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On Walkabout At: The US Air Force Academy Cemetery

Basic Information

  • Name: US Air Force Academy Cemetery
  • Where : Colorado Springs, Colorado
  • Hours: Open daily from 8AM-6PM
  • More Information: USAFA website

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Narrative

I have been to the US Air Force Academy a number of times, but I had never took the time to go and check out the Academy’s cemetery.  The cemetery is open daily from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm. All visitors that do not possess a DoD ID card must enter through the Academy’s North Gate to be inspected before entry. Any questions about the cemetery can be directed towards the Academy’s Mortuary Affairs office at (719) 333-3323.  Once on the Academy, the cemetery is easy to find since it is located just north of the Falcon Stadium.  Just like the Academy itself the cemetery was quite large with plenty of room to grow if needed:

Picture from the USAF Cemetery

For those that have not been to the Air Force Academy before, it really is a sprawling campus at the foot of the Rampart Range that is filled with open space and trees.  The campus is beautifully maintained and its cemetery is no different.  Everything at the cemetery was spotless and there was not a sign of trash anywhere to be seen.  Really the only blemish on the grounds was the deer poop I had to walk around occasionally due to the herd of deer that live on the Academy’s grounds.  Besides being well maintained the cemetery also has a number of memorials that were funded and built by various Air Force units to honor personnel from their unit buried in the cemetery:

Picture from the USAF Cemetery

The Memorial Pavilion that can be seen in the background of the above photo finished construction in 2007 after a 26 year effort to raise enough money to construct it.  The pavilion ultimately coast $4.5 million dollars which was all from private donations and is used today as an indoor location to host funerals and commemoration ceremonies at the cemetery.  The cemetery was filled with many other memorials as well such as this pretty cool wind chime structure up on a hill looking down on the cemetery:

Picture from the USAF Cemetery

There is also these statues of an Air Force Color Guard permanently saluting the personnel buried at the cemetery which I thought was a very classy touch to honor the people buried there:

Picture from the USAF Cemetery

I could not find out on the Internet how many people are buried at the cemetery but I did find out the the criteria for being buried at the cemetery from the USAFA website:

    • Cadets
    • Airmen who are assigned to the Academy or its tenant units at the time of their deaths.
    • Alumni
    • All active-duty and retired Air Force three- and four-star generals
    • Former superintendents, vice superintendents, commandants of cadets, deans of faculty, chiefs of staff, appointed directors of admissions, directors of athletics, permanent professors, sequential tour faculty officers, tenured faculty officers, Preparatory School commanders, 10th Air Base Wing commanders and Academy command chief master sergeants
    • Original cadre Air Force personnel assigned to the Air Force Academy between July 11, 1955, and Sept. 10, 1957
    • Air Force cross-commissioned officer graduates of the U.S. Military Academy or the U.S. Naval Academy who have retired with 20 years or more of uniformed service
    • Board of Visitors members with distinguished military service
    • All Medal of Honor recipients regardless of branch of service
    • All Air Force Cross recipients

 

    • Former chief master sergeants who performed as cadet wing sergeants major between 1972 and 1976
    • Air Training Officers who served at the Academy between 1975 and 1977
    • Eligible relatives of service-connected sponsors such as a spouse, unremarried widows or widowers and dependent unmarried children under 23.
  • Dependent unmarried adults — defined as someone who at the time of death was older than 21, incapable of support due to a physical or mental condition and who meets any of the following conditions:
      • Received more than half his support from the service-connected parent
      • The service-connected parent is deceased and interred in the Academy cemetery, and the dependent received more than half his support from the widow or widower of the deceased service-connected parent
      • Received such support from another source because of the prior death or inability of the parent or parents to provide such support

This is still a very active cemetery as I saw a number of grave sites from the past year such as this gentlemen CMSGT Harry Karolick who is buried with his wife Ella Wanda at the cemetery:

Picture from the USAF Cemetery

Some of the graves were personalized such as this grave for Lieutenant Colonel Harry J. Copsey says that he was a father, cowboy, and a trapshooter:

Picture from the USAF Cemetery

This Albuquerque Journal article has a really good profile about LTC Copsey:

  In 1965, a Air Force Times newspaper story informed readers that Harry J. Copsey was the only pilot in that military branch to have flown seven different military aircraft in actual combat.
“Can You Beat This?” the title of the article asked.
Some of Copsey’s own tales of war or heroics during war might be able to beat that.
He flew 86 World War II South Pacific missions, was shot down four times in his B-24 Liberator and bailed out, once spending two days at sea with only a Mae West life jacket.
There was one bold rescue Copsey and a co-pilot took part in during the Korean conflict, when they flew a spotter plane over enemy territory to draw fire while a helicopter rescued a downed British pilot.

Read the rest of the article for more details about this great American who was awarded the prestigious Distinguished Service Cross during his time in the Air Force.

Here is another personalized grave but this one is kind of sad since it includes a four year old daughter who died in 1969:

Picture from the USAF Cemetery

Below is a notable person buried at the cemetery which is Lieutenant General Hubert Reilly Harmon:

Picture from the USAF Cemetery

LT GEN Harmon was the first Superintendent of the US Air Force Academy between July 1954 to July 1956.  Here is a profile of LTG Harmon from FindaGrave.com.  He served in both World War I and World War II before becoming the first Superintendent of the Academy.  I did find it surprising though that LTC Harmon died less than a year after retiring from the military.

Here is another superintendent I saw buried at the Academy, Lieutenant General Thomas S. Moorman:

Picture from the USAF Cemetery

According to the Wikipedia profile on LTG Moorman he was quite a meteorologist with degrees in the field of study from the California Institute of Technology and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.   Here is another Air Force General I saw buried at the cemetery, General Carl A. Spaatz:

Picture from the USAF Cemetery

According to his FindaGrave.com profile General Spaatz commanded US bombing raids against Germany (1944) and in the Pacific against Japan (1945). In 1947 he became chief of staff of the newly independent Air Force.

