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Letter to the Editor: Living in the Present; remembering the past II


Memorial day 2021

 

It has been my honor and privilege to have been asked to speak before certain groups on Memorial Day – 2008, 2011, 2013. I recently looked up these documents stored on my computer.  Each talk was slightly different, but the message was identical – remember the fallen.  I am now in my December and know the end will come, but the day and hour will remain uncertain.  It now seems more important to leave a bit of history behind.  Our Nation has been in so much turmoil since the 2008 election, but even now with a new Commander in Chief in Office, it seems worse than ever.  I remember well the turmoil of the sixties – Black Panthers, The Weatherman, and other groups either active terrorist groups or just groups protesting the Vietnam War – In the Air Force we called this war SEA or the Southeast Asia Theater.  Many Officers and Enlisted were called to duty for a one-year tour.  Many were based In-County (Vietnam) others in Thailand, Guam, Okinawa, Philippines, South Korea.  One of the TDY operations our tanker fleet deployed to was called “Young Tiger”.  Usually, this was only a two-month Tour we flew refueling missions or supported aircraft deployed to the formerly listed locations, and at the end of the tour, we returned to our SAC bases and resumed our basic duty of Nuclear Alert.  Following is a portion of the contents of the speeches I would give – Thus:

2008--This is an example of the hand salute.  --- It is a sign of courtesy and respect for those appointed over you as well as those subordinate to you.  --- This for lack of a better term is an example of the “reluctant salute” – given as a sign of respect to those who have fallen.  The right arm and hand is brought up to two inches above the right eye, the hand is flat, not showing individual fingers or thumb.  The hand salute is brought up slowly reluctantly and is executed in the same way with the thumb on the seam of one's trousers.  It is normally given over the flag-draped coffin of a fallen soldier or airman.

2011--On Memorial Day we honor those who have fallen in Combat and also those who have died training for War.  Every Veteran has memories; the following are a few of mine. Early in my Air Force Career then as a new 2nd Lt. I would learn how serious this military endeavor would be.  My Commander-in-Chief, President Kennedy, would be killed in the line of duty, followed in days by an Air Defense Command F-104 crashing in front of my Pilot Trng class as we engaged in Physical Trng.  Two aircraft of his flight were on the ground after landing and were narrowly missed by the crashing F-104.  Later after our class had advanced to the T-38 Talon (a supersonic trainer) A Student and his Instructor would crash probably due to instrument failure followed by spatial disorientation.  Neither pilot survived.  After winning my wings I would be assigned to Strategic Air Command, KC-135 aircraft, and would be based at Walker AFB, New Mexico.  I checked in prior to Advanced Flight School to be at Castle AFB, California and was introduced to my sponsor a 135 Copilot.  Two months later now a qualified 135 Copilot, I learned his crew had recently crashed on a night Trng mission.  For some reason, they contacted the ground while still in controlled flight.  The aircraft hit the ground at an estimated 200 knots. then bounced and exploded killing all on board.  There were others who died while training for the nuclear war we prayed would not come.

2013-- Today we honor those who have fallen in Combat and also those who have died training for War.  And these two names come to my mind.  One – a Pilot Training Classmate, George I. Mims, a graduate of Clemson University, whose aircraft was hit by a SAM missile over Hanoi, North Vietnam on his first or second mission.  George was carried on our promotion list until the grade of Captain.  He was then declared KIA.  The second is Delbert Peterson, a graduate of Iowa State University, first listed as Missing in Action and then later declared Killed in Action.  He was last seen disappearing into the jungle with an M-16 rifle after his aircraft had been disabled by enemy ground fire.  I also wish to remember a KC-135 crew that in effect may have died in my place.  Our crew was assigned a refueling mission out of our base in Thailand to refuel F-105 fighter/bomber aircraft bound for somewhere across the Hostile FireLine.  The aircraft that the fated crew was assigned was not maintenance ready, so they swapped to our aircraft.  We would then be assigned theirs.  While we were boarding transport for our pre-mission briefing we heard an explosion.  To me, it sounded like a “hard afterburner light” of an aircraft like an F-100. Then we saw a thick cloud of black smoke coming from the airfield.  We knew then, that an aircraft had crashed.  It turned out to be the aircraft we would have flown that day.  Base personnel swept the runway of any aircraft parts, reopened the runway, and the War went on.  When it was our turn for takeoff we flew through his smoke and could feel our aircraft rise as it went through the thermal caused by the heat of the fire.  This was a very sobering moment.  Although I did not know this crew by name I remembered their faces, and for many years in the darkness of my sleep, I would see their faces in my mind’s eye.  The most astonishing thing is they never got any older in my vision.  They will stay forever young.

