Fallen airmen are among our nation's greatest

The following editorial appeared in the Hickory (N.C.) Daily Record on Friday.

Let the names of the four airmen from the North Carolina National Guard who died fighting the wildfire in western South Dakota be placed on the list of American heroes.

Lt. Col. Paul K. Mikeal, 42, of Mooresville, N.C.; Senior Master Sgt. Robert S. Cannon, 50, of Charlotte, N.C.; Maj. Joseph M. McCormick, 36, of Belmont, N.C.; and Maj. Ryan S. David, 35, of Boone, N.C., were experienced. They knew the risks of a hazardous mission. But they and two comrades flew their C-130 tanker into the mouth of a raging beast in an attempt to save the homes and perhaps the lives of people in harm's way.

The tanker crashed, and the four heroes lost their lives. At least one, Paul Mikeal, had served in Afghanistan. He and the others knew danger. Dumping retardant on a massive wildfire is not an easy task. The C-130 is a behemoth craft, and wildfires the size of the White Draw fire in South Dakota can play havoc with flying conditions.

They gave their all for the sake of others. They are heroes. They left behind families, loved ones and friends.

Their deaths are tough on everyone in the National Guard, but nobody is backing down from the risks that come with serving.

“The Air Guard is a family, and right now we are family focused,” said Gen. Tony McMillan, commander of the 145th Airlift Wing, North Carolina Air National Guard. “Yes, we continue to grieve, but we are ready for any mission that may come our way,” he said.

That's the attitude of heroes.

Other military units remain in the battle against the deadly fires that now number 45 in all, 36 of them in nine western states. Just in Colorado, three fires have destroyed 600 homes and killed six residents. The four North Carolina airmen attached to the 145th Airlift Wing were trying to halt an inferno in South Dakota.

We call attention to their honor and devotion to service. And, on a happier note, we likewise praise the more than 100 members of the N.C. National Guard who came home from Afghanistan on Independence Day.

The 1452nd Transportation Co., based in Winston-Salem, was away from their families for more than a year. The unit moved heavy equipment throughout Afghanistan. That's no easy mission, either, not with an enemy at large whose sole intent is to kill Americans.

We are glad they have come back, and we thank God for them and all who serve to protect us.

The four airmen were not fighting a political enemy armed with man-made weapons, but a freak of nature with which there is no negotiation. Fire does not know retreat. All things are its enemy. And fire kills — to our everlasting sorrow.

There are four new names on the roll of America's defenders who made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty. We wish it was not so, but we understand that without heroes like Paul Mikeal, Robert Cannon, Ryan David and Joseph McCormick, we would not have the great nation we enjoy today.