The Contrails: Notable Graduates

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  • U.S. Air Force Academy Public Affairs


(Editor's note: The exact text contained on pages 52-59 of this year's edition of The Contrails is seen here.)

Notable Graduates

The Air Force Academy serves as a rallying point for the diversity of American culture; many walks of life, different ethnic backgrounds, and a variety of religions. From these backgrounds will come the leaders of tomorrow for the Air Force and the nation. The tradition of excellence from the Air Force Academy is exemplified by the records of our distinguished graduates. Think about where each of these people came from; they came from the same place where you are now.

Retired Lieutenant General Bradley C. Hosmer, Class of 1959, was the number one cadet in the General Order of Merit and first graduate of the Air Force Academy. He went to Oxford University on a Rhodes Scholarship, then became an air liaison officer with the First Cavalry Division in Vietnam. He was also one of the first four graduates promoted to Colonel. When he retired, Lieutenant General Hosmer was serving as the Superintendent of the Air Force Academy, the first graduate to come back as Superintendent, from 1991-1994.

The first Academy graduate promoted to the rank of fourstar general was also a 1959 graduate, General Hansford T. Johnson. General Johnson’s distinguished career included 423 combat missions as a forward air controller in Southeast Asia. General Johnson retired as the Commander-in-Chief of the United States Transportation Command and Military Airlift Command.

Retired Colonel Karol J. Bobko, Class of 1959, was the first graduate to enter the space program. After completing training at the Air Force’s Aerospace Research Pilot School at Edwards AFB, he was assigned to the Manned Orbiting Laboratory Program in August 1969. He commanded Space Shuttle Challenger on STS-6. In 1983, Colonel Bobko received the Jabara Award for Airmanship. The Jabara Award is given each year to the Academy graduate whose accomplishments demonstrate superior performance in fields directly associated with aerospace vehicles.

Retired Lieutenant General Robert D. Beckel, Class of 1959, distinguished himself on active duty and as a cadet.

He is the only person to have served as Cadet Wing Commander twice. After pilot training, he flew F-100 and F-105 aircraft, completing 280 combat missions in Southeast Asia. He also served a tour with the Air Force Thunderbirds’ aerial demonstration team. General Beckel served as Commandant of Cadets from 1981-1982, the first graduate to hold that position.

The first graduate to become the Chief of Staff of the Air Force is General Ronald R. Fogleman, Class of 1963.

General Fogleman flew F-100s in Vietnam and after his tour came back to the Academy to teach history. Some of his decorations include the Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross with one cluster, Purple Heart, and the Air Medal with 17 clusters.

The Air Force Academy has produced several graduates who have performed exemplary acts that led to making the ultimate sacrifice for their country. One hundred and fortyone graduates gave their lives in Vietnam, the costliest conflict ever for Academy graduates.

The first graduate to die in combat was Captain (then First Lieutenant) Valmore Bourque, Class of 1960. He was killed in action while flying as a C-123 aircraft commander on a combat mission northeast of Saigon. Notably, he was also the first cadet to take the Oath of Allegiance in the first entering class.

First Lieutenant Karl W. Richter, Class of 1964, became the youngest Air Force pilot to down a MiG in combat. Flying the F-105D, Lieutenant Richter completed his first tour of 100 missions and then signed up for an additional tour. On his 198th mission, Lieutenant Richter’s plane was hit by ground fire, and he was forced to eject. Due to injuries sustained from the ejection, Richter died en route to the hospital. For his gallantry, First Lieutenant Karl W. Richter received the Air Force Cross and a Purple Heart in addition to 22 Air Medals, Vietnamese Government decorations, and the Jabara Award.

One of the most striking examples of courage and love of freedom can be seen in Captain Lance P. Sijan, Class of 1965. On 9 November 1967, Captain (then 1st Lieutenant) Sijan was flying in the back seat of an F-4 on a bombing pass over North Vietnam, when his aircraft was hit and exploded. Captain Sijan suffered a skull fracture, a mangled right hand, and a compound fracture of his left leg. The next day after regaining consciousness, he heard friendly aircraft flying overhead. Using his radio, he made contact with the pilot, and a rescue operation began. Despite his serious wounds, Captain Sijan remained conscious andcalm while directing rescue aircraft to his position during an unsuccessful rescue mission. After 45 days of crawling on his back over sharp limestone karsts, the North Vietnamese found Sijan and took him prisoner. Sijan managed one escape by overcoming his guard, but was recaptured within hours. During his 3 months of captivity, he endured severe torture by interrogators and constant beatings from guards for his relentless efforts to escape. On 22 January 1968, Lance Sijan succumbed to his injuries as a prisoner of war in Hanoi. He never gave up his quest for freedom, the freedom for which he fought and ultimately died. On 4 March 1976, President Gerald R. Ford awarded the Medal of Honor to Captain Sijan posthumously for his “Extraordinary heroism and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty at the cost of his life ...” Three other former prisoners of war, all living, also received Medals of Honor from President Ford on that same day. Two of the men were Rear Admiral James B. Stockdale and Colonel George E. “Bud” Day.

Colonel Day wrote to Airman Magazine: “Lance was the epitome of dedication, right to death! When people ask about what kind of kids we should start with, the answer is straight, honest kids like him. They will not all stay that way, but by God, that’s the minimum to start with.”

There were many other Academy graduates whose courage, skill, and leadership made them heroes as well as examples for all of us. The first graduate to down a MiG was a 1959 graduate by the name of Captain (now retired Colonel) Robert E. Blake.

