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News | Sept. 14, 2017

Lessons in loyalty, patriotism mark Air Force’s 70th birthday

By Dianne Ryder

In a Sept. 12 celebration, McNamara Headquarters Complex tenant organizations commemorated the Air Force’s 70th birthday (Sept. 18) with a color guard, the Air Force Brass Quintet, a cake cutting and singing. Defense Threat Reduction Agency leaders hosted the event, reflecting on decades of service members’ sacrifice and selflessness.

Senior Master Sgt. Daniel Pena welcomed distinguished guests, including Defense Logistics Agency Director Army Lt. Gen. Darrell Williams.

Chief Master Sgt. Timothy Horn, DTRA’s command senior enlisted leader, noted that the Air Force story is one of “patriots and pilots.” Some pilots are recognizable, like Brig. Gen. Chuck Yeager, the first pilot to break the sound barrier.

“But our Air Force is also the story of those whose names are less well-known — great airmen of all ranks who believed in air power as a vital military asset — critical to national security,” Horn said.

The dedication of all these individuals made it possible to celebrate the Air Force’s 70th birthday, he said.

“It’s imperative that we take a knee, however briefly, to reflect upon the milestones such as this. We have great airmen here today to help us do just that,” Horn said, as he introduced Air Force Brig. Gen. Gerald Goodfellow, DTRA’s director of Nuclear Enterprise.

Because the Army Signal Corps began soliciting bids for an airplane as early as 1908, Goodfellow pointed to that milestone as the actual inception of the Air Force as an independent service.

The general referred to a favorite book, “Masters of the Air,” which chronicles the history of the American Eighth Air Force members during World War II.

“As we celebrate the Air Force’s 70th birthday, let me tell you a little of their Air Force story — the very beginning of what has become our modern day Air Force,” Goodfellow said.

He relayed some startling facts from the book, which details WWII American bomber crew members’ accounts through interviews, diaries and government documents:

  • Fewer than one out of four Eighth Air Force bomber crew members could expect to complete his tour of duty, which at the time was 25 combat missions;
  • Two thirds of the men could expect to die in combat or be captured by the enemy;
  • Seventeen percent of the men would be seriously wounded, suffer disabling mental breakdowns or die in violent accidents;
  • By the end of the war, the Eighth Air Force would have more fatalities than the entire U.S. Marine Corps, losing 77 percent of their men.

Goodfellow also referred to the brave resilience of the Eighth Air Force bombers during the Schweinfurt raid of 1943.

“ ‘Youthful optimism of defeating Germans they didn’t know became a steely resolve to destroy an evil empire,’ ” Goodfellow quoted. “Of course, we all know how things turned out less than two years later — a victory over evil. For that, all Americans owe these airmen a deep debt of gratitude.”

Goodfellow said he still encourages young officers to reflect on the importance of their service and to approach their time in the Air Force as a vocation rather than a career.

“People submit to their vocations for reasons deeper and higher than utility, and they cling to them all the more fiercely, the more difficulties arise,” he said. “It’s not what they did, but who they are.”

Goodfellow also related some of his own combat experiences and an opportunity he had to attend a reunion of the Eighth Air Force.

“We serve in the Air Force today for the same reasons as those great American airmen who came before us,” he said. “We serve because we have love and loyalty to and for America. We will sacrifice most anything to ensure America’s continued safety and freedom.”

Horn and Goodfellow led the traditional cake-cutting, joined by the youngest and oldest airmen present. The ceremony concluded with the singing of the Air Force song, accompanied by the Air Force Brass Quintet.