Memories of...Memorials

Jim Carlson


I attended the USAFA Cemetery Memorial Pavilion Dedication and Groundbreaking. Other '75ers with me were: Leon Smith-Harrison, Dan Chapman, and Jon Turner's widow Diane. The day was picture perfect. The weather was fantastic, the sky was deep blue with a few white clouds, and the grounds were verdant and immaculate. It was hard to feel too somber on such a day and such an event. It was a day when I, more than ever, wanted to fly–my spirit at least took flight. Leon, Dan, and I visited each of our classmates (me for the first time ever) and said hello to the 16+1 guys from '75 resting there. Among us three, we were able to verbalize a connection with each of our fallen, and to relate a fond memory or story as we stood before their graves. In one of the photos, you will see the shadows we cast over one classmate's memorial plaque. These of course cannot compare to the long unforgettable shadows of comradeship and friendship they each have cast over our own lives. Bill Linn is also memorialized there, but there's no gravesite (he's the 17th deceased classmate). (September 2006)

Joe Bryant

Before the ball game at the (30th) reunion, we met at the cemetery and shared memories around the grave of Ray Johnson. Rod Kallman (Ray's roommate) suggested this. It was a good time of remembrance of Ray and to spend time together, too. I learned one very important thing at the reunion: it was just good to be back there with everyone again. Some of us in our squadron didn't necessarily spend that much time with each other back then – seems we had our little groups – or maybe we didn't even like every one of our classmates in the squadron very much for some reason. But for me, after all those years, any disagreements or whatever had just evaporated. It was just good to be there and to remember the experience that we had "back in the day." I think maybe being at the cemetery that Saturday morning to honor a fallen classmate sort of solidified all that in my mind. Maybe the other squadrons already do something like we did – I don't know. But, I think it would be a very worthwhile part of every reunion for individual squadrons to gather informally and do that at some point during the weekend as a way of honoring those GNBF, and also to maybe solidify the bond with those present. I really enjoyed the memorial ceremony at the chapel, and meeting in small squadron groups at the cemetery would in no way replace that, but for me those few minutes there on Saturday morning were one of the highlights of the weekend. (September 2006)

Ed Sienkiewicz

Just after our 30th back last Sep, I stopped by the USAFA Cemetery (I had virtually never been there before) and after visiting classmate John Steward's plot, visited each of our deceased classmates (plots) who are buried there. I felt good after doing this "labor of love”. Many years ago (back in the late 1980s), when I was stationed at Hanscom AFB, MA (and armed with a faded Dec 1976 obit clipping from one of the Boston newspapers, from when I was stationed at Pease AFB, NH, back in the latter 1970s – and, by chance, happened to see the obit of one of our classmates), I visited the Boston area cemetery and plot of our first deceased classmate graduate, Larry Ridge, who was from the greater Boston area and died on 10 Dec 1976 in an auto accident near Mesa, AZ. When I contacted his family (who still lived in the area), they were absolutely tickled that a person unknown to them (but a fellow USAFA '75er) took the time to visit their son and brother. That certainly made my day. (September 2006)

Kevin Donovan

In the early and mid ‘70s, the Doolittle goblets dominated the massive Arnold Hall display case at the US Air Force Academy. It wasn’t close – certainly in size and beauty, but here in front of us was living, breathing history. Those named on the upright goblets lived somewhere among us right now. For me and countless other cadets who stopped by many times during our four years to ponder this exhibit, the Doolittle Raiders were mythical and yet, through this display, a corporeal link to the aviation heritage that underpinned our Academy existence. We breathed planet Earth’s air with these legends who themselves were forever linked to one another in a private sanctuary of heroic adventure.

And now we are down to one. Staff Sergeant David Thatcher died on June 22nd in Missoula, Montana, not far from where I now live. The loan survivor, Lieutenant Colonel Dick Cole, builder of the portable goblet display case, has now seen all of the Raiders pass in review.

Sergeant Thatcher was tail gunner on the B-25 Ruptured Duck. His story has been told many times. When I heard of his death in the local newspaper, I knew I would go to his funeral; indeed, I yearned to attend, to be transported back to my days at the Air Force Academy and to 1942.

