Fallen Warriors Portrait Project
By Bob Gehbauer
The walls of the Collin County courthouse in McKinney, Tex., are lined with portraits of fallen warriors and veterans, depictions created by artist and Air Force veteran Colin Kimball, an Air Force Association Member who’s active with AFA’s Seidel Chapter in Dallas.
Kimball began his Fallen Warrior Portrait Project in 2013 and it now includes some 76 paintings with nearly a dozen portraits joining the collection each year.
“I cannot live with forgetting their sacrifices,” Kimball said. “Every portrait I do honors my [fallen] friend Frankie, a Marine PFC, and all who gave the ultimate sacrifice in Vietnam. That’s my motivation for doing what I do.”
The newest addition to the wall depicts former prisoner of war (POW) and U.S. Rep. Sam Johnson, a retired colonel who served 14 terms in Congress following a military career that included a MiG kill in the Korean War and nearly seven years as a POW in North Vietnam. Johnson died on May 27, 2020.
Kimball’s portrait was dedicated at a ceremony in the courthouse on Nov. 9, with Johnson’s daughter and son-in-law, Beverly and Scott Briney attending. Also present were retired Lt. Gen. John “Soup” Campbell, the Seidel Chapter president; Chuck Daniels, the president of the Dallas Chapter of the Military Order of the World Wars; Judge Keith Self, Gulf War veteran; retired Col. Ken Cordier, fellow Hanoi POW; Chris Hill, Collin County Judge; and the members of the Commissioners Court.
A fighter pilot who performed with the Thunderbirds, Johnson was a true Texas hero, whose 29-year Air Force career saw him fly dozens of combat missions in Korea in the F-86 Sabre and in Vietnam in F-4 Phantoms. Johnson was released from Vietnamese custody during Operation Homecoming, in February 1973, weighing only 120 pounds and with permanent damage to his hand and leg.
A Life Member of AFA and member of the Seidel Chapter, he earned AFA’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013.
Happy Birthday, Space Force!
AFA Helps Bring USO to Lakenheath
By Jennifer Hlad
The USO began considering RAF Lakenheath, U.K., as a possible location for a USO center in 2016, at the request of the 48th Fighter Wing commander at the time, then-Col. Robert G. Novotny. But a lack of space and commitments to support deployed forces elsewhere put the idea on the back burner—until the 2019 short-notice deployment of the 494th Fighter Squadron to Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates over Christmas. That’s when the Air Force Association stepped in.
AFA President Lt. Gen. Bruce “Orville” Wright learned that the families at Lakenheath needed some extra support, so he called on the USO to help. The USO responded immediately with programs and care packages, but also revisited the idea of a center.
The RAF Lakenheath USO center is slated to open March 1. A USO center in Poland should open around the same time.
The Lakenheath center will support the military population of nearly 10,000, plus the 12,500 family members and more than 1,800 civilian employees currently at the base—and will also support all personnel attached to the two F-35A squadrons coming to the base in late 2021, explained Walt Murren, USO’s Europe vice president.
“We’re going to continue to expand our mission, and especially with the F-35s coming in, that’s going to be important for us to be there for their reception, for the integration of their families into the community,” Murren said.
Though Lakenheath is in England, where “they speak almost the same English as we do,” it is still a foreign country, he said, adding that “during the week the sidewalks roll up, you know, when it gets dark, and there ain’t much to do.”
Once the USO center is open, he said, “There’s going to be a lot for people to do, and there’s going to be a lot of opportunities for people to volunteer. It’s going to give people a lot of activities because we always take care of our communities.”
Working to open the first USO center in the United Kingdom has not been without challenges, Murren said, but the USO was able to gain tax-exempt status from Her Majesty’s Revenue Service, and the 48th Fighter Wing helped them find space for the center in a former library that is centrally located between single service members and families.
“This is really a very special USO center,” Murren said. “We have not since our beginning, … almost 80 years ago, we have not had a USO in the United Kingdom, even though we’ve had probably hundreds of thousands of troops, if not millions of troops” there. “It’s about time.”