Honoring our fallen comrades in memory

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Jeffrey Neuberger
  • 92nd Air Refueling Wing Chaplain
His name was Staff Sergeant Leslie V. Sampson, and his is the eighth name on the Vietnam Memorial Wall. He was born April 9, 1936, in Richey, Mo. On March 23, 1961, while on a mission from Osan Air Base, Korea, the C-47 transport aircraft in which he was the radio operator was shot down over the skies of Laos. Five crewmen and one passenger died in the subsequent crash; a second passenger survived using a parachute, was captured by the Pathet Lao and held until his release 17 months later.

I became a part of Sergeant Leslie Sampson's story when in June 1992 I was asked to drive from Minot Air Force Base, N.D., to Glendive, Mo., to conduct a memorial service for him. For 30-years his remains had gone undetected and unidentified. In July 1991 the crash site was located and the remains recovered. By early December 1991 the remains had been positively identified and Sergeant Sampson could finally make the journey home for proper military honors and burial.

I knew none of this as I made the five-hour drive through the North Dakota prairie, crossed the Yellowstone River and made my way to the community of Glendive. The night before the service, I met the gathered members of Leslie's family, his wife, daughters and extended family. It was then I learned the personal details of his life and met those who knew and loved him.

The next day, on a barren hill overlooking the Montana prairie, the local VFW honor guard provided what every veteran may receive at the moment of peaceful rest - the rightful honors due those who answer the call, raise their right hand, and step into a commitment of service to our nation, its people and its Constitution.

A quote defining veterans recently stopped me in my tracks. Its author is anonymous, its truth undeniable: "A veteran is someone who, at one point in his or her life, wrote a blank check made payable to the United States of America, for an amount of 'up to and including my life.'" Leslie Sampson and countless others like him signed that blank check. And we remember.

At the base of the flag pole in front of our wing headquarters building is a bronze plaque which reads: "In memory of all Fairchild Air Force Base personnel who have given their lives in service to their country and in pursuit of world peace. The City of Spokane."

This time-honored sentiment expressed by the citizens of Spokane will be shared by millions in this country as we commemorate Memorial Day, remembering the sacrifice of those who gave their all. We remember and we are thankful.