'The makeup of a warrior starts right here,' MOH recipient Chapman's widow tells special warfare trainees
By RACHAEL RILEY | The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. | Published: May 31, 2019
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (Tribune News Service) — On Aug. 22, 2018, Valerie Nessel received a posthumous Medal of Honor on behalf of her late husband, Master Sgt. John Chapman.
Chapman was killed March 4, 2002, as he repeatedly darted through enemy bullets atop a mountain in Takur Ghar, Afghanistan, to protect his teammates.
He is the first airman since Vietnam to receive the nation's highest military decoration and is the first special tactics airman with the honor.
On Thursday, a life-sized statue depicting a bearded Chapman in tan camouflage and a replica of his Medal of Honor was revealed inside the Alcide "Bull" Benini Heritage Center at Pope Army Airfield.
"John's actions on that mountain top were not forged overnight," Nessel told a crowd at Thursday's ceremony. "The makeup of a warrior starts right here, and because of this, today's dedication holds just as much significance to me."
It is the site where Chapman went through the combat control schoolhouse, now known as the 352nd Special Warfare Training Squadron, and where two of the three special tactics squadrons he served with are based, said Col. James Hughes, commander of the Special Warfare Training Wing.
Nessel charged the next graduating class of the 352nd Special Warfare Training Squadron who will don the scarlet beret in a few weeks to continue her husband's legacy.
"You have an obligation to not just John, but to all those who came before you that paved the way," she told the students.
Hughes said if Chapman were here today, he'd want the six others he died with to be recognized, too — Petty Officer 1st Class Neil C. Roberts, Senior Airman Jason Cunningham, Sgt. Bradley Crose, Sgt. Philip Svitak, Spc. Marc Anderson and Pfc. Matthew A. Commons.
"As tragic as those losses were, if not for the actions of John Chapman, the list of names would have most certainly been longer," Hughes said.
Gen. Stephen Wilson, vice chief of staff for the Air Force, recounted Chapman's actions more than 17 years ago.
Wilson said Chapman insisted on being on the deployment.
And when the team's helicopter was ambushed and one of Chapman's teammates fell into a group of enemy combatants, Chapman went back, Wilson said.
"John's natural instinct was to charge the first enemy bunker at a 28 degree incline in a downpour of bullets that didn't stop him," Wilson said.
Once clearing the bunker, he left cover to assault a second bunker and was wounded, Wilson said.
"Despite several more wounds, he stood and charged the enemy for nearly an hour," he said.
He continued to fight until his death.
Wilson said if Chapman were to have his own motto, or banner, it would be to thrive under oppression.
"His lasting legacy is just that. It was never about him," Wilson said, crediting Chapman's family for instilling his values and shaping his character.
In an interview after Thursday's ceremony, Maj. Michael Bain, commander of the 352nd Special Warfare Training Squadron, said the statue of Chapman celebrates Chapman and his service to the Air Force.
Bain, who met Chapman in 1997 and served with him early in their careers, said the statue of his late friend is in a central location for future students to see to understand the sacrifices and responsibilities of being part of the special operations community.
Bain described Chapman as a humble teammate who always wanted to better himself and inspired others on his team.
"And people on that team were much better, and John made our team better," Bain said.
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