McConnell Air Force Base Embarks on Memorial Walk Restoration Initiative Published Oct. 10, 2023 By Staff Sgt. Adam Goodly 22nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. -- Airmen at McConnell Air Force Base have embarked on a mission to restore and revitalize the Memorial Walk, a hallowed site commemorating the sacrifices of past and present Airmen. This ambitious effort aims to clean 301 memorials on the Walk annually, paying homage to the legacy of those who have served. "The Memorial Walk exists to commemorate the lives of those Airmen who have a service connection to McConnell," said Staff Sgt. Andrew Youens, the unit deployment manager of the 22nd Civil Engineer Squadron. "The Memorial Walk provides a physical monument for family members and the total force to reflect on the sacrifices made by the deceased service members who built the heritage of the Air Force." Prompted by the deteriorating condition of the memorial stones and nameplates, Youens initiated the cleanup effort. "When I've run along the Memorial Walk, the deteriorating condition of the stones and nameplates is obvious,” he said. “As a location meant to provide a hallowed spot for families to visit their loved ones, the lack of routine care does not support this purpose. We all have a duty to find a way to improve our community." Before the cleanup process began, the plaques on the Memorial Walk had suffered from weathering, darkening, and erosion, making them difficult to read. Cleaning these memorials posed a significant challenge due to the depth of weathering and environmental damage. "Of the 301 memorial markers along the Walk, 27 are F-105 fighter pilots lost at sea, and three were general dedications to the River Rats [Red River Valley Fighter Pilots Association]," said Jeffery Gaines, a casualty assistance representative for the 22nd Air Refueling Wing. "Other memorials are in honor of those lost in the 1965 Wichita KC-135 crash and the 1978 Titan II missile accident. Major General Marcelite Harris, a former McConnell squadron commander and the first female to hold that rank in the Air Force, is memorialized on the Walk." The emotional impact of this cleanup effort on the Airmen and the community, especially those with personal connections to the individuals memorialized on the plaques, cannot be overstated. These memorials represent more than just names on plaques. "The memorials are an eternal symbol of the dedication, pride, and service to the country exhibited by our fallen comrades," Gaines said. "The fact that the pride of McConnell, its young Airmen, took the time to refresh the older memorials is indicative of the legacy of respect and selfless service of those memorialized along the Walk." Plans to expand and enhance the Memorial Walk are on the horizon. They have updated the Memorandum of Instruction governing criteria, materials, and placement of markers to ensure uniformity and space for adding future memorials. For those interested in supporting or getting involved in the ongoing maintenance and preservation of the Memorial Walk at McConnell, individuals and organizations can contact the Military and Family Readiness Center Volunteer Coordinator at 316-759-6020 for more information. In undertaking this initiative, the McConnell Airmen ensure that the Memorial Walk is a timeless tribute to the brave souls who have served and sacrificed for the nation, fostering a sense of community and appreciation for those who came before them.