Today, the last Monday in May, is Memorial Day, the day America honors (or is supposed to honor) those who have died in military service to their country.
Every year I attend the Memorial Day ceremony at the Southern Arizona Veterans Memorial Cemetery near my home. I don’t do anything other than attend, but besides being physically present, I attend to the memory of the friends I have lost during my, and their, service:
- Chris Claudio. Two years ahead of me at the University of Colorado, we were both in the Air Force ROTC cadet corps there. Chris became a pilot and died in a training accident while flying an OV-10 aircraft in Germany.
- Joe Schewe. Joe was one of my classmates at Undergraduate Pilot Training at Vance Air Force Base in Oklahoma. Joe graduated (while I did not) and returned to Vance as a T-38 instructor pilot, where he was killed in a training accident.
- The crew of Yukla 27, an E-3 AWACS aircraft. The 24 members of this crew were killed when their jet crashed shortly after takeoff on a training mission from Elmendorf AFB, Alaska, after it hit a flock of geese in late September 1994. Larry DeFrancesco had been a member of my squadron in Oklahoma before being reassigned to Alaska. One of the navigators on the jet had flown for me when I was the AWACS Detachment Commander in Panama in June of that year.
- Pete DeMaster. I’ve written about Pete before. He was one of my first instructors when I got to Tinker AFB in Oklahoma. He died in the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995.
None of these men died in combat, yet all died in service to America. Most, you might have noticed, died in training. Combat is, of course, a deadly dangerous business. So can training be. I was involved in my own share of in-flight emergency situations, or situations that could have turned deadly. On one mission, my crew and I proved that the jet we’d been ordered to fly was dangerous, even when our maintenance personnel told us it was safe, just because of a difference between two minimum-required-equipment lists. We survived, but seven other jets were grounded until they could be fixed because of what we discovered and proved.
There are few civilian jobs that can compare to the risks military personnel take every day. Most days, everything works out just fine. Some days, however, they do not.
Memorial Day is not just about those who died in service, however. It’s also about those who served before us and have passed on. Including these two.