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Goodfellow Airmen remember fallen hero

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Anne Gathua
  • 17th Training Wing Public Affairs
"Daddy, daddy!" the little girl calls out as she runs to him.

Lifting her up and seating her on his knee, he explains gently, "I'm going to war."

"I won't let you go, Daddy," the 8-year-old declares.

Despite his daughter's protest, the father did go. The man, who had already battled the Japanese in the Pacific during World War II, was off to serve his country again. This time, in the jungles of Vietnam.

That was 43 years ago, when Tech. Sgt. Fred Sebers, an airborne communications analyst, left his family behind and volunteered to serve his country even though he was eligible to retire. During those decades, that little girl grew up to appreciate her father's sense of duty.

"He did what he felt was right," said Sylene Sebers-Patterson, Fred's daughter.

On the evening of Sept. 8, 1967, during a mission in Nha Trang, Republic of Vietnam, Sergeant Sebers and several friends were dining at the local noncommissioned officer club when an enemy claymore mine detonated near his table. The blast seriously wounded him and injured many others. He died of his wounds Nov. 7 that year, leaving behind his wife, Sylene, as well as another son and daughter.

Young Sylene saw her father one last time before he passed away.

"I remember him holding my hand, squeezing it so tightly as he lay in that bed at Madigan Hospital, [Tacoma, Wash.,] so long ago," Ms. Sebers-Patterson recalled. "It was a huge loss that left a gigantic hole when he passed away. I have carried that loss with me all my life."

Fast forward to just a few weeks ago. The Heritage Chapter, a San Angelo affiliate of the Freedom Through Vigilance Association, received an unexpected call.

"It was a friend of the Sebers family on the line," said Mr. Ronald Graham, a member of F.T.V.A. and a training development manager and instructor, 316th Training Squadron. "We had lost contact with the family many years ago and I was quite surprised when I received the call. Fred's brother, Robert Sebers, wanted to see the memorial in Building 519, named in honor of his brother. Things moved quickly after that."

Mr. Graham arranged the visit to the memorial building, which was dedicated at Goodfellow AFB, Texas, in August 2009. Mr. Sebers, his daughter Laurie, Ms. Sebers-Patterson and her daughter, Sarah, visited the memorial and the base April 14-16.

Ms. Sebers-Patterson said her heart swelled with amazement and pride when the family stopped at the memorial plaque outside of Sebers Hall.

While still absorbing that emotional moment, the family was moved by what they saw when they entered the building.

"There must have been at least 50 young men and women in uniform standing on either side of us in that hall," Ms. Sebers-Patterson said. "I was filled with so much pride for them and for my dad."

The feelings only intensified when she saw the picture of her dad on the wall of the Fred Sebers' Hall, Ms. Sebers-Patterson said.

"He looked exactly as I remembered him and it shocked me that someone had such an awesome picture of my dad, that it could be found on the Internet and that it was on a wall!" she exclaimed. "I was surprised that there were other people in this world who held him in such high regard that they would want to honor him and amazed at how apparently, there was much more to the job that my dad had performed than I ever knew."

With tears in her eyes, Ms. Sebers-Patterson said seeing the memorial and hearing from people who knew her dad brought to the surface all the feelings she had stored away, so many years ago, when he was first injured and then passed away.

"I really felt he was there with our family as we stood looking up at his photo on the wall," she said. "It was an emotional experience for us all."

Ms. Sebers-Patterson said Lt. Col. Erick Lawson, 316th Training Squadron commander, did an "excellent job" making it clear to the family the significance of Sergeant Sebers' contribution as an airborne communications analyst was to the Air Force and to the country.

Mr. Sebers, a World War II veteran, said it was hard to put into words what he felt when he saw the tribute to his brother.

"I would have liked to be able to ask Fred why he joined the military at 16 when he had five brothers in already taking care of everything," said Mr. Sebers, who served as a tail gunner aboard the Dauntless dive bomber aircraft in World War II. "Oh, I know that he would have had a real good answer. He had to grow up so fast. He was an honest man, very lovable, never met a girl that didn't like him or vice versa. I miss the camaraderie."

Robert added that he believes his brother would approve of the men and women who are following in his footsteps.

"I think he'd love the Air Force today," he said.

Sylene agreed, adding that Americans can sleep in their beds at night, knowing that there're some of the brightest, most gifted servicemembers, learning the best way to protect their country.

"My Dad would be so proud of them and of the many advancements that have been made in this field," she said.

Laurie said she only met her uncle once, but that experience and her visit here left an impression that will last more than a lifetime.

"I was in high school and he was bigger than life," she said. "I've always said my Uncle Fred was a hero. Young servicemembers have someone they can look up to, encouraging and helping them know why they're here. I learned that you have to be incredibly intelligent to do the job my uncle did.

Mr. Graham said the Sebers' visit was an exciting and emotional experience for the base and the Heritage Chapter. The family's meeting with students attending Goodfellow's intelligence courses put a face on his history for our staff and students.

"Having the other family members there showed our students that these were real people with real lives," he said. "They had parents, brothers, sisters, children and friends. I think they now realize just how real and personal this is for them."

Ms. Sebers-Patterson said the family is very grateful to the F.T.V.A. Heritage Chapter for honoring her father and for meeting Ed Bendinelli, the Heritage Chapter vice-president, who knew Sergeant Sebers personally.

"It was like a part of Daddy was with him," she said. "I have always seen my dad through the eyes of a child, my mother's eyes, my brother's eyes. It has been a memorable privilege to have had this opportunity to see him through the eyes of fellow Soldiers and friends."

Ms. Sebers-Patterson said the visit to Goodfellow made her father feel so much closer.

"Those pictures and images of my dad, his many medals and the plaque outside the hall are saved on my computer," she continued. "His picture gazes back at me each time I turn it on. I feel as though he is still here. Just a heartbeat away."