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Remember Our Legacy

  • Published
  • By Lt. Gen. Jim Kowalski
  • Air Force Global Strike Command
During the last weekend of May we honor the men and women who have died while serving in the United States military. It is a day of reflection for all Americans, but Memorial Day holds a special place in the hearts of veterans, those currently serving in the military, and their families.

Each generation's legacy of achievement, courage and sacrifice is a powerful bond between our past, our present, and our future. The lineage of Air Force Global Strike Command is traced to fabled fighting units as VIII Bomber Command, 20th Air Force, and Strategic Air Command. The campaign streamers and citations they earned, both waging war and deterring it, are symbols of the high bar set for our own service today.

Although Global Strike Command has squadrons able to trace their heritage to World War I, our command's history is more firmly fixed in the period just before, and during, World War II; a time when our hunger for innovation quickly found new technologies, doctrines, organizations, tactics, and training. This is when Airmen developed the combat concepts of strategic bombardment, joint operations, and atomic weapons; revolutionary ideas that became the bedrock on which the nation built Strategic Air Command (SAC), the predecessor to Global Strike Command.

The Eighth Bomber Command, known today as 8th Air Force, led the strategic bombardment campaign against Hitler. From May 1942 to July 1945, the "Mighty Eighth" planned and executed America's daylight strategic bombing campaign against Nazi-occupied Europe. A successful campaign with a high price - the Mighty Eighth suffered almost half of the U.S. Army Air Force's casualties including more than 26,000 dead.

At the same time, while supporting the Pacific Campaign, Airmen serving with the Twentieth Air Force also refined the idea of strategic bombardment for their theater and tested new concepts of long-range strike. Their use of the atom bomb brought the war with Japan to an end. In 16 months of combat operations, 576 airmen of 20th Air Force gave their lives while flying combat missions in Asia and the Pacific.

With the end of WWII, a new threat emerged and SAC's forces provided the credible deterrent to prevent war. But "Cold" did not mean without sacrifice. Between 1947 and 1992, an estimated 2,700 Airmen died in combat, reconnaissance, operational alert flights, or training missions as SAC sent a message of vigilant readiness to the communist bloc.

The human cost of the Cold War period includes 19 Airmen of the 1st Combat Evaluation Group, a Strategic Air Command unit that suffered the largest ground combat loss of life of any Air Force unit during the Vietnam War. Among the fallen at the Battle of Site Lima 85 was Chief Master Sgt. Etchberger who, as recorded in his posthumous Congressional Medal of Honor citation, "deliberately risked his own life, exposing himself to heavy enemy fire, in order to place three surviving wounded comrades into rescue slings." You can read more about the 1st Combat Evaluation Group here.

Please take a moment this Memorial Day to reflect on our shared heritage, share with your children the stories of heroes, and remember those who've gone before and their selfless service for our nation's freedoms. May our own service be the highest tribute to their memories.