WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE — Seven helmets sat atop crosses just outside of the National Museum of United States Air Force Friday in honor of those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
The Memorial Roll Call Ceremony, which took place at Memorial Park, gave officials serving Wright-Patterson Air Force Base the opportunity to reflect on what the Memorial Day holiday means to the United States.
“It makes you realize how lucky we are to live in the United States where our servicemen and women did all they could so that we can have the freedoms we have and enjoy today,” said Col. Elena Oberg, vice commander of the 88th Air Base Wing at WPAFB. “It really hits you.”
The six conventional crosses included helmets from each of the 20th Century conflicts, such as World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, Desert Storm and the Global War on Terror.
According to Alejandro Villalva of the WPAFB Life Sciences Equipment Laboratory, 116,000 Americans were lost during World War I; 405,000 Americans didn’t return home from World War II; 36,000 fell during the Korean War; 58,000 Americans passed during the Vietnam War; 200 Americans were lost during Desert Storm and nearly 6,000 Americans have not returned from fighting the global War on Terror.
The helmet that sat on the battlefield cross, represented by a long-barrel gun, was symbolic of all members of the armed forces who have fallen during service. Villalva said the symbol came about when service members were passing at such a volume that they could not be formerly laid to rest. Armed forces members would be buried where they fell and the area would be symbolized by their weapon, head gear, identification tags and boots.
“For those who have been involved in combat, [the helmets and crosses are] a powerful symbols,” said former Director of the WPAFB Air Force Life Cycle Management Center Lt. Gen. (Ret.) C.D. Moore. “… Since the beginning of our nation, symbolized by those crosses, nearly 1.2 million Americans have made that ultimate sacrifice … that’s who we honor.”
One of those represented service members is Air Force Veteran Catherine Beers’s father, Jack Beers.
“[This event] means that those who have fought and died have not done so in vain, their memory is honored,” Beers said. “When [I was asked] to come [speak at this event], there was no hesitation. I jumped at the chance to tell, not only Daddy’s story, but our family’s.”
Beers, who serves in the public affairs capacity at the Miami Valley Military History Museum, lost her father when she was 8-years-old as he was serving as an air born infantry solider in the Vietnam War. He was awarded the distinguished service cross.
“Daddy had served 17 years in the Army,” she said. “On that day, his platoon was surrounded 10-1 … Daddy believed that going over there kept it from coming over here, referring to communism.”
“Daddy’s medal citations tells about his courage, not who he was,” Beers added. “He was a leader, a patriot, he loved his country, his men and us.”
The Memorial Roll Call Ceremony, which was made possible by the Air Force Research Laboratory, concluded after officials read the 2,800 names of Miami Valley service members of all branches who gave their life while serving the country.
“Our women and men in service do so for a reason,” Beers said. “It is dedication, love of country and like Daddy, going over there to keep it from coming over here. We all joined, whether we went into combat positions or not, knowing that our check could get cashed at anytime. It’s not like anything we do to serve our country. For all of us who have served, it’s ingrained in us and even after we are out of the service – we still find a way to serve.”
Whitney Vickers can be reached by calling her directly at 937-502-4532. For more content online, visit our website or like our Facebook page.