Purple Heart license plate, an American Legion shirt, or maybe it’s your dad, grandpa, brother, sister, uncle or just a close friend. If you see one of these “heroic alive ones,” go over and shake their hand just to say, “Thank you.” It’s a small gesture, but a meaningful one. Their greatest pleasure, or payoff so to speak, is the freedom we still have, due in large part to their sacrifice and example.

I met a hero. And though I haven’t been asked to do what he did, I’m ready, when my country needs me. Meeting him, seeing his example and accomplishments, strengthened my resolve and boosted my pride. Some people say there are no heroes left, our kids can’t look up to anyone. Well, I say they’re blind. Heroes are everywhere … you just have to look.

I met one in clothing sales.