At the Air Force Academy Chapel I attended the memorial service for Brigadier General David W. Winn, whose family I have known for a decade and more. It was a moving experience to participate in a service with full military honors, befitting an officer of such singular character, a man with a life so well lived.
This is a man who has fought for his country in two wars, first joining up at the age of 19 and flying in WWII. Following the war he attended college before returning to active duty.
When I arrived at the Chapel, an honor guard stood upon the steps holding flags. These were the Patriot Guard Riders, motorcyclists who honor veterans at their funerals. This group wore emblems respecting those who had been Prisoners Of War. Indeed, General Winn had spent time in the Hanoi Hilton, the infamous “Hell Hole” of the Hoa Lo Prison in Northern Vietnam.
While imprisoned and tortured in his 6×9 foot cell he had a profound encounter with Christ, and received the assurance that he’d be freed, that his sins were forgiven, that he was to love his family, and to share what he had.
He did, and left a tremendous legacy, including 6 of his family who have served in the military, including four currently on active deployment. Before retiring he served as Commander of “the Mountain” as we locals affectionately refer to NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command located some 1,600 feet under Cheyenne Mountain.
Following a closing hymn and the benediction, there was a 21-gun salute, and exit to the bagpipe strains of Amazing Grace. In a unique and particular honor for the General, the missing man formation of F-15E jets flew directly over the Chapel.
The Major in charge of the flyover explained the history going back to WWI when British fighter pilots honored the funeral of German flying ace Manfred von Richthofen, the “Red Baron.” Thereafter, British fliers signaled the ground crews in the same way of missing planes upon returning from a sortie.
This brought to my recollection a story the General told me last year at the Air Force vs. Navy football game. Before the game there were many jet flyovers. It concluded with a pair of F-22 jets flying over in formation that was not particularly tight. As both Air Force and Navy aviators are known to fly this jet, the General concluded the following:
“They’re obviously Navy pilots. You know the definition of a Navy formation: two jets flying in the same direction… on the same day.”
Blue skies and tail winds, General.
Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian