97 AMW honors fallen WWII Airman with KC-46 flyover

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

The history of The 97th Air Mobility Wing’s “Triangle Y” symbol dates back to when the 97th Bombardment Group flew missions out of Amendola, Italy during WWII. That unit 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. 

That legacy resurfaced when the remains of U.S. Army Air Forces 2nd Lt. Ernest Vienneau, former 97th BG pilot, were found and laid to rest in Millinocket, Maine, on Oct. 9, 2021, after being lost at sea for more than 75 years. Vienneau and his aircraft were unable to return to their home station in 1944 after running out of fuel during a mission, forcing the rest of his crew to swim roughly half a mile before being rescued by the natives of the island of Vis, Yugoslavia. To honor Veinneau’s legacy, members of the 97th AMW performed a flyover in a KC-46 Pegasus during his funeral to honor his life and service. 

“It is pretty amazing to be a part of this team to honor the legacy of Lt. Vienneau,” said Maj. Steve Pike, 56th Air Refueling Squadron 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, as members of the Patriot Riders escorted the funeral procession, Soldiers of the Army Honor Guard team from Fort Drum, New York, presented proper military honors, in addition to the 97th AMW’s flyover. Chelsea Carbonell, Viennau’s great niece and next of kin, said this was the proper way to remember Vienneau.

“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.”

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 her proud to honor her family’s legacy of service.

“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 Flying Fortress, C-47 Skytrain, C-45 Expeditor, B-47 Stratojet, and the KC-97 Stratofreighter have been retired from service. Only the B-52 Stratofortress remains actively in use.

Today, the Airmen from 97th AMW fly the KC-135 Stratotanker, C-17 Globemaster III and KC-46, training future pilots, loadmasters, and in-flight refuelers to extend global reach worldwide - a mission set for which Vienneau helped lay the foundation.

“Air refueling has become a key pillar to air mobility and provides 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.”