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Veterans in Blue Volume V out now

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Lesley Waters
  • Air Force Public Affairs Agency – Operating Location P
For decades, Airmen have answered the call to serve and protect the nation’s interests, people and cherished freedoms that underpin it all, risking their lives for others, and thus, becoming heroes in the eyes of those they protected.

The fifth volume of “Veterans in Blue” captures 43 stories of service and heroism at war. The new portrait-based displays join those presently hanging in the Pentagon. The stories, photos and video interviews were released Nov. 10 and are now also available at Veterans in Blue, Volume V.

The veterans honored in this volume are:

- Retired Master Sgt. Ben Bloker joined the Air Force as a military photographer. When asked why he joined he exclaimed, “Because I like planes!” Bloker specialized in photojournalism and aerial photography.

- Retired Col. Jack Bond began his Air Force career in 1951, after graduating from Texas A&M where he earned his commission through their ROTC program. Bond flew 132 combat missions, one of which he was shot down in. He was eventually recovered by U.S. forces.

- Retired Col. Harry Canham began his military career as a glider pilot in 1942 as part of the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II. During the 32 years, Canham piloted more than 40 aircraft, recorded more than 22,000 flight hours and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross five times.

- Retired Master Sgt. Roy Cole enlisted in the Air Force at the age of 18, out of Meridian, Mississippi, in October 1979. From 2000 to 2002, he worked as an A-10 Thunderbolt II mechanic until he was hired as a training manager and military testing proctor where he still works today.

- Retired Col. Charles DeBellevue had a passion for flight at an early age that drove him to join the Air Force ROTC at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. He joined at an unsettled time in American history – the Vietnam War. Among the many awards, he earned the Air Force Cross, three Silver Stars, three Legions of Merit, and six Distinguished Flying Crosses.

- Retired Col. Steve DePyssler is a 38-year Army Air Corps and Air Force veteran. While in active duty, he served as every enlisted, warrant officer and officer grade up to colonel. He is the only known American to serve in four tours: World War II, Korea, French-Indo-China and Vietnam.

- Retired Maj. Gen. Susan Desjardins served as a command pilot, accumulating more than 3,000 flying hours in multiple aircraft. In 1980, she commissioned as part of the first female cadet class from the U.S. Air Force Academy.

- Retired Lt. Col. George Finck joined the Air Force in 1956, ultimately becoming a command pilot with more than 11,000 flying hours in multiple cargo-type aircraft. Additionally, he has logged more than 1,150 hours in combat. Finck was awarded the Air Force Cross for extraordinary heroism in the face of an armed enemy during his time spent in Cam Reno Bay, Vietnam.

- Retired Col. David Fitton is a veteran of three wars. He attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point during World War II. Fitton earned his Army Air Corps wings and his second lieutenant bars June 6, 1944 – D-Day.

- Retired Col. Arnald Gabriel started his 36-year military career when he joined the Army June 28, 1943. After a brief time in the Army Air Corps as an aviation cadet, he transferred back into the Army to prepare for the upcoming raid on Omaha Beach, in Normandy, France.

- Technical Sgt. Tap Gaoteote (separated) entered the Air Force through the delayed entry program in September 1997; however he did not leave for basic training until January 1998 when an opening for his job was available. During his 16 years in the Air Force, Gaoteote recalls his five deployments in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom as the highlights of his career, as well as some of the scariest moments of his life.

- Retired Lt. Col. Bill Getz was a senior in high school when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. By age 19 he was commissioned as a second lieutenant. He piloted the B-24 Liberator during World War II while assigned to the 491st Bomb Group in England.

- Retired Col. Venessa Hagan commissioned into the Air Force nurse corps, starting her career in the neonatal intensive care unit at Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. Her career took her all the way to becoming interim Air Force chief nurse at the San Antonio Military Medical Center.

- Capt. John Hayes (separated) began his six-years of active-duty service at Webb Air Force Base, Texas, after graduating in 1967 from Southern Methodist University as an Air Force ROTC cadet. Hayes was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for extraordinary aerial achievement as an EC-47 pilot at Da Nang Airfield, Vietnam, on March 1, 1972.

