U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Matthew Caruso, 27th Special Operations Wing command chief, and Staff Sgt. Dustin Hawkins, 27th Special Operations Civil Engineer Squadron electrical power production journeyman, award John Carlson during a Hall of Heroes recognition ceremony at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., April 26, 2012. Carlson was the twenty-first person to be inducted into the hall of heroes, a program that honors service members who have made great sacrifice while serving their country. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jette Carr)
U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Matthew Caruso, 27th Special Operations Wing command chief, and Staff Sgt. Dustin Hawkins, 27th Special Operations Civil Engineer Squadron electrical power production journeyman, award Dan McKinney with tokens of appreciation during a Hall of Heroes recognition ceremony at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., April 26, 2012. McKinney served in the Korean War, where he survived being held as a prisoner of war for two years. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jette Carr)
Wayne Higgs stands in front of his “Hall of Heroes” shadowbox in the during a recognition ceremony at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., April 26, 2012. Higgs was an infantryman in the U.S. Marine Corp and fought in the Battle of Iwo Jima. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jette Carr)
by Senior Airman Jette Carr
27th Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
5/7/2012 - CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- What is a hero? Merriam-Webster's Dictionary states this character is a man admired for his achievements and noble qualities, who shows great courage and is an illustrious warrior. Can you think of anyone who embodies all these traits? Have you thanked them for being your hero?
"To me, a hero is someone from the past that has sacrificed them self for a cause," said Master Sgt. Brian Rollefson, 27th Special Operations Force Support Squadron, commandant of the Airman Leadership School. "The Hall of Heroes program makes them visible - all these people that have shown us that things are bigger than ourselves, such as service to our country.
For the Air Commandos attending Airman Leadership School at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., honoring their fellow military heroes is important. Eight years ago, this school established The Hall of Heroes, where distinctive service members are commemorated with a shadowbox displaying mementos from their time in the military displayed on a wall in the Landing Zone.
For ALS students to gain a deeper appreciation for those who came before and to celebrate the accomplishments of current Hall of Heroes inductees, a recognition ceremony was held April 26 at the Landing Zone. The service members invited on base and given recognition were: Dan McKinney, Robert Simmons, Wayne Higgs and John Carlson.
Dan McKinney was the seventh inductee into the Hall of Heroes. He was drafted in to the U.S. Army in 1944 during World War II. He later served in the Korean War with the 24th Infantry Division, K Company. Before he left for war, he and his fiancé had decided that April 22, 1951 would be their wedding day. Unfortunately, on that date, the Chinese attacked McKinney's unit and he was captured along with 1,500 other men.
They were forced to march 60 days, covering roughly 600 miles to Camp Changson, North Korea, and only 700 of the men survived. The prisoners of war did not receive medical care from the Chinese. During the winter months, temperatures would drop to 35 degrees below zero and still the POWs received little to no clothing. The food generally consisted of sorgum, millet, and peanut flour, which led to severe cases of diarrhea. They also couldn't drink the water without boiling it first or it would lead to dysentery.
McKinney was a POW from April 1951 to August 1953. After patiently waiting for two years, Mr. McKinney was reunited with his fiancé, and they were married two months later.
McKinney has spoken to 48 consecutive classes and is considered an honorary member of the ALS staff.
Robert Simmons was the fourteenth inductee to the Hall of Heroes. He enlisted in the United States Marine Corp in 1946 and retired as a First Sergeant after 20 years of service.
Simmons was a member of the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment as an infantryman. He fought in the Battle of the Chosen Reservoir, one of the coldest battles American service members have fought in to date. Simmons was never wounded in battle. However, he did suffer from symptoms of frostbite, like most of the men there.
Before his arrival in Korea, he received special cold weather training and was placed in charge of delivering cold weather gear to all of the U.S. Marines spread out along the mountain road leading to the Chosen Reservoir. Many men would have died from the severe weather conditions if the cold weather gear was not successfully delivered.
