HONOLULU — Having participated in almost every major conflict since their squadron’s founding 73 years ago, service members with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 115,“Silver Eagles,” honored 1st Lt. Jack Aldrich at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, July 29, 2016.
Marines from VMFA-115, stationed aboard Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, S.C., were in Hawaii participating in the 2016 Rim of Pacific exercise, the largest maritime exercise in the world. In-between aircraft maintenance and training, Marines held a wreath laying ceremony for Aldrich, the first American pilot to die during World War II and the first Marine lost from that squadron.
Cpl. Randy Hendrickson, a member of the VMFA-115 color guard, said this was a unique experience, never having participated in such an event.
“This was my first ceremony in which we honored and remembered a fallen Marine,” said Hendrickson, a San Antonio native. “I learned quite a bit about Aldrich and some of our squadron’s history. The sacrifice he made, like many others, shows us what it means to give it all.”
Hendrickson said ceremonies such as this are important for Marines, as they may look back on their squadron’s legacy.
“By properly honoring Aldrich, my junior Marines were provided an opportunity to look back on the legacy of the squadron and its service members,” he said. “This was the closest we could get to our fallen comrades and remember the sacrifices they made.”
Lt. Col. Shannon Brown, the commanding officer of VMFA-115, said giving up one’s life is the ultimate sacrifice, and Aldrich will always be remembered within his squadron for being the first to do so.
“Aldrich was only 21 years old when he lost his life on March 20, 1944,” said Brown, a Columbus, Ohio, native. “Back then, our squadron never had the chance to pay him proper respects, so today we remember him for his service, his willingness to step forward and protect our way of life in the face of great adversity, and his sacrifice for our nation.”
Brown said Marine Fighting Squadron 115, the squadron’s name at the time, lost nine more pilots towards the end of the war, and some of those men never got to come home. He said the sacrifices made by those Marines have paved the way for the war fighters of today, showing them what it means to be part of something bigger than themselves.
“Even though we never had the chance to meet those brave warriors, we share a bond with them that is inexplicable,” he said. “Our lineage is second to none – the colors flying before us are adorned with the decorations and battle streamers earned with lives, blood, sweat, and tears.”