Image of the Air Force wings with the museum name underneath

Open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. 
FREE Admission & Parking

Families have always been essential to the U.S. Air Force

  • Published
  • By Sarah Olaciregui
  • National Museum of the U.S. Air Force
Although the U.S. Air Force is the nation's youngest service, its proud history not only shows the essential contributions of officers or enlisted troops, active duty members or reservists, but also a history of family commitment. 

"This importance of family is no more evident than when taking a stroll through the galleries of the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force," said Senior Curator Terry Aitken. "From exhibits that highlight a mother's sacrifice, a wife's love or a father's pride, many displays show a common theme: family." 

In the museum's Kettering Hall, an exhibit describes the origin of service flags and pins. These are the red and white flags seen in many home's windows with a blue or gold star in the middle. 

The tradition of displaying service flags began during World War I. In 1917, an Army captain designed a small banner as a tribute to his two sons serving in France. The flag quickly became a popular symbol. In September 1917, it was recorded that Ohio had adopted the service flag as a fitting tribute because: "The world should know of those who give so much for Liberty. The dearest thing in all the world to a father and mother...their children." 

Eventually, groups such as the Blue Star Mothers of America and American Gold Star Mothers formed with supporting service members and their families as a common goal. 

An exhibit in the Air Power Gallery shows a father and son's strong bond. A flight suit on display was worn during World War II by Lt. Haldane King, a B-25 pilot. It was next worn during the Southeast Asia War by his son, Capt. Haldane King Jr., a KC-135 pilot, who in turn passed the suit to the museum. 

Other exhibits throughout the museum show how wives of deployed service members helped boost morale. The entire family could be proud of Wild Weasels, those Air Force members who flew some of the most dangerous missions over Vietnam and other Southeast Asia countries. In the "First In, Last Out: Wild Weasels vs. SAMs" exhibit in the Modern Flight Gallery an apron signed by all wives of the Wild Weasel school was worn by a Wild Weasel's wife. 

In the "Badge of Honor: 100 Missions Up North" exhibit, wives even joined in on the action. While pilots would tally the number of missions they flew over Southeast Asia, displaying the number on their hats or patches, the wives would count how many days they were away from their husbands. One pilot had a patch made for his wife after they had been married 10 years. Between his tour in Southeast Asia and the number of days he was on alert, he had been away for about 1,100 days. 

In another exhibit featuring the Forward Air Controllers, the unit adopted a flag showing the cartoon character Snoopy, which was made by one of the unit member's wife. The flag was proudly used by the unit for the rest of the war in Southeast Asia. 

Families also have been instrumental in making sure service members are treated fairly. During the Vietnam War the wives of prisoners of war formed the National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia. They launched a public campaign to bring pressure on North Vietnam to reveal names of captives and to ensure their humane treatment. This contribution is memorialized in a POW exhibit in the museum. 

But the presence of family stories in the museum doesn't end there. It continues today and a foundation is laid for tomorrow. 

"Thousands of artifacts in the museum's collection are obtained as a result of family members who want to preserve the legacy of their father, mother, aunt, uncle or child," said Aitken. "They want to ensure the service legacy of their family member is preserved for tomorrow's generation to see and know." 

For example, a pararescue exhibit highlights William H. Pitsenbarger, an airman who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his exceptional bravery in Vietnam. Many of his personal items that were sent to his parents following his death are now included in this exhibit. 

And while the continuous storyline throughout the U.S. Air Force's history shows how the United States depends on these brave airmen to protect the country from danger, the real strength comes from the heroic families on whom Air Force men and women rely. 

NOTE TO PUBLIC: For more information, please contact the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force at (937) 255-3286.

NOTE TO MEDIA: For more information contact Sarah Olaciregui at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force Public Affairs Division at (937) 255-1376.