From one Airman to another: Thank you

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Joe W. McFadden, 52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs, right, Staff Sgt. Kyle DeMarco, 52nd Medical Support Squadron, center, and Staff Sgt. Robbie Arp, 52nd FW Public Affairs, left, finish a song during the Air Force Ball at Club Eifel at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, Sept. 13, 2014. The Air Force Ball marked the 67th anniversary of the Air Force as its own military branch. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Timothy Kim/Released)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Joe W. McFadden, 52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs, right, Staff Sgt. Kyle DeMarco, 52nd Medical Support Squadron, center, and Staff Sgt. Robbie Arp, 52nd FW Public Affairs, left, finish a song during the Air Force Ball at Club Eifel at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, Sept. 13, 2014. The Air Force Ball marked the 67th anniversary of the Air Force as its own military branch. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Timothy Kim/Released)

(From left to right) First Lt. Joshua Dryden, 480th Fighter Squadron, Staff Sgt. Rebekah Farmer, 52nd Medical Operations Squadron, Airman 1st Class Austin Holden, 52nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, Lt. Col. Ken Benton, 701st Munitions Support Squadron, and Senior Master Sgt. Aaron Lewis, 52nd Civil Engineer Squadron, stand at parade rest as part of the "Every Airman has A Story" sequence during the Air Force Ball at Club Eifel at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, Sept. 13, 2014. The Airmen read fictional letters based on different eras in Air Force history as part of the guest speaker portion of the ball. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Timothy Kim/Released)

(From left to right) First Lt. Joshua Dryden, 480th Fighter Squadron, Staff Sgt. Rebekah Farmer, 52nd Medical Operations Squadron, Airman 1st Class Austin Holden, 52nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, Lt. Col. Ken Benton, 701st Munitions Support Squadron, and Senior Master Sgt. Aaron Lewis, 52nd Civil Engineer Squadron, stand at parade rest as part of the "Every Airman has A Story" sequence during the Air Force Ball at Club Eifel at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, Sept. 13, 2014. The Airmen read fictional letters based on different eras in Air Force history as part of the guest speaker portion of the ball. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Timothy Kim/Released)

Retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Richard Cole, one of the Doolittle Raiders, answers questions from Hurlburt Airmen during a session at the 319th Special Operations Squadron auditorium at Hurlburt Field, Fla., April 18, 2013. Cole served as co-pilot alongside then-Lt. Col. James Doolittle during a bombing raid over Japan April 18, 1942. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Hayden K. Hyatt)

Retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Richard Cole, one of the Doolittle Raiders, answers questions from Hurlburt Airmen during a session at the 319th Special Operations Squadron auditorium at Hurlburt Field, Fla., April 18, 2013. Cole served as co-pilot alongside then-Lt. Col. James Doolittle during a bombing raid over Japan April 18, 1942. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Hayden K. Hyatt)

Retired Maj. Gen. John Elison, right, speaks with an airman during the Air Commando Heritage Symposium at the Air Force Special Operations Training Center auditorium at Hurlburt Field Oct. 9. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joe McFadden.)

Retired Maj. Gen. John Alison, right, speaks with an airman during the Air Commando Heritage Symposium at the Air Force Special Operations Training Center auditorium at Hurlburt Field Oct. 9, 2009. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joe McFadden.)

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany -- Editor's Note: Staff Sgt. Joe W. McFadden served as a co-emcee for the 67th Anniversary Air Force Ball at Club Eifel at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, Sept. 13, 2014. The following letter was read during the Ball. It is based on McFadden's day of reporting on two World War II-era Airmen's visit to Chièvres Air Base, Belgium, Aug. 9, 2014. While it is addressed to them and signed between "American Airmen," it is also addressed to all World War II veterans and Airmen who served before the creation of the U.S. Department of the Air Force who McFadden has interviewed or written about in his capacity as an Air Force photojournalist since 2009.

Sept. 18, 2014

Dear American Airman,

I know I'm writing this long after we last spoke. You may not remember me, given all the people who met and thanked you that day, but I will always remember you and what you told me.

Thank you for taking your time to share your story with us. You and your fellow Airmen did incredible things 70 years ago. I know that because of the looks on the faces of the people who thanked you when you came here, especially the citizens of this country.

Which reminds me of something that happened earlier that day: as I walked around before the event, some civilians from this country came up to me to thank me, but I didn't do anything. I'm not the one who should be thanked. You - the Airman and your colleagues who we honored - were the people who saved their families during the war. I had nothing to do with that. I didn't storm the beaches. I didn't liberate the villages. I didn't do any of that.

I mentioned this to you when we spoke and you told me that just as your generation - often called the greatest - could make a difference, so could the ones who followed you... even me. You were called to do something extraordinary, and those who followed you did, too. I want to thank you for that, and showing me how, as long as I serve in this uniform, I can continue to make that difference.

I want to conclude by sharing something about my base as we celebrate the U.S. Air Force's 67th Birthday. Some time ago, my shop officer-in-charge had us learn to recite all the verses of the Air Force Song. My fellow Airmen weren't sure what this was going to teach us, but I've learned a lot about the Air Force and myself from it, especially the final verse:

Off we go into the wild sky yonder 
Keep the wings level and true 
If you'd live to be a grey-haired wonder 
Keep the nose out of the blue! 
Flying men, guarding the nation's border 
We'll be there followed by more! 
In echelon we carry on, Hey! 
Nothing'll stop the U.S. Air Force!


I rarely hear this verse, but the symbolism stuck with me. When they sing, "we'll be there followed by more" - they were talking about your successors to serve in uniform. They were talking about those who served in Korea, in Vietnam, in the Cold War, in the War on Terrorism and even me today.

From one Airman to another, I'm proud to continue the work they all started; but I'm also aware "in echelon, we carry on" and that others will follow me even 67 years from now. And just like you did, I should be mindful of them, too.

So, if it means anything to you now, I want you to know that I'm grateful to follow in your footsteps in the U.S. Air Force.

With respect and appreciation for you showing the way,
Your successor, An American Airman  

Dedicated to
Maj. Gen. John Alison
Col. Bud Day
Lt. Col. Richard Cole
Lt. Col. Richard Kling
Lt. Col. Edward Saylor 
Capt. Archie Maltbie
Staff Sgt. David Thatcher
Sgt. Hugh-Cecil Jackson
"The Wereth 11"
The crew of "The Joker"
The crew of "Curley's Kids"
The crew of "Off Spring"