Remembering a good person, Airman

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Steven Armitage
  • 366th Medical Support Squadron
This is my memory about a young Airman named Ed.

Ed was a technical school Airman assigned to the 366th Training Squadron at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, when I was a military training leader there. Ed wasn't one of my Airmen; he was assigned to another MTL.

Ed was the type of guy that everybody instantly liked. He would often stop by my office on his way to lunch to say hello and see if there was anything he could do for me. Airman leaders were normally assigned the task of assisting the MTLs. Ed wasn't an Airman leader, but he was a dependable Airman, so I felt comfortable giving him small tasks.

After graduating from tech school, Ed PCS'd overseas to his first duty station. Like countless numbers of other Airmen before and after Ed, I wondered how he was doing and what he was up to. Many of them would send me an e-mail update or call for a quick phone conversation. I always enjoyed that my Airmen thought about me after they left. But, I never heard from Ed.

About a month after Ed graduated, rumors circulated in the dorm that Ed had passed away. I couldn't believe what I'd heard. I spoke with my chief MTL about the rumors and he said he'd do some checking. The next day the chief MTL told me the rumors were indeed true, but he'd received this information through unofficial channels and I wasn't to release it to the Airmen. I was then tasked with finding out how this information got out to the Airmen, since Ed had died the day before.

At the next schoolhouse meeting I had with my Airmen, the topic of Ed's death came up. When they asked me if it was true, I told them I hadn't heard anything. I then asked how they got this information. One Airman told me that another Airman here in the dorm received a phone call from a friend of Ed's at his base overseas. Ed's friend told the Airman here that they were partying pretty hard in their dorm, and Ed passed out. When they couldn't get Ed to wake up, they put him in the bathtub to revive him, but they were unable. Ed, had in essence, drank himself to death.

After Ed's friend called the hospital and the ambulance took him away, he found Ed's cell phone and called the last number Ed dialed. It just happened to be one of the Airmen in my dorm.

The next day was a wing-wide blood drive. Any Airman donating blood was released from physical training that afternoon, so the Solid Rock Cafe was packed with donors. I volunteered to work the blood drive and was busy forming Airmen into lines and getting them through the doors. I was inside the Solid Rock Cafe when my Airmen showed up. I forced my way through the crowd and started talking with them. They began telling me stories about Ed and how sad they were that he was gone.

Within a matter of minutes I heard a bone-chilling shriek from a few Airmen back in line. I turned my attention in that direction. No words can possibly describe how I felt when I saw Ed's wife. She was about to graduate and PCS to be with Ed.

I immediately rushed to her aide and helped her through the crowd. When I reached her, she was sobbing uncontrollably. I scanned the room for a private place to take her. Across the crowded room were the chaplain's offices. I told the Airmen to make a hole so I could get her out of there.

A handful of Airmen forced their way through the crowd; we followed close behind. Inside the empty room, we sat on the couch. I told the Airmen leaders to go find a chaplain and asked one of them to remain in the room with us. I had no idea what to say to Ed's wife.

While we were waiting for a chaplain to arrive, Ed's wife asked me if it was true. I wanted so badly to tell her that it wasn't, but instead I told her that nobody had released anything yet and we just don't know. I know it wasn't totally truthful, but I was still under orders not to release any information.

I couldn't believe what had just happened. Ed's wife hadn't been officially informed of her husband's death yet; instead, she overheard it in a crowd of Airmen. Ed's wife called his mother on her phone to see if it were true. I listened in agonizing disbelief as Ed's wife relayed what she'd just heard. About that time a chaplain came into the room. While Ed's wife was on the phone, I caught him up to speed on Ed's death and how his wife came to hear about it. The chaplain excused me and the Airman from the room so he could speak with Ed's wife alone.

For the remainder of the evening, I tried to focus on my work at the Solid Rock Café, but it did no good. I couldn't stop thinking about the past two day's events. In the weeks that followed, Ed's wife would visit my squadron to talk with me. We talked about Ed, the funeral and what she was going to do after she graduated. Her orders had been changed and she was PCSing to another base as soon as she graduated.

The normal turmoil in the dorm was replaced with a somber silence. It was obvious that the Airmen were still affected by all of this. I called a meeting with my Airmen leaders. I asked if they wanted to do something to honor Ed's memory. I asked them to come up with an idea and present it to me as soon as they had something. The next afternoon, they proposed an excellent idea. When I ran it past the chief MTL, he agreed without hesitation.

The upcoming weekend was a four-day weekend which always made the MTLs and commander a little nervous. The Airmen leaders painted a tribute to Ed on a piece of poster board and placed it in the charge of quarters. Then, they had me print out a banner which we hung above the poster board. The banner informed the Airmen that this was a holiday weekend and they asked the Airmen to remain alcohol free in Ed's honor by signing the poster board.

I volunteered to work that weekend and remained in CQ most of the time. I was surprised to see that by Friday, the poster board contained the signatures of close to 700 Airmen. The poster board was covered with signatures! The MTLs and commander were pleased to hear that there were no alcohol related incidents that weekend.

Time passed and the poster board and banner sat in the back of my locker at work. I couldn't just throw something like that away. I thought and thought about what to do with it. About four months after Ed passed away, an idea came to me. I found Ed's mother's address on a locator file in Ed's old records. I typed her a one-page letter explaining how I knew Ed and how nearly 700 Airmen came together for that weekend to honor him. I rolled the poster board and banner into a tube, enclosed my letter and sent it to her.

Close to six months passed before I received a card from Ed's mother. She told me it had taken her this long to respond because she was so deeply touched by what the Airmen did that she couldn't bring herself to sit down and acknowledge it. She thanked me for thinking of Ed and asked me to keep him in my thoughts. I never contacted Ed's mother again, and I never heard from her after that day.

I still think about Ed. I remember his lunch-time visits; how he made us all laugh, and I remember me wishing him well after he graduated. I wish somebody would've been there the night Ed died to stop him from drinking so much. His senseless death caused his friends and family a lot of pain and grief. This memory has lived with me for a couple of years now, and I have no doubt it will remain for many more to come.

I guess my way of paying tribute to Ed is by passing this story on to you. I hope nobody has to die as tragically as Ed did or go through what his wife and mother had to. Ed was a good person and a good Airman and deserves to be remembered that way.