Heroism of the past will help train future cadets at a new Air Force Academy monument, leaders say.
The Plaza of Heroes unveiled this month displays the deeds of academy graduates. That includes a statue honoring the school's lone Medal of Honor recipient, Lance Sijan, and plaques to honor the 16 former cadets who earned the Air Force Cross during the Vietnam War.
William "T" Thompson heads the academy's Association of Graduates, which commissioned the project with donations from academy classes of 1965 and 1970. "Our heritage tells our story," he said.
Enclosed by glass walls, the plaza sits next to the school's Southeast Asia Memorial Pavilion, which tells of the Air Force's role in Vietnam, the first war for graduates of the academy, which was founded in 1954.
Gary Dahlen, a 1970 graduate, said the plaza will be a place where cadets learn about valor and fortitude.
"We firmly believe the Plaza of Heroes will be a special place of honor," he said.
One of the graduates honored in the plaza is Maj. Dick Brims, who earned the Air Force Cross on May 15, 1975, in an attempt to rescue the crew of the American container ship Mayaguez. The crew had been seized by Cambodian Communist forces two weeks after the fall of the South Vietnamese capital in Saigon.
A helicopter pilot, Brims flew Marines on the rescue mission to an island where the hijacked ship was held.
"Prior to leaving the island, Lieutenant Brims held his position against heavy ground fire and managed to extract five seriously wounded Marines," his medal citation reads. "He then twice flew his aircraft into intense ground fire, successfully removing remaining groups of United States Marines."
Brims died in a 1986 training accident, but his widow, Christina Brims, said the 1971 academy graduate would be happy cadets are learning his story.
"He would have been humbled and greatly honored," she said.
Air Force chief of staff Gen. Mark Welsh said in a ceremony to unveil the plaza that cadets will learn an important lesson there.
"This is the long blue line," he said. "This is what you have chosen to assume."
Daniel Murphy, a 1970 graduate, said his generation of cadets was inspired by Air Force heroes from World War II, Korea and Vietnam. The former transport pilot said having his class pitch in to build the monument was an easy decision.
"It's just great," he said. "It's something that should be done."