- Retired Chief Master Sgt. Earl Hendrix began his Air Force career on his 18th birthday in 1957. He served as a bomb loader on multiple aircraft. While serving in Vietnam, a rocket pummeled his bunker, killing Hendrix and 17 others. Originally thought to be dead, Hendrix was transported to a holding area and tossed onto a concrete slab where his heart miraculously restarted.

- Retired Senior Master Sgt. Peter Karpawitz-Godt was raised the son of a police officer in the midst of World War II in Germany. After World War II Karpawitz-Godt moved to America so he could enroll in college. In March of 1956, at age 27, he became an Airman in the U.S. Air Force.

- Lieutenant Jay Karpin (separated) is an Army Air Corps veteran who served between 1942 and 1945. Karpin is a distinguished bombardier who flew more than 35 bombing missions during World War II. He began his career in the B-24. After flying 12 missions, he was reassigned by Gen. Jimmy Doolittle to the B-17 Flying Fortress, and flew 23 more missions.

- Retired Maj. Suzanne LaForest was born March 18, 1949, in Manchester, New Hampshire. After receiving a degree in nursing from the University of New Hampshire, she moved to Nashua to work as a critical care nurse at St. Joseph’s Hospital. The recruiter at Pease Air National Guard Base contacted her and three weeks later she raised her right hand and was commissioned in the Air Force.

- Retired Master Sgt. Jeremy Lock served as an Air Force photojournalist for more than 20 years, traveling to more than 50 countries in six continents and providing the Air Force with the mission critical combat imagery. Lock started his career as a film processor.

- Staff Sgt. Leo Makelky (separated) was working for Douglas Aircraft in California when he heard about the attacks on Pearl Harbor and instantly knew what he had to do. After requesting to be an aerial gunner, Makelky landed a seat at the bottom ball turret of the B-17.

- Staff Sgt. Dave Mercier (separated) knew at a young age he wanted to be in law enforcement. After graduating from high school in 1993, Mercier enlisted in the Air Force. Mercier attended the security police training program where he was selected as a military working dog handler.

- Retired Chief Master Sgt. Dexter Mitchell was introduced to the Air Force on a $50 bet to pass the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test. After winning the bet, he told a recruiter he would take any job that would guarantee him an overseas assignment.

- Retired Chief Master Sgt. Harlan Mohler joined the Air Force as a medical technician in January 1958 at the age of 17. Mohler served from 1958 to 1987 in the medical career field and served in multiple locations to include Germany, Korea and Vietnam. While in Vietnam, Mohler worked at the 22nd Casualty Staging Facility.

- Retired Chief Master Sgt. Tom Nurre began his Air Force career May 22, 1961, enlisting as a Morse code intercept operator. Immediately after, two of his brothers were drafted into the Army. To keep his brothers out of the war zone, Nurre volunteered to go to Thailand during the Vietnam War at an air base near Nakhon Phanom.

- Retired Col. John Parker began his career in February 1942. Two years later he was navigating B-17s in Europe. He flew 30 combat missions during the next eight months, taking battle damage on every one. Parker described a mission on Christmas Eve in 1944 as his most memorable.

- Staff Sgt. Larry Peterson (separated) was an active-duty Airman from 1970 to 1974. During his tenure, Peterson deployed to Ubon Royal Thai Air Force as part of the 16th Special Operations Squadron. It was there he completed his 10th combat mission and was awarded permanent aircrew wings.

- Capt. Gregg Popovich (separated) is currently the head coach of the National Basketball Association’s San Antonio Spurs. He has coached the team to five world championships, making them one of the most successful organizations in American professional sports. Popovich attributes his competitive spirit, determination and drive back to his time at the U.S. Air Force Academy.

- Second Lt. Julian Rice (separated) joined the Army Air Forces in 1942 and flew airdrop missions during the invasion of Normandy. In the fall of 1943, Rice was sent to Cottesmore, England, for six months to prepare for the Normandy invasion.

- Retired Col. Kenneth Rodriguez received his commission from the Air Force Academy in 1980 and began his career as an aircraft maintenance officer. Rodriguez served in the F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighter development program while it was still a “black project,” and later as a military advisor in El Salvador.

