Remember the long line of heroes before us this Memorial Day

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Scott T. Sturkol
  • U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center Public Affairs
From the Revolutionary War to Operation Iraqi Freedom, there has been a long line of heroes who set forth an effort to protect the liberties that have made our country what it is today. And every Memorial Day, I salute them.

You may ask yourself, "What defines a hero?" Truth is there are many forms. However, when referring to Memorial Day, I'm talking about the ones who serve or have served and those who paid the ultimate sacrifice through service to their country in the armed forces. My understanding of these kinds of heroes started as a child in my Michigan hometown where I had a newspaper route through the main areas of town.

Since that is going back more than 20 years, I have to admit that I initially saw these customers in the typical manner of young people - they were "old timers."

It was never in the sense of disrespect so much as it was just simply that they were older than me. I learned early on in life to respect my elders and respect is what they received.

Despite my youthful shortcomings, once I got to know my newspaper clientele, I found out there were many veterans from World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Some were also parents of military veterans who died in those wars. It didn't take long for me to realize just how special these folks were. Many ended up being an inspiration to me and helping guide me on the path I'm on today as a career service member. More importantly, they are all heroes to me.

One particular veteran I knew growing up is an Air Force veteran named Henry Backman. Mr. Backman is not a famous celebrity, but he was a member of my church, a former town mayor, a family friend, and someone who for no particular reason took an interest in looking out for me now and then.

He was also the one person, while I was a senior in high school in 1987, who told me that I should consider the Air Force as a place to further my life. It took almost five years before I took him up on his suggestion, but to this day I thank him for that inspiration.

As the years have passed, to include the past 15 in the Air Force, I have met and learned about many more heroes. Those people range from retired Lt. Col. Herbert Carter, one of the original Tuskegee Airmen, to retired Brig. Gen. Chuck Yeager - an Air Force legend when he became the first man to break the speed of sound in 1947.

The list of heroes also includes retired Chief Master Sgt. Grace Peterson, the first female chief master sergeant in the Air Force whose likeness is represented in Grace Peterson Hall right across from where I work in the U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center.

My heroes list also has the first Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force, retired CMSAF Paul Airey, and more recently, Staff Sgt. John T. Self - a security forces craftsman from Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark., who died recently while supporting OIF. Bless his family for his sacrifice.

I brought up the Revolutionary War to start because for more than 230 years, since the United States became a country, millions of Americans have served this country's armed forces protecting the freedoms we all enjoy. Here in New Jersey where I live, major battles during the United States' drive for independence took place in the Revolutionary War in 1776 and before. You can walk among the old battlefields where heroes once walked, and though quiet now, you can still imagine the sacrifice and courage it took to continue and fight. It took the stuff heroes are made of.

This Memorial Day, I encourage you to remember and pay homage to those heroes who have defended our freedoms for more than two centuries. We have our freedoms because of the debt they paid to keep this country free.

My list of heroes is long and large and never stops growing. It goes back to the beginning and grows from there. Whether it's Gen. George Washington or Staff Sgt. Self, I will remember all my heroes this Memorial Day. I encourage you to remember your long line of heroes too.