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Along Twin Ponds Road

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By Ray Willis

Her shoulders shuddered slightly when her son started over to her front row seat with his pretty bouquet. She sobbed quietly for an instant out of shear pride and delight.

 

Why wouldn’t she? Her first born son, Master Sergeant Ward, (He’d always be Pee Wee to her.) Heffner was retiring after 25 years of active duty from the U.S. Air Force.

 

Ward  Monroe Heffner, Jr. was born in Monticello, Fla. in 1967, ( incidentally, the year I was medically retired from the Coast Guard).

 

He graduated from Franklin, High School in Franklin, N.C. in 1985, and joined the Air Force a few months later.

 

Although Ward was in the military for all those years he spent most of that time stationed at only five bases: Eglin AFB in Florida, Elmendorf AFB in Anchorage, Alaska, McChord AFB in Washington, and Dover AFB, Del.

 

He was a flight mechanic and rose to be an expert crew chief on the C141 “Starlifter”  and C-5 “Galaxy” aircraft where he had over 5,000 combined flying hours. Sergeant Heffner ended his career as Global Operations Director, 618th Tanker Airlift Control Center at Scott AFB, Illinois.

 

Ward completed many missions in support of military campaigns, exercises, and humanitarian efforts. He modestly displayed a chest full of ribbons to attest to his outstanding and distinguished service career.

 

He had also taken time to become a pilot of smaller aircraft.

 

My wife and I drove to Scott AFB (near St. Louis) for his June 29 retirement ceremony. We are really happy and thankful that we made the trip.

 

The retirement ceremony was awesome! Judy and I were unaware that our son (actually, my stepson), was the “airman’s airman” that he was.

 

Because so much of Ward’s career involved highly secretive operations it was really difficult to get a handle on how well he was doing in the Air Force throughout his career.

 

It didn’t take us long to find out what an outstanding career he had had.

 

During the past few years he had been flying in and out of hostile countries, and we worried about him. There was not a day since I have known the man that I have not prayed for he and his family. Ward has also been my hero for quite a while.

 

Several of Sergeant Heffner’s fellow airmen, enlisted, as well as officers, extended congratulations and laudatory comments at the ceremony.

 

Colonel Kevin Webb, Vice Commander of the 375th Air Mobility Wing at Scott AFB, was the main speaker. He spoke commendably about Ward’s distinguished career and shared some experiences of the time they had spent while working together.

 

 Ward’s leadership was also acknowledged for the enormous amount of time he donated to community organizations throughout his career.

 

In addition to working full time in the Air Force, Ward has been working toward a college degree and is expecting to obtain a bachelor’s degree soon.

 

Ward’s family, of course, attended the moving ceremony.

 

Tammy Heffner, wife of Ward and mother of his children, stood proudly at his side. Not only had Tammy taken good care of the children, through dedication, hard work and perseverance, she had managed to obtain a bachelors degree in nursing. She now is fulfilling her career at nearby St. Louis Children’s Hospital. Tammy especially enjoys working in cardiac care with the very young.

 

Corey, their eldest child, will be starting his junior year at the University of Delaware pursing a degree in biochemistry.

 

Jeremy graduated from high school recently and has been busy working, as well as attending Mascoutah Community College.

 

I had had the good fortune of tutoring Jeremy for a few months when he was about 10. That good fortune came to fruition when I met his wonderful grandmother, who later became my wife.

 

Kaitlyn is the youngest of the Heffner children. She is a lovely redhead who will be ten soon.

 

Ward honored me by allowing me to write and read the invocation at his ceremony.

 

Dick and Jeannette Heath, Tammy’s parents, attended the ceremony. They, too, traveled to Illinois from Tallahassee. Their son, Richard Jr., and his wife, Christa, and two young children from St. Louis, were also in attendance.

 

After the ceremony guests were treated to a splendid dinner at the nearby Gathering Place in Mascoutah, Ill.

 

Colonel Webb and his lovely wife, Sandra, both from the Valdosta area, joined Judy and myself, and Dick and Jeannette at our table for dinner.

 

I can’t remember when I’ve had a better time. The food was excellent. The comradery and conversation diversified, pleasant and outstanding.  It was just so wonderful talking and reminiscing about our beloved South, the military and our families.

 

I hope you’ve enjoyed an occasion as wonderful as the one I have just described lately, celebrating the accomplishments of one of this country’s veterans and warriors, and the very reason we are able to celebrate holidays like the recent 4th.

 

God bless you.