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1st Lt. Patrick Wynne
1st Lt. Patrick Wynne (U.S. Air Force/Courtesy Photo)
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Grad’s long-lost ring returns to Academy

Posted 11/1/2013   Updated 11/1/2013 Email story   Print story


by Amber Baillie
Academy Spirit staff writer

11/1/2013 - U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo.  -- The 21st secretary of the Air Force Michael Wynne spoke to the Class of '63 Oct. 24 during their 50-year reunion at Arnold Hall here to dedicate a class ring that belonged to his brother Patrick Wynne, a '63 grad who perished in the Vietnam War.

Wynne spoke to approximately 250 of Patrick's classmates on his Academy ties through his brother's story and officially donated Patrick's ring to the class after it was returned to the Wynne family more than four decades following the first lieutenant's death.

"As a family, we've thought long and hard about this evening's ceremony and we've decided that dedicating it permanently to the Class of '63 is fitting," Wynne said. "It pays for our brother Patrick, a very high honor."

In 1966, 1st Lt. Patrick Wynne was flying in an F-4 Phantom fighter with Capt. Lawrence H. Golberg when their plane was shot down near the Chinese border during a risky raid over North Vietnam.

Lawrence was killed instantly and Wynne, though badly injured, initially survived and was found by a Chinese family living in North Vietnam. The family cared for Wynne but he eventually succumbed to his wounds and passed away wearing his class ring. He was 24.

"His career was cleared for take-off and he built a solid foundation to make a national impact when it was cut short," Wynne said. "Patrick would be thrilled with tonight's honor -- to be honored by his classmates."

In 1977, Patrick's remains were identified and interred at the Academy's cemetery. The Chinese family held on to his class ring in hopes of someday returning it to his family.

"Patrick was determined to veraciously enjoy his time here at the Air Force Academy and in the Air Force," Wynne said. "His awards at graduation spoke to the joy he had as a member of this class."

In 2007, Herbert G. Schaffner, an American businessman living and working in Guangzhou, China, attended a family celebration where he was introduced to his wife's uncle, who is of Chinese decent. Her uncle referenced the ring and how his family had been holding on to it since he was 10 years old, the time of Wynne's crash.

The uncle then gave the ring to Schaffner in hopes he could track down Wynne's family. In the fall of 2008, Michael Wynne was notified the ring had been discovered.

"I was in a meeting when I received the call," Wynne said. "I remember distinctly all the participants in the meeting realized the momentous nature and offered great advice as to how to tell the story, how to tell my siblings and how to tell Nancy, Patrick's widow. My wife Barb and I stopped in Cincinnati to accept the ring and for the moment, to return it to the Academy."

The ring is now displayed in a cabinet on the balcony, overlooking the Arnold Hall Ballroom.

Wynne said this was his sixth chapter in connection with his brother's story since first being notified of Patrick's MIA status on Aug. 8, 1966, the day he reported to his first Air Force duty station.

He said the first poignant moment occurred here in the 1970's when he was an assistant professor in the Astronautics department.

"I was heading up the elevator when an officer riding with me began to weep openly," Wynne said. "I inquired what was wrong and he said, 'Your brother took my flight.' I struggled with a response but considering his state of mind I said to him, 'I think you should leave that burden right here in the elevator with me. No need to carry it further. I hoped it helped him."

Another moment of impact for Wynne was the day he was sworn in as secretary of the Air Force during the Noon Meal Formation at Mitchell Hall, November 3, 2005.

"I was struggling with how to best express that I was here impart to connect the Academy with our Air Force, and to make sure my brother knew he was a part of the ceremony," he said.

Wynne said he was honored Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson could attend the ceremony.

"When I was secretary, she was invited to meet deputy NBA professionals and asked me, 'Can you come and support me?'" Wynne said. "I replied, 'It would be an honor.' It's a privilege that now you (Johnson) are here to support me."

Wynne gave a special shout-out to the late '63 graduate Chuck Bush, the first African-American Academy graduate who passed away last November.

"Him and Pat were such great friends," Wynne said. "He must be listening. God Bless the Class of '63 --heroes all, welcome home."

Seventeen other '63 graduates killed in Southeast Asia were honored during the ceremony as well as two classmates who spent time as prisoners of war, Jerry Driscoll and John Lorin Borling.

"This was truly a moving and memorable ceremony," Johnson said. "I was honored to be a part of it. "Pat Wynne was a true American hero who paid the ultimate price. We thank the entire Wynne family for allowing us to proudly display 1st Lt. Wynne's class ring here so that current and future generations of graduates can honor his service. Our profession of arms is a calling -- not just a job. That calling could entail giving one's life in defense of our nation and our freedoms."

11/8/2013 5:31:11 PM ET
I met Pat Wynne at Satellite Beach FL -Patrick AFB as a student at Satellite High School. I had just been accepted to USAFA and he spent several hours with me telling me about the Academy. If I had any doubts about attending they were all gone after that meeting. He knew he was going to Nam and was excited about defending his country. I have never forgotten that meeting.
Vince Puglisi '70, New York City
11/7/2013 5:05:44 PM ET
I was privileged to know Pat as one of our underclassmen who clearly would excel as an Air Force officer. In later years it was my honor to become acquainted with his brother Michael a loving and proud brother who served our nation well and faithfully. The right stuff runs deeply within the Wynne family.
Dick Coppock USAFA 1961, SalemOH
11/4/2013 3:34:58 PM ET
I New Patrick Wynn was a cadet when he was in 9th squadron. A Fitting tribute I think. Dick Davis Class of 1961
Dick Davis , Plano Tx
11/1/2013 7:27:44 PM ET
My wife and I have known the Wynne family since I met them when I was a 2LT at Patrick AFB. This family has made an enormous contribution to the Air Force and the USA and we are very proud to know them
Colonel Paul T. Ringenbach, Schertz TX 78154
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