WASHINGTON — Family has been known to show up for each other during times of both joy and sorrow. So when the Air Force’s most recent Medal of Honor recipient was honored at the Air Force Memorial, there was no question that his loved ones, his Air Force Special Operations family and the Airmen who call him “hero” would test the venue’s maximum capacity limit.
Air Force leaders, and the family of fallen combat controller Master Sgt. John Chapman, unveiled his name on the memorial’s Medal of Honor recipient wall during a ceremony Aug. 24, 2018, in Arlington, Virginia.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve gathered together like this – not to mourn a loss, but to celebrate a life – and to celebrate the proud legacy of our special operators,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein.
“Today, we’re all air commandos…because this is an Air Force moment – a time to bring together those from our past, our present and our future.”
This event was the last of three initial ceremonies held in Chapman’s honor.
According to Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright, defining moments in one’s life can be described as meaningful experiences that stand out in memory, and they provide a connection to those who experience them together.
“This week has been a series of defining moments for all of us,” Wright said. “This is a historic week as an Air Force, and for the special operations community, as we celebrate the life and heroism of John Chapman. It’s our sacred duty to honor all Airmen for their sacrifices, but none more important today than John.”
Over the last 25 years, the special tactics community has received the majority of the Air Force’s valor awards, receiving 11 Air Force Crosses, 78 Silver Stars, 652 Bronze Stars – 360 with valor, and 132 Purple Hearts.
“You may very well be quiet professionals, but your gallantry and your bravery does not fall upon deaf ears,” Wright said.
Chapman is the first special tactics Airman to receive the Medal of Honor, earned for his actions on Takur Ghar Mountain in Afghanistan March 4, 2002. Upon receiving the medal, Chapman was posthumously promoted to the rank of master sergeant.
“The United States Air Force, Air Force Special Operations community, and in particular, combat controllers, will long remember John’s life of selflessness, relentless drive and above all, his courage,” said “Father of Special Ops” retired Col. John “Coach” Carney. “Young Airmen of the future will learn of John’s saga and benefit greatly from his story. His display of courage will continue to inspire future members of our special operations forces, and he will not be forgotten.”
Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson shared that when Chapman’s widow, Valerie, received news of his death, she grew even closer to the Air Force family, and explained how she continues to take care of Gold Star families today.
“Valerie has become a first responder of sorts for other families when terrible news comes,” Wilson said as she introduced Valerie to the packed audience. “Whenever she gets the call, she is there.”
For Valerie, it’s an honor.
“I am thankful for these heroes who serve and protect our country, and I’m humbled my husband was one of them,” Valerie said.
“I am eternally grateful to the Air Force as a whole, in particular my special tactics community, and – in my humble opinion, the best family ever – my combat control family.
As we leave this Air Force memorial today I ask each and every one of you to share John’s story. He’s the definition of a true hero. Continue to tell the stories of all our fallen and wounded warriors. Never stop saying their names.”