Memorial honors ultimate service before self

Cadet 4th Class Derek Winkler looks at names of U.S. Air Force Academy graduates who have been killed in war. The War Memorial is an element of the Air Garden on the Academy Terrazzo. (U.S. Air Force photo/Ann Patton)

Cadet 4th Class Derek Winkler looks at names of U.S. Air Force Academy graduates who have been killed in war. The War Memorial is an element of the Air Garden on the Academy Terrazzo. (U.S. Air Force photo/Ann Patton)

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- The Academy War Memorial stands near the base of Old Glory on the Terrazzo's Air Garden. It serves as a reminder to all of the Academy graduates who've made the supreme sacrifice in service to their country.

The curved monolith of black starlite granite is inscribed with the names of 171 Academy graduates who died as a result of hostile action during a state of military conflict.

Tragically, the Academy lost another one of its own May 20 when 1st Lt. Roslyn Schulte, Class of 2006, was killed in action near Kabul, Afghanistan. An intelligence officer, she is the first female graduate and 10th graduate overall killed in support of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.

The Association of Graduates determines the names of graduates to be listed. The AOG spearheaded the fund-raising efforts for the memorial that was completed in 1970.

Since its dedication, the Class of 1970 oversaw the construction of a smaller replica of the Memorial Wall outside the AOG headquarters. During in-processing doolies receive a briefing on the significance of the service they are about to enter and the sacrifices that may be required of them.

In early 2006, a small team of USAFA graduates took on the substantial and painstaking challenge of creating a database of information pertaining to graduate combat losses. 

Former Preparatory School commander and Col. (retired) Jock Schwank, Class of 1960, is a member of the research team. He said the project took three years and was only completed in December last year.

The team culled nearly 20,000 bits of information from AOG data, from such sources as newspapers, Arlington National Cemetery, hometown obituaries, family members and classmates.

Supported by the The Friends of the Air Force Academy Library, it was a labor of love.

"This is the cadets' heritage from others who went before and gave their all," Mr. Schwank said. "They are all common people who died performing uncommon acts and paid the ultimate price for their sacrifices."

A large number of the names on the wall died in the Vietnam conflict. Many were pilots, but not all, including Lieutenant Schulte and Maj. Rodolfo Rodriguez, a civil engineer, who died in support of Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom.

Every name on the wall has a story.

One tells of the intriguing odyssey and return of a graduate's class ring in 2007, 40 years after his death in Vietnam. A Chinese family, living in Vietnam at that time, had found it and cared for it through the years. Through a series of sheer coincidences, the ring eventually made its way back to the deceased graduate's brother, former Secretary of the Air Force Michael Wynne. The ring belonged to his older brother, Maj. Patrick Wynne, Class of 1966.

The attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 claimed retired Col. Charles Jones, Class of 1974, who was aboard American Airlines Flight 11 when it struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Also killed was LeRoy Homer, Class of 1987, who served as first officer of hijacked United Airlines Flight 93 before it crashed in Western Pennsylvania.

Retired Col. Richard Rauschkolb, Class of 1970, said it is important for cadets to have a full understanding of those who went before them. He makes a point of including the stories of fallen Academy graduates into his curriculum as an English instructor.

"They are part of the Long Blue Line," he said, noting that everyone whose name is on the wall went through the same challenges as today's cadets. "They experienced the same things. It is a road full of bumps."

Mr. Rauschkolb emphasizes the Air Force is not a job.

"It's a profession, a dangerous profession. They are expected, if called upon, to make the ultimate sacrifice."

Cadet 4th Class Derek Winkler of Cadet Squadron 19 said he takes the commitment seriously and understands the sacrifices others have made.

"I think of our responsibility to this nation," he said while peering over the names on the Memorial Wall. "If I am able-bodied and able-minded, I should do my part."

Cadet 3rd Class Caleb McConnell, CS-39, also has deep respect for those who have sacrificed.

"It's humbling," he said. "I think about them and their families, and I'm grateful for their service."

To view all the stories behind the War Memorial, visit http://www.friends.usafalibrary.com and click on "Memorial Wall."

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