2011--- The War in Vietnam would continue to escalate; the tanker fleet would do their part in operation “Young Tiger”.  The tanker fleet would continue their role as a nuclear alert force being on duty 24/7, with the “Young Tiger” operation as a temporary duty assignment.  Air Force Fighter/Bombers could not operate without the extended range the tanker fleet could offer.  Generally, they would receive fuel before entering the “Package” and then receive a top off after the mission – returning to base.  Our airplanes were always a welcome sight to the Fighter Pilots.  Many times they came to us with battle damage barely able to sustain controlled flight.  We lost over 900 fighters in that conflict.  Too many pilots were KIA, MIA, or captured and imprisoned.  Many others were rescued by the helicopters of the Search and Rescue Service (3000 helicopters were also lost).  While based at Utapo RTAFB one of our tankers crashed ending 25,000 accident-free flying hours.  In Taiwan, one of our crews hit a mountain.  While in the States a vertical stabilizer failed while the aircraft was practicing an emergency descent.  Structural failures were becoming more frequent in our aging fleet.  “Fate is the Hunter.”

2013--- This was not the first time I came close to death and it would not be the last.  I do want to emphasize I was not a hero nor was I this Nation’s most resourceful Officer.  On the contrary, I was just an ordinary air soldier trying hard to do the job and wishing – just to be home with my wife and my children.  My wife, Sharon, did not wear the uniform, but she served also.  Most of my temporary duty assignments came with little advance notice, and each time I left her she was in tears.  But, the best time was when I came home to embrace her and our children once again.  Remember the members of our Armed Forces and keep them and their families in your thoughts and prayers.  For our fallen-- Eternal Rest Grant Them O Lord and Let Perpetual Light Shine Upon Them, - AMEN   Thank You for your kind attention, God Bless You, God Bless our Armed Forces, and God Bless America!  

The above are just a few sentences of the talks I gave.  Our Air Forces have been in constant combat since 1991.  Our guys and now our fighting women are fighting these wars with aircraft, in some cases, more than 40 years old (F-16 & F-15).  I graduated from Pilot Trng some 47(now 57yrs.) years ago.  The KC-135, B-52, T-38 that were around then are still in inventory.  The re-equip and re-build that will be necessary will not come cheaply or easily.  Being unprepared today is just too costly to contemplate.

We now have 5th gen. fighters in inventory – F-22 and F-35, but we still have the KC-135 and B-52.  Grandchildren of former pilots are now flying these aircraft in combat.  These aircraft have been rebuilt, re-engined, radars upgraded as well as armament, and avionics a testament to the superb engineering of Lockheed, Boeing, and others

We have different adversaries now than when I was on active duty,  but make no mistake Iran, Russia, China, ISIS, and the Taliban wish only for our demise.  The question remains, will our Republic survive or will the Marxist or terrorist forces now within our own borders and without defeat us??

Our daily newspaper – the Times in its Memorial Day issue – will list on its interior pages the names of all Veterans who have served in the Armed Forces – all from Benton County.   I know I am grateful for their service; if you see American Legion or VFW or AMVETS hat or other veteran wear give a wave or a thank you. 

Where tillage begins, other arts follow.

"Freedom is lost gradually from uninterested, uninformed, and uninvolved people."  
-Thomas Jefferson

Regards,

John Stiegelmeyer

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David Boddicker May 18, 2021, 11:30 am John, I take real umbrage with this paragraph from your opinion piece. We have different adversaries now than when I was on active duty, but make no mistake Iran, Russia, China, ISIS, and the Taliban wish only for our demise. The question remains, will our Republic survive or will the Marxist or terrorist forces now within our own borders and without defeat us?? You just think the Republican party has all the answers? I suppose you think the Trump supporters that stormed the Congress were patriots? The were nothing more that domestic terrorist thugs. I am tired of the right saying it was peaceful and Trump continues to lie about the election being stolen. The only thing stolen is people's common sense that believe this nonsense. You served this country and so did I, and I applaud you for that, but you thinking that America being overrun by Marxists is a bit extreme. So you might not like Biden, get over it, he is President. Trump lost and that is the end of it. We will see if he can win again as long as he stays out of prison. Trying to rewrite history that the 2020 election was stolen is complete nonsense. Had there been any proof of election fraud the courts would have pounced and that did not happen. So get over it.
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