Approximately 50 Airmen assigned to the 62nd Fighter Squadron at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., attended the funeral of former 62nd FS pilot 2nd Lt. Charles E. Carlson at the Indiantown Gap National Cemetery in Annville, Penn., Aug. 4, 2017.
Carlson, then 24 years-old, was killed after his P-47 Thunderbolt was shot down by enemy aircraft near Bonn, Germany, during World War II on Dec. 23, 1944. More than 70 years later his remains were identified and brought home.
During the funeral, the 62nd FS stood in formation while the Pennsylvania Army National Guard performed military funeral honors. Carlson’s family was given the medals awarded to Carlson along with a folded American flag. The 62nd FS performed a missing-man formation fly-over with four F-35A Lightning IIs led by Capt. Kyle Babbitt, a 62nd FS pilot.
“I feel very honored to be able to do this for him,” said Babbitt. “If it had been me on the other side, I would really appreciate this for my family. It’s definitely an honor to take on this responsibility.”
The 62nd FS Airmen would not have been able to travel the more than 2,000 miles to make the fly-over happen had it not been for an early morning social media browse by Lt. Col. Peter Lee, the 62nd FS commander.
“I was killing some time and looked at my Facebook feed and I saw my (squadron) patch,” said Lee. “I was like ‘oh, it must be one of my co-workers.’ I clicked on the link and that’s how I found out. It started with something as simple as a Facebook post … and next thing you know we’re flying four airplanes over and talking with the family.”
Lee decided he would take as many of his Airmen that would fit on a KC-135 Stratotanker flown by the Arizona National Guard.
“While we value people, ideas and then things, I value the people that I have here,” said Lee. “I want to invest in them by letting them go to the physical place, to see with their own eyes the lengths that we will go to in order to support the families of our fallen.”
Lee, who spoke during the ceremony, said he believes that everyone dies twice, once when the heart stops beating and once the last time someone says a person’s name.
“It’s important to keep Lieutenant Carlson’s legacy alive and say his name,” said Lee. “And to be there for his family to show them that this is how the Air Force takes care of their own.”
Several of Carlson’s family members expressed their gratitude to the 62nd FS Airmen for spending the time and resources to attend the funeral.