Editor's note: This is the second of two parts.
On May 4, 1951, newly decorated Air Force Capt. Lester L. Mahon took the oath at Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi. It wasn't long before this new Air Force captain was up and flying again. Along with that, this new Air Force had opened many doors to all who wanted to make a difference.
Had Captain Mahon survived that awful plane crash in Alaska, things now would be different. Reading his record book, I found the United States Air Force saw in this young captain an officer that was destined to advance and climb the Air Force chain of command swiftly. At such a young age, and with his time in grade (time spent in rank, experience), the Air Force assigned this young captain from Dunkirk to oversee one of our most important lines of defense.
Reading Lester Mahon's military story, one has to put themselves back in the days when we were in a cold war with the Soviet Union, air raids were part of elementary and high school weekly routines, neighbors were building bomb shelters in their backyards and storing fresh water and canned foods were a must. Reading Air Force chronological reports from units attached to the cold war, I came across records that indicated since the beginning of the Cold War until its end, our strategic air command based in MacDill Air Force base in Tampa, Fla. had every minute of every day covered with at least two B-52 bombers constantly in the air loaded with nuclear capable defense warnings.
Over 20-plus years nonstop! Never was there even one minute without having these two bombers flying over to protect our country. Had it not been for the dedication of so many who dedicated their military careers strictly to protecting our country and its people, the situation may have led to major destruction. Captain Mahon is one of those many people who watched and protected our perimeters.
When a person loses his life while in service of his country we as a society need to honor this person and their families. His or her life is cut short. His or her family suffers the worst. No more Christmases, Fourth of Julys, Halloweens, birthdays or wedding anniversaries. We as a country pay families of lost veterans with a life insurance policy that barely covers the funeral expense. The family now must pick up and start life all over again.
The family, however, does have the memories. Mahon enjoyed hunting while growing up in Pennsylvania. His mother would cook anything Lester brought home, including rabbits, deer, racoon and woodchuck along with the fish he would catch.
While in England he participated in a traditional fox hunt on horseback with hounds leading the hunters to the fox
He enjoyed filming the areas he was assigned to and visited, including Alaska and England, taking the films back to Dunkirk to show over the holiday leaves he had earned.
While fishing in England and stationed at Wethersfield Air Force Base, he set a record by catching a 24-pound northern pike on a 6-pound test line.
The last time the family saw Mahon in Dunkirk was in December 1962. It was a return that Mahon was proud to announce that the Air Force informed him he was to be promoted to the rank of major. The official paperwork was approved and the official date of rank was initiated on the date of his return from his holiday leave. Three weeks later, his wife and family were informed that Mahon was killed in a plane crash near Barter Island, Alaska.
It, for me, is hard to bring to you a story of a fallen veteran. Losing Capt. Mahon in 1963 doesn't make the story easy to write. By having all of Mahon's military records given to me by his family, it was clear the Air Force had seen nothing but respect for what this officer could achieve. I could not list all the schools, countries and cities this Air Force captain had been assigned to and at times even had commanded. The places and schools this officer had visited and passed would easily have taken two pages, possibly more. Capt. Mahon, in my eyes, would have easily climbed the Air Force chain of command and if lived would have retired as a general.
Had Capt. Mahon lived, I would have had the honor to have called him Uncle Lester. He was my wife's uncle, but his family lost him eight years before our marriage.
Had Uncle Lester lived I would have loved to have listened to his brilliant, yet short, Air Force career. All I have now is a box filled with all his accomplishments. He now can go down as another local veteran and one of our local heroes. The country can never thank him for his watch - a watch that we all know now was the first watch, the front line, our first warning had we been invaded or attacked by nuclear means. It was a new time and era that was to some more dangerous then facing the enemy face to face in a trench warfare. It was a time when each side was only given one chance to make it right, no mistakes were allowed. A mistake meant you lost, it could be over! While on guard Mahon watched his world go by, but because of his watch, we as the country, changed in the '60s, '70s and '80s. We owe our freedom to officers like Dunkirk's Capt. Lester L. Mahon.
Mahon left a wife and family while in the service of his country. His wife, Ann Mahon, now age 88, resides at Fredonia Place, a place to go if you would love to hear more about the life and sacrifice of Lester Mahon.