Captain (now Retired Brigadier General) Richard S. Ritchie, Class of 1964, was the first Air Force ace of the Vietnam War. A distinguished fighter pilot, he earned the Air Force Cross, the Silver Star with three clusters, the Distinguished Flying Cross with nine clusters, and twentyfive Air Medals. In 1972, he won the McKay Trophy for the most meritorious flight of the year and the Jabara Award for Airmanship.

Captain (now Retired Colonel) Donald D. StevensClass of 1960, is another Jabara Award Winner. Captain Stevens distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism while directing the successful rescue mission of a wounded soldier in an unarmed 0-2A. While making dive passes directly into heavy enemy fire, Captain Stevens fired marking rockets between the soldier and the advancing enemy. He then gave careful and precise instructions to attacking fighter aircraft on the location of the soldier and the advancing enemy. His highly courageous acts resulted in the successful helicopter rescue of the wounded soldier without any friendly casualties.

Captain (now Retired Brigadier General) Dale E. Stovall, Class of 1967, led a formation of two HH-53 rescue helicopters deep into North Vietnam to pick up a downed Airman. Captain Stovall braved heavy ground fire and MiG interceptors in an unsuccessful attempt to locate the downed Airman. Despite being advised against returning for a second rescue attempt, Captain Stovall insisted on making another effort in finding him. On the second mission, Stovall spotted the Airman’s signal mirror and rescued him while receiving heavy ground fire. During the course of the mission, Captain Stovall and his crew braved MiGs, SAMs, anti-aircraft artillery, and small arms fire to successfully accomplish their mission. Captain Stovall received the Air Force Cross and the Jabara Award for his heroic actions.

Captain Charles T. McMillan II, Class of 1973, gave his life to rescue the 53 Americans being held hostage in Iran. Captain McMillan volunteered for this mission, risking his life for his fellow Americans and for the honor of our country.

During Operation DESERT SHIELD/STORM, graduates were once again called upon to distinguish themselves in service to their country. Five graduates were killed in action and four were captured and held as POWs. Then Captain Brent D. Brandon, Class of 1984, earned an air-to-air kill against an Iraqi Mirage F-1 in the first minutes of Operation DESERT STORM when during an engagement that involved aggressive, low-altitude maneuvering, the F-1 impacted the ground. This feat is the only time an F-111 or its unarmed EF-111 variant, which Captain Brandon was in) ever achieved an aerial victory over another aircraft.

Graduates have also made significant accomplishments as civilians. LeRoy W. Homer, Jr., Class of 1984 was the firstofficer on United Airlines Flight 93, which was the fourth aircraft hijacked on September 11, 2001. It was the only flight to not make its intended target when the passengers and crew overpowered the hijackers and crashed the plane outside of Shanksville, PA. Chesley B. Sullenberger, III, Class of 1973, successfully made a water landing on the Hudson River in New York. On takeoff, his aircraft was rendered powerless after a flock of geese struck and destroyed the engines. His actions saved all 155 people aboard the aircraft.

As time passes, graduates of all ethnicities and genders have accomplished many things. Linda Garcia Cuberoas, Class of 1980, became the first Hispanic woman to graduate from any service academy as a member of the first class of women to graduate from the United States Air Force Academy.

Retired Colonel Frederick D. Gregory, Class of 1964, became the first African American to command any space vehicle. In 1995, Captain (now Retired Colonel) Martha McSally, Class of 1988, became the first female to fly in combat and would also become first female to be the squadron commander of a combat aviation squadron.

Lieutenant Colonel Kim Reed-Campbell, Class of 1997, graduated as number one in the Order of Merit, but is more notable for returning her severely damaged A-10 from over Baghdad, Iraq on 7 April 2003. After being hit by Iraqi ground fire, she flew the aircraft which had sustained 

damage to one engine and the redundant hydraulic systems, disabling the flight controls, landing gear and horizontal stabilizer, as well as hundreds of holes in the airframe and large sections of the stabilizer for over an hour and landed safely back at her base.

Retired Brigadier General Ruben A. Cubero, Class of 1961, became the first Hispanic graduate to be named the Dean of the Faculty. In 2004, Brigadier General Dana H. Born, Class of 1983, became the first woman to become Dean of the Faculty at the Air Force Academy. In 2005,

Lieutenant Colonel Nicole Malachowski, Class of 1996, became the first female pilot of the US Air Force Thunderbirds’ aerial demonstration team. Heather A. Wilson, Class of 1982, was the first woman veteran in American history to serve in Congress. A distinguished graduate, she was also a Rhodes Scholar with master’s and doctoral degrees in international relations from Oxford University in England. As an officer, she worked with our NATO allies and in the United Kingdom. Terrie A. McLaughlin, Class of 1986, was the first woman to graduate first in the Order of Merit for her class.

In January 1993, Lieutenant General Susan J. Helms, Class of 1980, was the first woman graduate of the Air Force Academy to go into space as a mission specialist aboard the Shuttle Endeavor.

Lieutenant Roslyn Schulte, Class of 2006, became the first female graduate killed by enemy action. Breaking a glass ceiling in 2012, the Senate confirmed General Janet Wolfenbarger, Class of 1980, as the United States Air Force’s first female four star general. A career acquisition officer, she currently leads Air Force Material Command at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH.

Lieutenant General Michelle D. Johnson, Class of 1981, served as the first female Cadet Wing commander. After graduation, she went on to be the first female Rhodes Scholar from the Air Force Academy. In 2013 she returned to her roots, becoming the first female Superintendent of the Air Force Academy, and the first at one of the three brakes, and the first at one of the three major service academies.

These former cadets have distinguished themselves in their various fields of endeavor, both as cadets and in many cases after graduation. They developed the necessary qualities of leadership and character as cadets and later employed them in the Air Force and in service to our nation.