Memorial service honors fallen cadet
By David Edwards, Academy Spirit staff writer
/ Published October 01, 2010
U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- As the shock over Cadet 1st Class Marc Henning's death subsides, the Air Force Academy and Cadet Henning's family want the entire cadet wing to know that they're all in this together.
The words spoken and images displayed during a memorial service Tuesday in the Protestant Chapel coalesced into a moving tribute for the former executive officer of Cadet Squadron 20. The chapel's spacious pews were filled from front to back as the Long Blue Line brought its full backing to bear on the somber gathering. Only a few days after Cadet Henning's funeral in Indiana, the Academy honored the Crossville, Ill., native on the grounds that had been his second home for five years.
Cadet Henning was a senior at the Academy who also served as head manager of the Falcon football team and was active in Engineers Without Borders. Although his death is still under official investigation, his mother addressed the stunning news directly in her remarks at the memorial service.
"As you know, Marc took his own life. We think we know why, but we may never know for sure," Linda Henning said. "We were concerned that he was overloading his plate and that he needed to recharge his batteries. Although Marc's life was short, for him it was wide. I think in his mind he felt he was going out on top."
Mrs. Henning said that a trip her son took to Bolivia last year was a turning point for him. While there, he helped villagers create a safe, functioning water system. Calling her son "a gentle warrior," she said he may have felt conflicted between his humanitarian heart and the warrior mentality.
She also spoke of the life he provided to others as an organ donor. And she reminisced about his own life, too, tracing his path from rural Midwestern upbringing to the Academy Preparatory School and then to the Cadet Wing.
His brother Alex, now a first lieutenant, had chosen the same route. Marc carved out his own niche, reveling in the chance to be so close to the action at football games and developing into a genuinely liked and respected leader.
Two of his classmates and fellow seniors, Caleb Powell and Ben Brown, elaborated on those aspects as they eulogized Cadet Henning. He "always was an example for others" and "lived the Air Force motto of service before self," Cadet Powell said.
Maj. Dan Nielsen, the current air officer commanding for CS20, read a statement from his predecessor, Maj. Jimmy Dobbs, who spent two years with Cadet Henning. "Marc is one farm boy I'll never forget," Major Dobbs said, adding that "some trees are best measured laying down."
He also recalled the easygoing drawl that characterized Cadet Henning's speech. Others noted that Cadet Henning was a quiet young man, unafraid to stand up for what's right, a model cadet.
Chaplain (Maj.) Peter Fischer and Chaplain (Capt.) Darren Duncan tailored their words to the people left to carry on amid the tragedy. Brig. Gen. Richard Clark, the commandant of cadets, and Mrs. Henning echoed those sentiments.
In an interview before the funeral, General Clark said he wanted to address a "vicious rumor" going around that cadets who seek help dealing with the emotional toll will have a black mark against them upon commissioning.
"One thing I really want to make clear is that there will be no impact on their future status," General Clark said. "If they seek grief counseling, there is no stigma attached to this. It's something we want people to seek out."
Mrs. Henning seconded that sentiment at the memorial. She said she understands that cadets may feel guilt or anguish for having missed warning signs or that the burden of cadet life may push them to the breaking point.
"Say these three words: I need help," she said.
On her way out of the chapel, she and her husband, Van, who was blinking back tears, passed the cadets she had addressed from the lectern. Speaking over the din of the pipe organ's recessional, she poured her heart out in words one final time, telling them: "Take care of yourselves."