Dover – The Dover AFB Honor Guard performed military honors at a funeral service for retired Maj. John L. Harrison, Jr., World War II veteran and Tuskegee Airman, March 31, 2017, at the Chapel of the Four Chaplains at the Navy Yard in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
“It’s a great honor to give military funeral honors to the fallen Tuskegee Airman,” said Tech. Sgt. Isaiah Martin, NCO in charge of the Dover AFB Honor Guard. “I was able to step in his footsteps; he paved the way for us to do what we do today. It was a great honor to give back to him.”
The Tuskegee Airmen is a group of African-American military pilots who fought in WWII, with the 332nd Fighter Group and the 477th Bombardment Group of the U.S. Army Air Forces. Harrison was one of nearly 1,000 pilots who trained at the Tuskegee Army Air Field, near Tuskegee, Alabama, as a segregated unit.
“We were Americans, we were young, and we wanted to defend our country, just like everyone else,” Harrison said in a 2009 oral history.
In the war, Harrison saw combat over Italy. During the later stages of his Air Force career, Harrison also was the first African-American pilot to regularly fly passengers and cargo across both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. He retired in June 1963.
The Dover AFB Honor Guard was tasked to perform military honors at his funeral. It was a cold rainy afternoon at the Navy Yard. The weather and terrain played a factor in the ceremony for the Honor Guard team.
“There are always a lot of factors and a lot of elements that we have to change-up every day,” said Martin. “For the team I went up there with, I’m happy that they were able to think on their feet and pay attention to all types of details. I have nothing but good things to say.”
Senior Airman Joshua Dinan, who acted as the NCO in charge of the firing party, was one of the Airmen combating the harsh conditions.
“It was freezing outside,” he said. “I was shaking it was so cold. But we train for this; we always keep our bearing.”
Dinan also had the unique task of being the only one shouting orders and commands.
“I’m there screaming at the top of my lungs in front of the family,” he said. “I give the commands to pick up their rifles, get ready to fire, and I give them the command to charge their round and fire three volleys.”
While Dinan had the job to yell commands, Airman 1st Class Joshua Ashe, who acted as the NCO in charge of pallbearers, had another more somber assignment. He was responsible for presenting a folded American Flag to Harrison’s daughter and repeating the words:
“On behalf of the President of the United States, the United States Air Force, and a grateful Nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one’s honorable and faithful service.”
Martin stated that he was proud of Ashe for volunteering for this role.
“Honestly, don’t mess up,” Ashe stated were the thoughts going through his head. “This is the last thing that the military gives that person who is mourning. It meant a lot to honor someone like that, especially to hand the flag off to the family.”
Ashe stated that he was privileged to be a part of this ceremony.
“It was a good way to go out for me,” he said. “I only have two weeks left with Honor Guard. I’m ending on a high note.”
In addition to Martin, Dinan and Ashe, the Honor Guard team was comprised of Senior Airman Tommie Hudson, Airman 1st Class Kyle Dillon, Airman 1st Class Guy Crawford, Airman 1st Class Cassandra Kalie and Airman 1st Class Spencer Martin.
Source: Senior Airman Zachary Cacicia, 436th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Image Credits: U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Zachary Cacicia