A Legacy of Valor

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas - -- My favorite line from the Air Force creed is "I am faithful to a proud heritage, a tradition of honor, and a legacy of valor".

Thirteen Former Prisoners of War represented that legacy of valor while sitting in a banquet room at the Big Spring Country Club last Friday, where I was honored to be the guest speaker for this group of American heroes.

The FPOW banquet is held annually in Big Spring, Texas and is hosted by the West Texas Veterans Administration. I was joined by eight Airmen, six Marines, and the Joint Color Guard that paid special tribute to these national treasures with the humble class and professionalism you would expect of Goodfellow Air Force Base warriors.

Did you know that only about 6% of the American Veterans of World War II are still alive today? Or that we are losing them at a rate of about 740 per day? That is why it was an incredible honor to talk to 10 gentlemen who survived unbelievable conditions in World War II prison camps, two who survived POW camps in Vietnam, and one who was liberated from a Korean prison camp. Their stories would have been much more worthy of a keynote address than mine.

For example, Tech. Sgt. Arnold Kauffman, a B-17 Flying Fortress gunner who parachuted to safety after his aircraft was hit with anti-aircraft artillery fire en-route to a German plane manufacturing plant in Poland.

Another great man with an incredible story was Sgt. Dean Leyerly, a B-17 radio operator who survived a crash landing in Germany after his aircraft was shot down by German anti-aircraft fire on his eighth mission over German airspace. I could have listened to all of their stories all afternoon!

My message to these patriots was simple: The Intelligence, Surveillance , and Reconnaissance and Firefighter training accomplished at Goodfellow Air Force Base serves to carry on the legacy of valor and expectation of excellence that they established in WWII, Vietnam and Korea.

The greatest generation gave us the American Spirit, and that spirit is alive and well in the Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, and Airmen training at Goodfellow, preparing to be the next generation of warriors who will find, fix, target, track, and engage the next Osama Bin Laden.

The path they paved through action and sacrifice in places like Czechoslovakia, Germany, North Africa, Japan and the Philippines, Vietnam and Laos, and Korea has enabled those of us who follow to succeed today in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

My challenge to those of you reading this commentary is also simple: In the days leading up to Veteran's Day on November 11th, find a way to give tribute to those who fought and died in past wars, and laid the groundwork for the military of today. Join the Veteran's Day Parade, visit a VA hospital, or simply thank a veteran and shake their hand. Giving them five minutes to tell their story will mean the world to them, and I promise it will light a fire of pride in the military service that you have joined.