As one would expect, Sergeant Thatcher’s funeral was hugely attended. Attuned to and accepting of his war hero status, the family nevertheless spoke of a quiet, loving man, a simple Montana mailman in his post-war years. Others recalled the Tokyo raid for us, detailing David’s heroism in helping save his crew. Graveside, a B-1 roared overhead, shot like an arrow across the sky. And then came the B-25, its deep-throated engines growling and angry. It circled the throng below in low passes, like an eagle desperate to frighten off scavengers surrounding a chick just fallen from the nest. Conceding her helplessness, the B-25 circled ever higher, finally disappearing toward the white-capped mountains.

And there stood frail, 100 year-old Dick Cole, perhaps America’s greatest living airman, saluting the casket of his last brother. Did he hope, did he dream, that his would be the last upright goblet in his portable display case? I wanted to tell him how he and his crewmates had captured the imagination of thousands of young cadets and taught us about duty and commitment to each other.

These days, I think quite a bit about the Academy and my classmates. Our crucible pales in comparison to the Doolittle Raid, but we are bonded nevertheless. I don’t often wear my Academy ring, but this day I did so proudly. Throughout today’s ceremonies honoring Sergeant Thatcher, I carried my copy of Contrails in hopes of strengthening my link to our heritage and to all of you. It worked. (27 June 2016)

Mark Lenci

Today is Veterans Day in the United States. Some of you are veterans.To some of you, a “veteran” may be an abstract concept. I would like to ask for 10 minutes of your time today to make this day more real, more personal. You know me. I am but one of millions of veterans, and today I would like to share a part of my story as “your veteran” with you as but one humble representative of those millions of veterans. 

This story starts in February 1942. The situation was bleak for the allies, particularly in the Pacific. The US Pacific Fleet had been crippled at Pearl Harbor 3 months earlier. A seemingly unstoppable Japanese wave was taking country after country along the western Pacific rim in an advance toward Australia. General MacArthur was cut off and US forces were about to surrender in the Philippines. By mid-February, the Japanese invasion fleet was staging to take Java. The Japanese bombed Darwin, Australia. The allied fleet knew that there were no reinforcements coming. They were to hold the line on the other side of the world while allies began to rebuild their military forces. The goal was to prevent the invasion of Australia. The remnants of the allied Pacific fleets – Dutch, British, US, Australian – sent a force of 5 cruisers against a significantly superior Japanese naval and air forces. The ensuing battle became known as the Battle of the Java Sea. Of the allied capital ships, only the heavy cruiser USS Houston and the Australian light cruiser HMAS Perth survived.

Houston and Perth refueled and attempted a night escape from the Java Sea through the strait between Java and Sumatra (Sunda Strait). Radar was a new technology and neither were equipped. The cruisers ran into the full Japanese invasion fleet in the middle of the night. Although greatly outnumbered, they did not retreat. They engaged in a night long gun battle with the invasion fleet. Both Houston and Perth were sunk with great loss of life. Only 368 of the over 1,000 Houston crewman survived. The few survivors were captured, taken to Singapore to be combined with the captured British garrison. They spent the war on construction projects in southeast Asia, among them the bridge over the River Kwai – made famous by a movie of that name.

There was no way in 1942 for the United State to know what happened to Houston and Perth. Houston was “overdue and presumed lost”. In March and April of 1942, the people of the city of Houston, Texas, raised the money from private donations to build a new cruiser, USS Houston CL-81, almost unbelievable today.

In May 1942, President Roosevelt sent the following message to the people of the city of Houston: “Our enemies have given us a chance to prove there will be another USS Houston, and yet another USS Houston, if that should become necessary, yet still another USS Houston, as long as American ideals are in jeopardy.”

Over 50 years later, in 1994, I was the “yet another USS Houston”. I took my USS Houston on a voyage retracing the last voyage of our predecessor. The voyage started in Darwin, Australia where the outpouring of affection from the Australians was amazing. They remembered the US Submarine Force (operating out of Darwin and northern Australia) as the only combat force holding the line against the Japanese in those dark days of 1942. In 5 days in Darwin, my crew could spend no money because of the incredible Aussie hospitality. The “dial a sailor” hotline could not keep up with the requests to invite my sailors home to spend time with Australian families. Survivors of the Australian cruiser Perth visited us and gave us items to put on the sea when we reached the location of the wrecks of USS Houston CA-30 and HMAS Perth. 

