A sense of history

  • Published
  • By Col. James S. Moeller
  • 55th Aerospace Medicine Squadron commander
In 1994 I was deployed to southern France supporting Operation Deny Flight. During the 50th anniversary of the D-day invasion of Normandy, which began the liberation of France and the defeat of Nazi Germany.

This was the only time I've ever sent back for my service dress uniform during a deployment. I was asked to represent the U.S. Air Force during a memorial ceremony at a U.S. cemetery in southern France where a large number of American Airmen were buried after being shot down on missions in the air battle to liberate France.

This occasion remains one of the most memorable events in my life. The appreciation of the French for those Airmen who paid the highest price to aid in the liberation was evident as they lavished on me the thanks due to those fallen heroes.

It was one of those times when the sense of history was heavy in the air.

As I was growing up, I was always fascinated by reading the accounts of these almost legendary men who fought in World War II. The sacrifices they made, the fierce opposition they faced, and their perseverance through it all, seemed somehow very different from the things I was hearing about the Vietnam War going on at that time. Somehow the Vietnam War didn't seem to be as large or as heroic as WW II. It seemed to lack that sense of history being made in WW II.

It was difficult at that time to feel that Vietnam had the same historical importance. A few years ago I visited the Vietnam Memorial in Washington and felt the same sense of history from the Vietnam War as WW II. Perhaps it's only with time that we can realize the historical significance of what is going on in the present.

How about today? Are we as Airmen making history? Few of us really feel that we are. We go about doing our daily jobs and it all seems so routine, just like any other job. We deploy to different areas of the world and occasionally go in harm's way, but the routine tasks we do don't seem to have any real historical significance. Other than perhaps the wing historian, none of us catalog the things going on in our lives as we go about our jobs both at home and deployed.

Yet, whether we realize it or not, we are making history. We contribute daily to the security of our country. We're helping reshape the world and the destinies of Iraq and Afghanistan.

During the Cold War, thousands of Airmen stood alert, prepared to respond. At that time, probably none of them thought they were making history. They didn't drop any bombs, shoot down any enemy aircraft or any of those actions that we associate with history. But, with time comes perspective. A few years ago a medal was awarded to those who served during the time we "won" the Cold War. A war was won without dropping any bombs.
Worldwide destruction via nuclear weapons was prevented because of those Airmen standing alert and convincing a potential enemy we were ready. It was only later that we realized that these Airmen were making history.

I wonder how many of the Airmen in WW II felt they were making history. Perhaps many of them felt the same as we do today. Although many flew very dangerous missions with much higher rates of loss than we see today, many also flew routine or even boring missions. They maintained the planes on the ground, guarded the bases, treated the sick and injured and cooked the meals. I'm sure boredom and long hours were the routine stresses they faced with only occasional episodes of contact with the enemy. I'm also sure the average Airman in WW II rarely thought he was making history. It was probably hard to see the big picture and each person's contribution to winning the war. Yet each individual Airman made a difference and had his part in making that history we now recognize.

Although we may not see our contributions to the current conflict in Southwest Asia, our world-wide deterrence posture, and the many other contributions that history will recognize, today's Airmen are making history. Someday we too will be able to look back and proudly see how our actions preserved our country, freed a people, eased suffering after an earthquake, prevented the death and destruction of a war, and many other things that only time will put into historical perspective.

Each day we have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to make a difference - to make history. Let's try to keep that sense of history alive every day.