What My Big Brother Ken Taught Me

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This tribute is reprinted from May 2011 – Memorial Day.

First Lieutenant Samuel Kenneth Bacon, Jr.
First Lieutenant Samuel Kenneth Bacon, Jr.

On July 25, 1957 my family received word from the U.S. Air Force that my big brother, Ken Bacon, was missing.  He was a test pilot for the F-100 Super Sabre and stationed at George Air Force Base in California.   Back then the pilots flew solo in threesomes.  On the return flight from Big Spring, Texas, where Ken’s plane had undergone repairs, they were caught in a storm, and Ken’s plane disappeared.  His last words were “I see Tucson.”

I was just six years old, but it was an event of such monumental proportions for our family that I still have vivid memories of the month-long search that followed.

I remember the intensity, the extended family and friends gathering in our home, the hushed tones and somber voices.  I recall the nightly TV reports with George Putnam on the Hollywood news casts announcing a reward for anyone who could find Ken.  My family’s unwavering faith in a good outcome translated to my child’s-eye view of this tragic event:  I just knew we would find my brother somewhere in the wilderness wandering around eating berries off the bushes while looking for a gas station to fill the plane’s empty tank.

That didn’t happen.  In late August the wreckage was discovered pancaked into a mountain near Ely, Nevada.  The cause:  oxygen failure.

The funeral procession proceeded down Franklin Avenue in Hollywood where the shop owners who had known our family for many years came out and stood in respect for the loss of this fine young man, with his unforgettable broad smile.  He left behind a beautiful wife Doris Rasband (now Tino) and a six- month old daughter Debra Lynn (now Hofheins).

It seemed the sky was as blue as Southern California can produce only on a day just after rain.  As we stood on the hillside at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Burbank to pay our last respects, the jets zoomed overhead in salute to Ken Bacon’s short 28 years.  It was breathtaking.  Even at age six, I felt great pride and gratitude to know that he served his country well and that he loved what he was doing.  That’s when I got that first lump in my throat as those jets soared across that blue sky.

It is the same pride I felt when I was a student at Brigham Young University.  Women weren’t allowed to join ROTC then, so I decided to join the Air Force ROTC’s “Angel Flight” to honor my brother and the brave young men preparing for leadership roles in the military.

I get that same lump in my throat now and then, and always on the Fourth of July when the Hill Air Force Base fighter jets zoom overhead at the Stadium of Fire Show at Provo during Utah’s Freedom Festival.  My brother Carl and my brother-in-law Lothaire Bluth have been on the Freedom Festival board for years now and Carl is the executive producer.  We all feel that same lump.

I admit that, even though the talent is great each year at that event, I go to that show for one reason only:  the flyover.  We all do. It’s not only breathtaking when those planes go by and we get a live message from the pilots over the big screen in the stadium, it’s a poignant reminder of that hot August day on the cemetery hillside.  That lump brings it all back.

It’s that same lump that we as a family feel when we attend the Brigham Young University AFROTC ceremony and Ken Bacon Speech Contest where he is honored every year for his leadership while a student there.  His daughter, who never really knew her father, was also a member of Angel Flight.  We reverence those who make the ultimate sacrifice for the cause of freedom that my brother Ken, and others like him, made in the service of their country.

That’s what Ken’s death taught me.

Years later I heard my mother’s soft cries from her bedroom. I walked in and asked if she was okay.  She said she was fine, “Just missing my son.”

To the many mothers (and fathers) who have lost their sons and daughters for this great cause and are still “just missing” them today:  Thank you, and may the Lord bring you peace and comfort.

Here’s the tribute to the “Angel Flight” – this one’s for my brother.