Prep school inducts two into Hall of Fame
By Ann Patton , Academy Spirit staff writer
/ Published May 19, 2009
U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- The Preparatory School honored two of its graduates with induction into the school's Hall of Fame during ceremonies Monday in the Community Center theater.
Honorees were Thomas Boettcher, Prep School Class of 1962 and Academy Class of 1967, and Lt. Col. Kevin Shea, Prep School Class of 1985 and Academy Class of 1989.
The induction recognizes those who exemplify the Academy Honor Code and the Air Force Core Values serving as a lasting legacy to the school's heritage.
"I can't describe what an honor it is to be here today," Mr. Boettcher told the audience of Prep School students, friends, faculty and Academy leadership. "I am also humbled to share the honor with Colonel Shea."
Colonel Shea was one of the highest ranking officers who made the ultimate sacrifice on his birthday Sept. 14, 2004, during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The Prep School established the Hall of Fame in 2002, 31 years after its founding in May 1961. Hall of Fame members' photos hang in the High Country Inn as a daily reminder of the achievements of those cadet candidates who have gone before them.
The roll of Hall of Fame members include decorated combat veterans, astronauts, Rhodes scholars, all-American athletes, distinguished businessmen, judges, politicians and entrepreneurs. All Prep School graduates share in nominations and selections.
Mr. Boettcher was the first Prep School graduate to serve as Cadet Wing commander. He is a Vietnam veteran and earned a Bronze Star will assigned to the 834th Air Division. Also an author on the Vietnam era, he has served as a writer, editor and publisher of three magazines and is a partner and president of the law firm Boettcher and Lobaugh in Tulsa, Okla.
During the ceremony, he reflected on his Prep School days.
"It was the best decision I made at that time in my life," he said and told cadet candidates they, also, have made a wise decision. "It's a great opportunity. You represent the United States of America and wear the Air Force uniform of the greatest country in the world."
Encouragement from the small Oklahoma town citizens where he grew up (including a Scoutmaster who was a former Marine Corps officer) and an affinity for military history attracted him to military service.
He stressed the bonds of friendships he forged during his Prep School days have endured and remain as some of his fondest memories.
Colonel Shea cross commissioned into the U.S. Marine Corps following graduation from the Academy, where he played varsity football for the Falcons. During his career he deployed to Saudi Arabia in response to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, and he took part in the First Marine Expeditionary Force combat operations to retake Kuwait. In 2003 the Bronze Star with Valor and Purple Heart recipient deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom II.
Academy classmate Lt. Col. Roger Reynolds recalled with fondness Colonel Shea's professionalism and friendship.
"He was a gentle giant," he said. "He had the ability to have compassion toward people he was serving. He was the kind of guy who would do anything for anyone."
Colonel Reynolds said choosing a hero often comes as a result of one extraordinary act. He stressed the focus would be better on those who strive to become a better officer, spouse and parent and who ask themselves what they can do better tomorrow.
"That's what a real hero is," he said.
Accepting the honor for Colonel Shea was Marine Lt. Col. Austin Renforth with U.S. Northern Command who served with Colonel Shea. He read a letter from Colonel Shea's wife, Ami, who could not attend.
"He truly believed the Prep School gave him a foundation for life," she wrote. "He was a leader and a consummate gentleman."
Speaking extemporaneously, Colonel Renforth recalled playing rugby with Colonel Shea when both were second lieutenants.
"He was mean as a snake," he joked, recalling past rugby matches, but he stressed off the field Colonel Shea had another dimension. "He made you better by just being around you."
Former Prep School commander retired Col. Jock C.H. Schwank, Academy Class of 1960, also attended the presentations. He recalled receiving dozens of e-mails after Colonel Shea's death in hostile fire to inform him.
"After 25 years his classmates remembered him extremely well. That speaks volumes," he said.
Following the presentations, guests and cadet candidates gathered for a reception.
"I was very impressed with the choice of inductees," said Cadet Candidate Derek Hale. "Future classes have excellent exemplars to look forward to."
Prep School exemplars are chosen from the ranks of the Hall of Fame.
"It was awesome," said Cadet Candidate Eduardo Aguilar. "After graduation we have different accomplishments to strive for."
Cadet Candidate Hannah Bergstrom was also impressed with the inductions.
"It is amazing we had such great inductees and inspiring to see those who have made such sacrifices," she said and added, "It made me think about why I am here."