Remember those who served

AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy -- June has special significance for Americans and Europeans. On June 6, 1944, allied forces landed on the beaches of Normandy. As I reflect on the sacrifice "The Greatest Generation" made some 67 years ago, I can't help but think about a young man who I had the distinct honor to receive back home in Colorado after his untimely death during Operation Enduring Freedom.

This day started out much like any other day at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo.,: people going about their normal duties, occasional aircraft landing on the shared runway with Colorado Springs airport, passengers hurrying to their connecting flights. The day was about to turn anything but normal for me.

I went with the wing commander to base operations to greet the family of this fallen Soldier who was on his final trip home from the war. What a somber occasion. His family was gathered inside the cramped office trying as best they could to prepare themselves for the arrival of their hero. There was nothing that could be said that wasn't just another cliché. It seemed so ineffective to a grieving mom, dad and family members.

When given the order, I stood at parade rest on the flightline waiting for the specially equipped aircraft to land with its precious cargo. It was very windy that day, sometimes making it hard to stand steady. When the wind died down one could hear the muffled cries of the parents and family as they stood huddled several yards behind us.

Finally, the plane noisily made its way to its mark right in front of us. As the engines went from a roar to dead silence one could feel the tension rise in the air. The civilian pilot busied himself properly shutting down the plane while the co-pilot went about his business in the back of the plane. After what seemed like hours, the side compartment of the aircraft suddenly cracked opened, the sounds of clanking tools could be heard as the casket was being readied for its appearance. A moment I will always remember was when the pilots slid the cargo forward and the appearance of the Stars and Stripes appeared over the casket. At this point, the family began to groan in pain. The pilots prepared to lower the casket at which point we came to attention and rendered proper honors to this fallen comrade.

As the family made their way up to their young hero, I could not help but think that the last time his mother saw him, he was living a full life probably excited about departing for his deployment, and now, he is still and lifeless in a casket adorned with his nations colors. This was a very sobering moment to say the least that will stay with me the remainder of my life.

This young man gave the ultimate sacrifice just like so many of our country's young men did on the beaches of Normandy. During June, please remember the sacrifices made by all those who served before us who helped fashion a safer world.

Thanks so much for all you do here at Aviano Air Base, Italy, making a difference in the lives of people everywhere.