Falcon Heritage Forum to welcome '59ers

The Falcon Heritage Forum 2009, featuring the Class of 1959 -- the first class of U.S. Air Force Academy graduates.

The Falcon Heritage Forum 2009, featuring the Class of 1959 -- the first class of U.S. Air Force Academy graduates.

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- More than 40 members of the Academy's first graduating class -- affectionately termed "'59ers" -- are set to participate in Falcon Heritage Forum beginning here Monday. 

The three-day event, which offers cadets the opportunity to interact directly with veterans of dynamic backgrounds, carries the theme "The Class of 1959: Fifty Years of Excellence," and coincides this Spring with the '59ers class reunion. 

The class set the standard for decades of excellence at USAFA, boasting such firsts as marching the last few miles from its temporary home at Lowry Field to the permanent Academy site Aug. 29, 1958, selecting the Falcon as the mascot, and fielding an undefeated football team during the 1958-59 season. Unsurprisingly, this superior group produced two All-American athletes in Cadets Robert Siteman and Brock Strom. On the academic side, the faculty brought the school to national accreditation status before graduation in the spring of 1959. 

Perhaps the most interesting challenge for the new Academy was how to get around the absence of a robust upper class. Active duty company grade officers from all services -- some previous instructors or recent graduates from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. -- filled the role as a cadre of Air Training Officers. 

"They had lots of time to be upperclassmen," mused retired Col. Robert Browning. "The ATOs didn't have an academic load, so we would come back from class and they would have perfectly spit-shined shoes and new uniforms on ... they expected the same from us." 

Colonel Browning said that despite the hard times at the ATOs' hands, he most enjoyed the chance to speak with them about things going on in the operational Air Force. 

Building a military training program from scratch was an incredible feat on the part of the ATOs -- an accomplishment, said Colonel Browning, the first class didn't recognize until years later. 

"Since graduation, they've become good friends and are considered part of the class," he said.

The '59ers have gone on to prove their mettle with several reaching the general officer ranks and soaring to important leadership positions. Many served with pride, among them the first cadet to report to the Academy in that summer of 1955, Valmore Bourque of South Hadley Falls, Mass., who later became the first graduate killed in combat. 

"We are proud to honor these pioneers who have had so much to do with making our Academy great," said Col. John Norton, director for the Center for Character Development, which hosts the semi-annual Falcon Heritage Forum. "We're especially delighted to have them spend most of their time with cadets." 

For the first time since the Forum's 1996 inception, instead of highlighting a handful of keynote speakers, the cadet wing and Center staff will present five panels of four guest speakers -- each with very dynamic and varied backgrounds -- to maximize the interaction for both cadets and graduates.

When originally conceived, the symposium began as a small gathering of interested cadets and veterans. Since then, it has matured into a major twice-yearly event spanning three to four days, bringing veterans from all around the world to share their experiences with the entire cadet wing.

Schedule highlights: 

April 13, 7 p.m. -- Class of '59 Speaker Panels in Arnold Hall Theater, F1, D2, H1, H2
April 13, 8 p.m. -- Cookie and Punch Receptions at Fairchild Hall Annex Bridge and Arnold Hall Banquet Room
April 19, 12:30 p.m. -- '59er Discussions in Cadet Squadrons
April 19, 5 p.m. -- Cadet Squadron-hosted Dinner and Fireside Chats

See the event program for a breakdown of speakers to venues and biographical data. For a complete schedule or more information, contact the Center for Character Development at 719-333-4904 or visit our Web site at www.usafa.edu under the link for Falcon Heritage Forum.