The story for another General buried at the cemetery, General Robert J. Dixon I found to be quite interesting:

Picture from the USAF Cemetery

From his FindaGrave.com profile, General Dixon actually began his military career in the Royal Canadian Air Force.  Remember that the US did not initially enter into World War II against Germany.  This meant the British and their Commonwealth allies such as Canada were fighting the Germans before the US entered the war after the Pearl Harbor bombing.  A number of Americans such as General Dixon joined the Canadian military to fight in the war before the US entered.  In 1943 he transferred over to the US Air Force since the US was fighting in the war by then.  He would go on to fight in the Korean and Vietnam Wars as well.  He was awarded the prestigious Distinguished Flying Cross from both the US and British governments which is probably a very a rare honor.

In my opinion the most famous person buried at the cemetery is General Curtis Lemay:

Picture from the USAF Cemetery

Here is General LeMay’s Wikipedia profile:

Curtis Emerson LeMay (November 15, 1906 – October 1, 1990) was a general in the United States Air Force and the vice presidential running mate of American Independent Party presidential candidate George Wallace in 1968.

He is credited with designing and implementing an effective, but also controversial, systematic strategic bombing campaign in the Pacific theater of World War II. During the war, he was known for planning and executing a massive bombing campaign against cities in Japan and a crippling minelaying campaign of Japan’s internal waterways. After the war, he headed the Berlin airlift, then reorganized the Strategic Air Command (SAC) into an effective instrument of nuclear war.

Something General LeMay is most controversial for is ordering the fire bombing of Tokyo in 1945 that is estimated to have killed hundreds of thousands of Japanese.  LeMay once commented that if the US lost the war he would have been tried for war crimes, but that his intent for the bombing was to end the war as soon as possible by bombing the Japanese into submission which the nuclear bombings eventually did.

General Curtis Lemay may be the most famous person buried at the cemetery, but I would have to say the most infamous person buried at the cemetery because so many cadets remember him would be Master Sergeant William J. Crawford who was the long time janitor at the Academy:

Picture from the USAF Cemetery

So how does a janitor and a US Army veteran get buried at the Air Force Academy Cemetery?  By being a Medal of Honor recipient.  Here is MSGT Crawford’s FindaGrave.com profile:

World War II Congressional Medal of Honor Recipient. He was a Master Sergeant in the US Army. He was awarded the Medal of Honor as a Private in 3d Platoon, Company I, 3d Battalion, 142d Infantry, 36th Infantry Division for action near Altavilla, Italy on September 13, 1943. He was a POW. His citation reads in part “When the platoon, after reaching the crest, was once more delayed by enemy fire, Pvt. Crawford again, in the face of intense fire, advanced directly to the front midway between two hostile machine-gun nests located on a higher terrace and emplaced in a small ravine. Moving first to the left, with a grenade he destroyed one gun emplacement and killed the other and with one grenade and the use of his rifle, killed one enemy and forced the remainder to flee. Seizing the enemy machine gun, he fired on the withdrawing Germans and facilitated his company’s advance.”

Among all these General Officers and a Medal of Honor recipient was the grave for a 1st Lieutenant John Peter Skoro Jr.:

Picture from the USAF Cemetery

I found it pretty strange that such a low ranking officer would be buried in the same plot as much more prestigious people so I decided to figure out who 1LT Skoro was.  I found out that he was a 1963 graduate of the Academy who was killed in action during a strike on an automatic weapon position during the Vietnam War on September 13, 1966.  His aircraft was hit by ground fire as it pulled up to 4,000 feet.  He may have been wounded in the cockpit, as he apparently made no attempt to eject.  His remains were recovered by soldiers from the 1st Cavalry Division four days later.  As it turns out, instead of him being buried with prestigious people, the prestigious people were actually buried around him who was likely one of the first Academy casualties from the Vietnam War.

Easily the most elaborate grave at the Academy cemetery was for General William H. Blanchard which was set off by itself in a wooded area on the west side of the cemetery:

Picture from the USAF Cemetery

Here is General Blanchard’s profile from FindaGrave.com:

Air Force Officer. He served as Air Force Vice Chief of Staff and was second in command. During World War II he was a heavy-bomber pilot who planned air raids on Japan and while serving with Curtis LeMay planned the atomic attack on Hiroshima. During the next 15 years of his career, he helped build the Strategic Air Command during what time he was awarded four stars all by the age of 48.

General Blanchard had an impressive career, especially being promoted to a 4-Star General at age 48 which is unheard of now a days.  However, I could not understand why he had the most impressive grave site in the cemetery when arguably General Curtis LeMay is the most famous person buried at the cemetery?

Something I found strange at the cemetery though was that there was a few people buried with just a plastic marker such as this one for Major Roger E. Salters:

Picture from the USAF Cemetery

I do not know if the families have to pay for the regular markers or not, but it would be nice in my opinion if everyone had a permanent marker and not just a piece of plastic to denote their grave site.

Conclusion

The Air Force Academy Cemetery is not a must see for everyone visiting the Academy because lets face it, checking out cemeteries is not for everyone.  However, for someone like myself who likes to learn about military history the cemetery was interesting.  I also like to pay my respects to fine Americans like the ones buried at this cemetery who served their country honorably with some making the ultimate sacrifice in service to their nation.  So if you have a few minutes to spare while visiting the US Air Force Academy, feel free to stop by the cemetery and pay your respects as well.

Picture from the USAF Cemetery

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