I positioned my USS Houston directly over the wreck of the cruiser Houston. I and my crew are hard pressed to describe how we felt. Below me was the resting place of my predecessor, Captain Rook of the cruiser Houston, and over 700 of his crew. Capt Rook was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously. Now over 50 years later, we returned to make good President Roosevelt’s promise of “ yet another USS Houston”. Several of the survivors had asked they be buried with their shipmates. We carried out their request as the sun set and fired a salute. I truly felt I was part of something much greater than our ship. I was part of a line starting with John Paul Jones. A line that fought on wooden decks, and steel decks, in the air, and now underwater. A line that extends into the future as long as there is an America. The words “duty before self” never struck home more. I felt inadequate as we tried to honor those who went before us, the veterans... (Complete Entry HERE). (11 November 2016)

Bill Murray

Extract from Bill's 40th Reunion Memorial Address, 9 October 2015:

Fellow 1975 Air Force Academy Graduates and relatives and friends of our fallen classmates, welcome to our Memorial Service. For me, this is the most significant, the most moving, the most meaningful, and the most solemn event I will attend this weekend for many reasons. It is the singular event that separates our reunion from most other college reunions. It is one of the primary reasons I flew my children and grandchildren out here this weekend...I wanted them to experience first-hand the camaraderie of our class and the majestic beauty of Colorado. Because of this, it is a great honor for me to stand before you this day and hold high those who have gone before us. The committee who asked me to say a few words today also asked me to keep my remarks to about 7 minutes, so this will not be a long sermon...

Today I’m here to honor our fallen classmates and encourage the family and friends left behind. Jesus said, “No man has greater love than this...that he lay down his life for his friends.” I want to encourage you to finish strong, because whether we want to admit it or not, we are in the 4th Quarter of Life. All of us have separated from the military now, but I would hasten to remind you that we took our Commissioning Oath of Office for life, not only for our length of service. Think positively about the time you have remaining on this earth and touch those that God has put in your path. Stay connected to your classmates and to the families of those who have fallen.

Most of you know that I am a communicator and love to stay in touch with people. But I regret to say that I have lost touch with Cindy McCarth [since found], the wife of our only squadron loss, Capt Dave McCarthy, who died in an F-15 accident at Luke AFB in 1986. Somehow through PCS moves and email address changes, I lost touch with Cindy. That’s sad to me, because she will always be a part of our class and our squadron. Don’t let that happen to you. Make it a priority that in the chaos of life you stay in touch with the family and friends of our class. I am so thankful for those in our class who put together a great website, a network of emails and addresses so we can do this. The Class of '75 probably has better communication than most classes at the Academy because of their efforts. Thank you for doing that for us...

Some of you might have seen the video of Lou Holtz this year, the famous football coach at Notre Dame. He gave a graduation address to a small Catholic University saying to keep things simple. If you haven’t heard this graduation message, take the time to Google it! It is one of the most inspirational speeches I’ve ever heard. In 17 minutes he says many profound things. Most of all, he encourages us to keep things simple. He points out there are only 7 colors in the rainbow but look what Michael Angelo did with these 7 colors. He points out there are only 7 notes on a musical scale, but look what Beethoven did with those 7 notes!

Looking back on his very successful life with 20/20 hindsight and great wisdom, he said that there are only 4 things you really need in life: you need something to do, you need someone to love, you need someone to believe in, and you need something to hope for...And I would tell you that these are the same things you need in the 4th Quarter of life, because we are never promised tomorrow. He followed those 4 principles with 3 rules for life: Do what’s right because that builds trust. Do everything to the best of your ability in the time allotted, and show people that you care...

In your own personal walk of faith in the 4th Quarter, I encourage you to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, have faith, love your family and stay in touch with good friends. And God will do his part as it says in the song, “On Eagle’s Wings”:
“And He will raise you up on Eagle’s Wings, Bear you on the breath of dawn, Make you to shine like the sun, And hold you in the palm of His hand.”

God Bless all those associated with the of Class of 1975, and I pray The Lord will keep His divine hand of protection on us, because we are mere mortals and we need His strength and leadership as we play out the last Quarter of our lives... (Extract from 40th Reunion Memorial Address, 9 October 2015)



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40th Reunion Memorial Service



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