Commentary

September 13, 2013

Airmen learn about country, commitment, honor at VFW meeting

Tags:
Staff Sgt. N.B.
432nd Wing Public Affairs

Retired Lt. Col. Richard E. French, a former U.S. Air Force fighter pilot, recounts a time in his career when he was wounded, during an interview at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Aug. 20. His most serious injury was during his time in Vietnam when he was struck by ground fire that split his helmet down the center. He received nine stitches to his head and returned to flying operations the following day. He was awarded a Purple Heart.

LAS VEGAS — As a photojournalist, my job is to tell the Air Force story to the world, but sometimes telling it to a smaller crowd is more effective and meaningful.

Recently, I had the privilege to meet some of the Air Force’s behind-the-scenes heroes,; their accomplishments often forgotten over time but not any less important or extraordinary than the accomplishments of Airmen today.

On a street corner in Las Vegas, retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Richard E. French relaxes with his wife and other retirees at the local Veterans of Foreign Wars center. He shares a special connection with the strangers around him, most of whom are current or former service members.

French was born in December 1929 in Newberg, Ore. He entered the Air Force in March 1952 and ultimately served more than 27 years on active duty as a fighter pilot.

During his career, he flew 683 combat sorties during the Korean and Vietnam Wars and was hand selected to destroy the Thanh Hoa Bridge during Operation Linebacker I. I learned later this bridge was important because it had survived 873 sorties and cost the U.S. 11 aircraft.

As I sat there and listened to his enthusiasm and passion for the stories he shared, I realized these interactions are a necessary part of our Air Force heritage. After all, if we don’t take the time to remember the places we have been, we’ll surely be doomed in the places we will go.

French was wounded twice during his career. He recalls his most serious injury was during his time in Vietnam when he was struck by ground fire that split his helmet down the center, glancing off his head. He received nine stitches and returned to flying operations the following day. He was awarded a Purple Heart.

French received more than 50 decorations throughout his career including the Silver Star Medal, two Distinguished Flying Crosses and 23 Air Medals.

He retired in 1974 and said, “I am truly honored to have had this opportunity, to know that the people I worked with and know that they appreciated the things that I did. It makes this all worth it, and I thank the Air Force for allowing me the opportunities to do the things that I did.”

As he continued on with his many accomplishments and back stories, I paused to look around the room.

I saw the faces of Airmen and NCOs alike lit with curiosity and amazement that one person was able to accomplish so much.

His wife later thanked us for letting him tell his story to someone who could truly appreciate and understand them as they were. I was honored to have had this opportunity.

I was able to walk away from the experience with a deeper sense of country, commitment and honor for myself, my family and the USAF.

My advice to any service member, or person for that matter, is you never know what you might learn until you ask. Value those who came before you because when they go their experiences go with them.




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 

Never underestimate your impact

INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey — Every day I visit our great Airmen and every day I come across more than one that underestimates their impact to the mission. There’s the one-stripe maintainer, “just repaneling an aircraft,” for the next day’s flight, or the young personalist, “just issuing another identification card,” or the defender, “just guarding...
 
 

Challenge yourself: Never give up, never quit

FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. — I once read that newly created cells in our bodies do one of two things: they either begin to decay or they become more vital. These cells choose their path based on what we demand of them. If we are sedentary, our brains signal our cells to decay; but...
 
 

From Ethiopia to America: An Airman’s story

NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. — Mintesnot Woldetsadik was filled with wonderment as he took his first steps on American soil. He looked all around him in a confused daze until finally he settled his view on a blanketed-white landscape. Cupping his hand, he hunched over and scooped up the cold unfamiliar substance and brought...
 

 

Avoid ‘bird-dogging’

JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. — Scams aimed at taking advantage of U.S. military members are nothing new; however, one such scam, “bird-dogging,” has re-emerged as a threat to service members’ financial security. Bird-dogging refers to the act of soliciting sales for a third party and is illegal both on and off base. One example occurs...
 
 

A true, true hero

COLUMBUS AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. — “Man, it is way too hot to be out here.” That was the only thought in my mind as I stood in the grass of the Mississippi Veterans Memorial Cemetery in full honor guard ceremonial uniform and holding my rifle, waiting for the family to arrive. Recently, I had...
 
 
U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Nancy Falcon

From D-Day to today: Spiritual health remains key

U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Nancy Falcon Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Lance Hoggatt speaks with Joint Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training students at Vance Air Force Base, Okla., April 8, 2015 VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. —...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>