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Citizen Airmen embrace, extend ‘Old Glory’

A 312th Airlift Squadron aircrew from Travis Air Force Base, Calif., displays "Old Glory" upon delivering the flag to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, Dec. 2, 2016.
Master Sgt. Steve Burke, an Air Force Reserve loadmaster, cared for the flag during its long journey from Travis to the USS Arizona Memorial, where it flew during a Dec. 7, 2016 commemoration ceremony on the 75th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The flight was a regularly scheduled training mission, which allowed the Citizen Airmen to help get the falg to Hawaii in time for the ceremony. (Courtesy photo MSgt Steve Burke)

A 312th Airlift Squadron aircrew from Travis Air Force Base, Calif., displays "Old Glory" upon delivering the flag to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, Dec. 2, 2016. Master Sgt. Steve Burke, an Air Force Reserve loadmaster, cared for the flag during its long journey from Travis to the USS Arizona Memorial, where it flew during a Dec. 7, 2016 commemoration ceremony on the 75th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The flight was a regularly scheduled training mission, which allowed the Citizen Airmen to help get the falg to Hawaii in time for the ceremony. (Courtesy photo MSgt Steve Burke)

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- At a solemn commemoration ceremony this morning marking the 75th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, an American flag flew over the battleship USS Arizona Memorial, where 1,177 Sailors lost their lives Dec. 7, 1941.

With 50 stars and 13 stripes, the flag appears no different than those seen on front porches and military bases all over the United States, but this particular flag journeyed far and wide, courtesy of Citizen Airmen, before arriving at today’s ceremony.

Named “Old Glory,” the flag’s journey started in June 1999 when Air Force veteran, Dave Pawlewicz, decided to make a grand expression of patriotism; a tour of the Stars and Stripes to honor all veterans, commemorate important historical events, and salute members of the Armed Forces and emergency responders.

According to Pawlewicz, Old Glory was first raised at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, launching “Century Link America’s world flag tour, ‘Old Glory Travels America’s Freedom Road.’” Since then, the flag has flown over hallowed ground across the United States and well beyond. From Normandy France, to Midway, Saipan, Iraq, Afghanistan and Ground Zero in New York City, the flag’s significance has steadily grown for those who have stood in its shadow, but especially those who have been responsible for its care.

As special mission superintendent for Reserve KC-10 off-station missions, Senior Master Sgt. Tim Stepp, has helped coordinate a lot interesting requests during his career with the 349th Air Mobility Wing at Travis Air Force Base, California. Yet when he learned Old Glory would be delivered to his base by an aircrew from the 514th AMW at Joint Base McGuire-Dix Lakehurst, New Jersey, but needed to reach Hawaii in time for the anniversary less than a week later, he says he felt an extra sense of personal responsibility to help. He soon found a scheduled Air Force Reserve Command training mission to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, and reached out to a squadron he knew well and trusted.

“We were being entrusted to care for and respect this special flag and bring it safely home,” said Stepp. “That’s a huge honor, and I knew the 312th Airlift Squadron would take good care of it.”

When Master Sgt. Steve Burke, 312th AS loadmaster, received word that he would take the lead and hand-deliver the flag, he immediately embraced it.

“I had never heard of it before,” said Burke, “but as I thumbed through the book that travels with it and saw everywhere it had been; submarines, ships, airplanes, elementary schools, it really had a noble appeal.”

Prior to departing Travis in a C-5M Super Galaxy loaded with general cargo for Airmen in Hawaii and Alaska, Burke briefed his fellow aircrew about the one item that would be kept on the flight deck.
“Everyone ate it up, and was happy to be part of getting the flag to such an important event,” said Burke.

Even after 27 years as a loadmaster with the 349th Air Mobility Wing, Burke says being part of Old Glory’s journey will be amongst his most memorable experiences.

“When I load something, it becomes partly mine,” Burke said proudly. “So when I’ll see it later, wherever it goes, I’ll say, ‘that’s my flag’.”

As it turns out, Airmen in the business of providing rapid global mobility are the perfect keepers for Old Glory. Stepp is currently coordinating the flag’s return to Travis with another reserve C-5M aircrew early next week, and then it will likely head to Southwest Asia aboard a KC-10, with stops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

According to Pawlewicz, Old Glory’s tour was due to end in 2004, but the response has been so positive and has generated so much good will, he sees no end in sight. When the tour does end, he hopes Old Glory, along with all the pictures, letters, certificates and other memorabilia will be given to an appropriate museum.

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