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97 AMW honors fallen WWII Airman with KC-46 flyover

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Cody Dowell
  • 97th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

ALTUS AIR FORCE BASE, Okla.-- The history of The 97th Air Mobility Wing’s “Triangle Y” symbol dates back to when the 97th Bombardment Group flew missions out of Italy during WWII. That legacy resurfaced when one of the pilots who flew one of those “Triangle Y” aircraft remains were found and was finally laid to rest in Millinocket, Maine, on Oct. 9, 2021, after being lost at sea for more than 75 years.

To honor the legacy of the Mighty 97th and the acts of U.S. Army Air Forces 2nd Lt. Earnest Vienneau, 340th Bombardment Squadron, B-17 Flying Fortress co-pilot, members of the 97th AMW performed a flyover in a KC-46 Pegasus during the funeral. 

“I think (finding his remains) is bigger than just my family. I think it’s bigger than just Millinocket and I think it is bigger than me,” said Chelsea Carbonell, great niece of Vienneau and next of kin. “I feel like right now, with everything that’s been going on in our country, this is a hopeful occurrence to remind Americans of hope and who we really are. So, I think this (ceremony) belongs to everyone.”

At the time of his passing in 1944, Vienneau was assigned to the 97th Bombardment Group in Amendola, Italy. That unit has since transferred and is known today as the 97th Air Mobility Wing, located at Altus Air Force Base. Since then, the wing has switched its mission of tactical aerial support to extending global mobility reach.  Mighty 97th members of the 56th Air Refueling Squadron flew a KC-46 Pegasus over the Millinocket Cemetery. The aircrew performed a flyover for the funeral of Vienneau to honor the sacrifice he gave to the unit, his family, and country.

“It is pretty amazing to be a part of this team to honor the legacy of Lt. Vienneau,” said Maj. Steve Pike, 56th ARS KC-46 pilot. “Being from Maine myself, it is truly humbling to be a part of this ceremony and I am so glad we could pay respect to his family. The entire maintenance and aircrew team took this mission very seriously and we are so happy to see Lt. Vienneau get the respect that he has paid the ultimate sacrifice for.”

A majority of Vienneau’s family was able to properly say goodbye at his funeral, having members of the Patriot Riders escort the funeral procession, Soldiers of the Army Honor Guard team from Fort Drum, New York, present proper military honors, and the 97th Air Mobility Wing performing a flyover. In Carbonell’s opinion, this was the proper way to remember their family member’s service.

“So Bob (nephew of Vienneau and former next of kin), who just passed away, was the one who asked for the flyover and he just wanted to do it right,” said Carbonell. “He had a strong feeling that all of his other siblings got to live full lives. They married, they had children, they had careers and Earnest didn’t get to do any of those things. He wanted to honor him and remember him for what he did and doing the full military funeral and the flyover. I feel like it is just so right and it is such an amazing sendoff to him.”

According to Carbonell, her uncle had eight brothers who also served in the military and six of them served during WWII, all of which volunteered to enter the armed services. She added that it makes their family grateful that many members of their family served and get to continue to pay their respects.

“We are very honored and proud that he, his brothers and even his sisters served ,” Carbonell added. “When looking back at pictures of Ernest when he was so young, he had his whole life ahead of him and he was willing to go and serve. We are just so proud of him and we should continue to honor veterans and their families more.”

Since WWII, the aircraft Vienneau flew, the B-17, as well as the C-47 Skytrain, C-45 Expediter, B-47 Stratojet, KC-97 Stratofreighter, and the B-52 Stratofortress have been retired from the Air Force and installation. 

Today, the 97th AMW proudly flies the KC-135 Stratotanker, C-17 Globemaster III and KC-46 to train future pilots, loadmasters, and in-flight refuelers of these aircraft to extend airpower in efforts both foreign or domestic.

“Air refueling has become a key pillar to air mobility and provides to America’s strategic advantage,” said Pike. “Lt. Vienneau’s sacrifice contributes to our long legacy of adaptability and innovation that allows America to have a relevant and lethal force.”

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