by Staff Sgt. Steven R. Doty
47th Flying Training Wing Public Affairs
8/22/2014 - LAUGHLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- On
Aug. 16, 2014, the first living Air Force recipient of the Medal of
Honor and the first Air Force member to receive the Medal of Honor for
heroism during the Vietnam War, more importantly, an incredible legacy,
passed away in Idaho at the age of 87.
When I heard the news of his passing, I was stunned and saddened to know
that a part of our history was no longer with us and I retreated to a
memory that had a profound impact in my life.
The date, Feb. 26, 2008. The place, Kunsan Air Base, South Korea. This
time and place would mark a historical and memorable day for Kunsan, and
more specifically, me. I was a senior airman, only four years into my
career as a photographer, and I was preparing for the arrival of the
first living Air Force recipient of the Medal of Honor, retired Col.
His visit was a matter of circumstance. Fisher was visiting Kunsan to
see one of his sons, then-Maj. Steven Fisher. Despite the circumstances,
I was overwhelmed with excitement and extreme intimidation. I was about
to interact face-to-face with a man I had only read about in my
professional development guide and studied in Airman Leadership School.
Leading up to the seconds preceding our interview, one question ran
through my mind, "Who am I to gather and share the story of such a
hero?" All I had at the time were facts and insight into his reputation.
According to his citation, on March 10, 1966, in the A Shau Valley along
South Vietnam's western border with Laos, Colonel Fisher observed a
fellow Airman, Maj. Wayne Myers, crash land on the battle-torn airstrip
and despite the extreme danger and likely failure, landed his aircraft
and rescued the downed pilot. He was exposed to continuous enemy fire
throughout this rescue, receiving 19 bullet strikes to his aircraft.
Colonel Fisher was one of numerous heroes of the past who bravely and
distinctively displayed the Air Forces' core values of "Integrity
First", "Service Before Self" and "Excellence In All We Do". Fisher's
actions led to him receiving one of the military's most valued and
respected achievements; the Medal of Honor.
The anticipation rose as his envoy pulled up to the building. We greeted
each other in a small corner of the officer's club and immediately his
humble presence and unique chuckle relieved the overwhelming anxiousness
I was feeling at the time.
As we set up the lights, we began to talk about life, planes, Boy Scouts
of America and our families in great detail. This was the part of the
interview process that would cling to my heart the most.
As the interview began, he spoke softly but with great authority.
Everyone within a visible distance leaned forward on their toes to
absorb every word. He occupied the first 20 minutes of the scheduled
interview time talking about his farm in Kuna, Idaho, his wife of 60
years, Realla, and the pride he had for his six boys, joking that he
wouldn't stop unless I asked him another question.
I slowly transitioned into 'the meat' of the interview by asking, "So talk to me about March 10, 1966."
His response, "It was hot, but so was everyday", and then he chuckled
and covered his eyes from the studio lights and looked around the room
to see if everyone else had heard him.
As he spoke of the events that day in Vietnam, his voice drew us in and
no movement or sound outside of his voice could be seen or heard. He
spoke of the events matter-of-factly, like it was an everyday
We closed the interview and enjoyed lunch, a simulator ride and a tour of the 35th Fighter Squadron.
More inspiring than sharing 60 minutes of uninterrupted time with
Fisher, was watching him interact with the various Airmen. He laughed
and joked, listened and asked questions and was awed at the
professionalism of the military he was proud to still be a part of.
As I wrote the article, the gravity of what had just occurred began to
settle in. I had just taken part in something special and historic. I
was taught from day one that telling the Air Force story is a force
multiplier that creates force projection and presence around the world.
As much as I had been taught that theory, I hadn't succumbed to the
belief that it was true or that I would ever truly experience that
emotion. However, after learning of his death and recognizing how much
his story affected me in so short a meeting, I realized then that
telling our story matters and impacts all Airmen.
"What a sad day for America and the United States Air Force to witness
the passing of another American hero," said Col. Brian E. Hastings, 47th
Flying Training Wing commander. "Reading Colonel Fisher's Medal of
Honor citation is awe inspiring and truly embodies the essence of our
core values and Airman's Creed. As an A-10 pilot, it is truly an honor
to be a part of the continuing legacy of attack pilots. His story is the
Airman story. It is our Air Force story, and what a great story it is."
As so many are honored to have served in the continuing legacy of a
hero, I am privileged to have had a moment with Colonel Fisher. I will
forever have a piece of that history in my interview notes, story and
photos that I still keep.
More importantly, I, like so many others, am eager to reach out to
others who have an important part of our military's history in their
hearts, ready to share for future generations.
I end this tribute with Colonel Fisher's final statement from our interview on Feb. 26, 2008.
"I want Airmen to remember the standards and expectations they were
sworn to hold and know that the members before you are very proud,"
Colonel Fisher said. "Understand that the satisfaction you get from the
Air Force does not come in a medal, it comes from knowing that you are a
part of something bigger than yourself."