An Air Force Major’s Legacy of Heroism

An Air Force Major’s Legacy of Heroism November 11, 2014

The following column was written by The Christophers’ Jerry Costello:

The nice thing about Veterans Day is that it has a very democratic base for those it honors. All you have to do is serve in the U.S. Armed Forces. They don’t ask when you did, what you did, or how you did it. You qualify, period.

Of course, there are those who rate a special recognition—the combat veterans, the “Greatest Generation” of World War II, the heroes of all wars. All who won mention for bravery, as well as those who didn’t get mentioned but were brave nonetheless. And there is that unique category, those who have been awarded the Medal of Honor. They’re veterans too, with a capital “V.” One of them died not long ago after a full and active life, and he deserves our thanks as we pause once again to salute those who served their country. He did so, and did it in an extraordinary way.

His name was Bernard Fisher, and he served in the Vietnam War. Col. Bernard F. Fisher, U.S. Air Force, 87. After a childhood in both California and Utah, he was commissioned in the Air Force while serving in the ROTC at the University of Utah. Paul Vitello’s obituary told his story in The New York Times:

Fisher, then a major, led a group of planes strafing North Vietnamese positions and helping Special Forces commandos who were under attack by enemy forces. It was March 10, 1966. One of the other planes was hit by a shell, and had to crash-land—where it skidded first, then burst into flames. Maj. Fisher saw what was happening from the air: the crash, the fiery wreckage, the pilot’s escape from the downed plane, and his disappearance into the underbrush.

First he decided to radio for a rescue helicopter, then quickly realized that there wouldn’t be enough time. Enemy soldiers were everywhere, and, as the major later recalled, “They weren’t taking any prisoners.” The other pilot turned out to be Maj. Dafford Myers, someone from another unit whom Maj. Fisher had met infrequently and hardly knew. Still, another pilot was in trouble and needed him. Maj. Fisher knew what his answer would be: he would land his own plane on the debris-scarred runway and rescue Myers himself.

“It’s important,” he later reflected, “that you respond to your feelings when the time comes for it. “It all happened just as he planned—the rescue, the hurried takeoff, the dash to safety—and that’s why he found himself, less than a year later, in the White House in Washington. D.C. And that’s where President Lyndon B. Johnson awarded him the Medal of Honor.

Fisher retired as a colonel in 1974, then settled down on a farm in Idaho, where he and his wife raised seed corn and alfalfa. But a postscript goes with his story, too: every year on March 10, Maj. Myers called him to wish him well. And after Myers’ death in 1992, his daughter continued the tradition, right up to the anniversary date this year.

End of story, but hardly the end of Veterans Day. It goes on year after year, honoring all the men and women who answered the call. The requirements for entrance, to repeat a point, are remarkably democratic. It’s just that some, like Col. Fisher, answered in a special way. And they deserve equally special thanks this day.

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