Once the gear was delivered, Simmons took charge of night patrols as a squad leader. Intense combat took place each night with the Chinese, especially during the last weeks of November 1950, and the men would shoot at anything moving at night.
Simmons moved to Clovis, N.M., in 1966 after retiring from the U.S. Marine Corp and went to work at Sandia Elementary where he taught 4th, 5th and 6th grades until his retirement in 1982.
Wayne Higgswas the eighteenth Inductee to the Hall of Heroes. Higgs was drafted into the U.S. Marine Corp in 1944. He became an infantryman in the 1st Battalion, 28th Marine Regiment, 5th Marine Division, Alpha Company, also known as the "Spearheads".
Higgs fought in the Battle of Iwo Jima and was the second marine to step foot on the island. His battalion was sent to Iwo Jima to secure three airfields, push to the coastline, then turn southwest to isolate and secure Mt. Surabachi. After 30 consecutive days of fighting Higgs and his fellow marines took their position at the bottom of Mt. Surabachi first and began their assault up the mountain.
Higgs was wounded midday in the right shoulder and thigh during one of the many firefights. The fighting was so intense that he could not be evacuated until nightfall.
Mt. Surabachi was secured four days later and is the site of the historic World War II photo of U.S. Marines raising the American flag.
Higgs was dedicated to his country and said he would have stayed in the military if given a choice, but his injuries warranted an early out.
John Carlson was the twenty-first Inductee to the Hall of Heroes. He enlisted in the Navy in 1945, but later left in 1947 to join the Air Force pilot training program. Carlson graduated pilot training in 1949 and was recruited as a pilot instructor.
In 1967, he was sent to the Air Commando base at Nakon Fanom, also known as NKP, in northeast Thailand. Carlson was assigned to the 602nd Special Operations Squadron, where he flew the Douglas A1 Skyraider. His mission was to conduct searches for downed aircrews, escort rescue helicopters and suppress hostile forces.
Between 1967 and 1971 Carlson received 31 Air Medals, one Bronze Star, two Silver Stars, and six Distinguished Flying Crosses for outstanding heroism and selfless devotion to duty.
One citation read that Carlson flew in a flight of two Skyraiders in the successful search and rescue effort of a downed F-4 pilot 20 miles west of Dong Hoi, North Vietnam. Carlson repeatedly flew his slow and vulnerable propeller-driven aircraft at an extremely low altitude through the valley where the survivor was located, attracting fire from the anti-aircraft guns defending the area, in order to locate their positions. By intentionally placing himself between the hostile guns and the rescue helicopter he helped to ensure the successful rescue of a fellow airman from almost certain death or capture.
After Vietnam Mr. Carlson became a test pilot and played an integral role in the Apollo Astronaut Flight Testing Program by providing over 4200 "Zero G" maneuvers, which accounted for 2100 minutes of simulated free space and lunar gravitational conditions.
He retired in 1974 as a Lieutenant Colonel after 27 years of service.
After hearing the stories of these four men, Command Chief Master Sgt. Matthew Caruso, 27th Special Operations Wing command chief, said, "My heart is in my throat when we talk about what these men did for their country and an the behalf of the Wing Commander and all the men and women at Cannon, I want to say that we are truly sorry. We apologize for not doing this sooner. This event is simply long overdue.
"It's been over four years since we've had any outreach to hall of heroes inductees or inducted a new member. From this point forward, we will have an event like this twice a year, if not more often, to honor the service of those who have gone before us in battle."
During Cannon Air Force Base's transition to Air Force Special Operations Command the program faded, but recent effort to revitalize the program has been made between wing leadership and ALS instructors. A new inductee should be added to the wall by the year's end.
"Many heroes aren't recognized until after they have passed away," said Rollefson. "It's important to get this program up and running again because we want to let these people know now that we honor and appreciate their sacrifices. They are important to us - they are our heroes."
(All service member biographies listed above were provided by the Airman Leadership School at Cannon AFB.)