ARLINGTON, VA – Air Force pararescuemen were able to bring home one of their fallen comrades April 6 here.
As the ceremonial caisson rolled to a stop in Arlington National Cemetery, Tech. Sgt. Allen Avery, an Air Force pararescueman who lost is life during combat operations in Vietnam, was escort to his final resting place by family and more than 60 PJs past and present in their traditional maroon berets.
“Honor and service,” were the words retired Chief Master Sgt. Cole Panning, a fellow PJ who served with Avery in Vietnam, used as a quick description of Avery’s service.
“He had the integrity of the best but wasn’t afraid to take a chance,” Panning said.
Airmen from the Air Force Honor Guard stood overlooking Avery’s final resting place as they performed the traditional rifle volley. A lone bugler stood apart from the group to play “Taps”, a tradition at U.S. military funerals since 1891.
As the ceremonial flag was folded for the last time, the Air Force chaplain presiding over the ceremony quoted the inscription on the John Paul Jones Memorial, “In life he honored the flag. In death the flag shall honor him.”
When the service concluded, PJ’s past and present lined up to render a final salute, remove the pararescue flash from their maroon berets and place them at Avery’s final resting place, a sign of respect shown to a fallen PJ, said Chief Master Sgt. Lee Shaffer, Air Force pararescue career field manager.
“When one of our warriors falls, we want to attempt to give back as much as we can to both the service member who lost his life and the family,” Shaffer said. “This beret and the flash that stays on it is probably the single most important thing to a pararescueman.
“It takes two years to earn it and for us it represents our heart and soul, and we want our fallen warriors to be buried with what is most precious to us and what was the most precious to them,” Shaffer said.
The maroon beret symbolizes the blood shed by past PJs as well as the blood current PJs are willing to shed to save lives. The flash, which is a guardian angel wrapping its arms around the world, symbolizes the scope and responsibility as a worldwide rescue and recovery professional. At the bottom of the flash are the words “So others may live,” the Air Force Pararescue credo.
Avery, along with Capt. James H. Alley, Capt. Peter H. Chapman, Capt. John Hall, Tech. Roy Prater and Sgt.William Pearson, were flying a combat search and rescue mission April 6, 1972, to recover the downed air crew of call sign “Bat 21” in their HH-53C Super Jolly Green Giant helicopter over Quang Tri Province in South Vietnam, when they were hit by enemy ground fire and crashed.
During Avery’s previous mission, he had been a tail gunner and his helicopter had taken a lot of enemy fire, Panning said.
“The flight engineers couldn’t believe he was still alive, and he had a red fluid all over him which turned out not be blood but hydraulic fluid all over him and he didn’t have a scratch on him,” Panning said. “To go through what he did, having his helicopter shot up previously he could have said, ‘Hey, I have already been through this. Pick someone else,’ but he didn’t he just said, ‘Hooah, a chance for another save, I want the mission’.”
It wasn’t that he had to take the mission because it was his turn, he wanted the mission because he wanted to save lives, Panning said.
“That was the type of man he was,” Panning said.
The crew, all except for Avery who had not been positively identified at the time, received a full honors funeral were buried at Arlington Nov. 17, 1997. However, advancements in DNA testing allowed the Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office to officially identify his remains and release them to his family for service at his final resting place.