- Retired Col. Jerry Ross is a 28-year Air Force veteran and former NASA astronaut. He began his career as a cadet at Perdue University and received his commission in 1970. He went on to fly seven space shuttle missions an individual world record for the most spaceflights flown.

- Retired Master Sgt. Robert Rupp joined the Air Force in 1984, spending his first 12 years as a medical service specialist. He deployed to Panama for Operation Just Cause and to Saudi Arabia for operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

- Retired Master Sgt. Daniel Schaeler is a 24-year Air Force veteran who served from 1987-2011. He learned to speak fluent Japanese while stationed in Japan for more than 13 years at Yokota, Kadena and Misawa air bases. While at Misawa in 2011, he volunteered to use his language skills to help the American Red Cross with their recovery efforts during the aftermath of the worst earthquake in Japan’s history.

- Retired Lt. Col. Bill Schwertfeger was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Air Force through the ROTC in 1967. After completing undergraduate pilot training at Vance Air Force Base, Oklahoma, Schwertfeger became an F-4 Phantom II pilot systems operator at Ubon Royal Thai Air Force, Thailand.

- Retired Chief Master Sgt. Curt Shannon enlisted in the Air Force in 1966 when it seemed inevitable he would be drafted in the Army. While he was in basic training, a presentation showing fighter jets strafing targets and dropping bombs inspired Shannon to become an aircraft armaments systems technician.

- Retired Master Sgt. Alex Slocum entered basic training in July 1979. He completed law enforcement specialist technical school at Lackland AFB, Texas. He had assignments throughout the world, to include Kwang Ju Air Base, Korea; Clark AB, Philippines; and Royal Air Force Mildenhall, England.

- Staff Sgt. Marvin Sutton (separated) began his military service in 1980 by protecting assets and people as a security forces member with the 321st Security Police Squadron, Grand Forks AFB, North Dakota. He became an Air Force air traffic controller in 1983 and separated from the military in 1988.

- Mayme Tanner is one of the last surviving female pilot trainees from the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots. The WASP program allowed women to fly as civilian pilots in military aircraft, providing their assistance where needed during World War II. Tanner was one of more than 1,000 women, out of 25,000 women who volunteered, accepted into the WASP program during the war.

- Retired Master Sgt. Scott Wagers enlisted in the Air Force on June 1, 1984. When his recruiter showed him a list of potential jobs he was eligible for, he selected aerial photographer. After graduating technical school, Wagers wound out he would not be behind the camera taking imagery, but on the ground developing film from the SR-71 Blackbirds and satellites.

- Staff Sgt. Anthony Warner (separated) joined the Air Force in 1987. He traveled to the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, to learn Russian and Italian. Before separating from active duty in 2001, Warner was selected to attend Moscow State University where he received a certificate in Russian interpretation and also worked at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.

- Airman First Class Jim Widlar (separated) enlisted in the Air Force on December of 1960 and was assigned to the Strategic Air Command’s 706th Strategic Missile Wing, Francis E. Warren AFB, Wyoming. He was an Atlas-D missile mechanic assigned to a launch maintenance crew with the 389th Missile Maintenance Squadron.

- Retired Chief Master Sgt. Napoleon Yates enlisted in the Air Force during its infancy in 1951. He was issued brown shoes, making him a true part of the “brown shoes corps” and upon completion of basic training, he was promoted to private first class. Yates worked as a contracting specialist during his 29-year career.

- Retired Capt. Jerry Yellin is an Army Air Corps veteran who served between 1941 and 1945. Yellin enlisted two months after Pearl Harbor on his 18th birthday. Yellin was part of the first land-based fighter mission over Japan on April 7, 1945, and was the lead on the last mission of the war on August 14, 1945.

- Capt. Louis Zamperini (separated) was an Olympic distance runner, inspirational speaker and an Airman during World War II. He was a bombardier in a B-24 that was flying a reconnaissance mission on May 27, 1943, when his aircraft malfunctioned and fell into the Pacific Ocean.

For more information visit Veterans in Blue.