Memorial Day 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 in his hands 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 Fire Line. 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.

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. To 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!

Note: I have been honored to give a Memorial Day address on two different occasions. I offer the above for this one of our Nation’s most dad days – remembering our military Vets who did not make it home alive.

Respectfully submitted John R. Stiegelmeyer, Former Captain USAF AO3134278