Master Sgt. John Chapman immortalized at hometown commemoration

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Ryan Conroy
  • 24th Special Operations Wing Public Affairs

The town of Windsor Locks is relatively small, totaling 12,500 residents, but is home to an international airport, the 1965 Little League World Series championship and most recently a recipient of the nation’s highest decoration for valor.

The hometown of Master Sgt. John Chapman commemorated the life of the Special Tactics combat controller, who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor a few months ago for his valorous efforts during the Battle of Takur Ghar in 2002.

Friends, family, supporters and military members past and present showed up in droves to celebrate the life of Chapman with an MOH monument dedication, a parade and a ceremony.

“John’s legacy will live on and our teammates past and present and those of the future, will strive to live by those same virtues that made John,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Claude Tudor, Jr., commander of the 24th Special Operations Wing, the sole wing dedicated to Special Tactics Airmen. “Those virtues that started here in Windsor Locks … the thread that was woven in this 9.5-mile city on the Connecticut River.”

Chapman graduated from Windsor Locks High School in 1983, where he excelled as an athlete on the varsity soccer team and dive team. He joined the U.S. Air Force shortly after in 1985, as an information systems operator and later volunteered to join the Special Tactics community.

Special Tactics is U.S. Special Operations Command’s tactical air and ground integration force and the Air Force’s special operations ground force, leading global access, precision strike, personnel recovery and battlefield surgery operations.

In February 2002, Chapman deployed to Afghanistan as part of a joint special operations team. On the team, his role was to conduct precision strikes by integrating airpower onto the battlefield.

On March 4, 2002, Chapman was killed during Operation ANACONDA, when he knowingly sacrificed his life to fend off a rocket-propelled grenade attack on an incoming MH-47 “Chinook” helicopter carrying a quick reaction force of U.S. Army Rangers and Air Force ST Airmen.

Chapman was initially awarded the Air Force Cross for his actions, but after a thorough review, it was upgraded to the Medal of Honor by President Donald Trump, who presented it to his widow, Valerie Nessel, during a White House ceremony, on Aug. 22.

Chapman is the first Special Tactics Airman to receive the Medal of Honor and upon receiving the decoration, Chapman was posthumously promoted to the rank of master sergeant.

Thomas Saadi, commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Veterans Affairs, dedicated a monument to Chapman's honor at the town's memorial hall, before the procession marched down Main Street to the Windsor Locks amphitheater to begin the ceremony to celebrate his life.  

“We all must remember the fallen, because they are not just names on a plaque … they were brothers, sisters and friends, who have sacrificed their lives on the mantle of freedom just as Chapman had,” said Saadi during the mantle dedication. “They served, they fought and they paid the ultimate sacrifice in service to this nation.” 

ST Operators with the 24th SOW, the unit Chapman was assigned to when he lost his life, conducted a military free fall into the event to kick off the celebration, as the U.S. Air Force Heritage of America Band played the National Anthem followed by four C-130 Hercules with the Air National Guard’s 103rd Airlift Wing buzzing over the crowd.

Governor Dannel Malloy and Representative John Larson spoke during the ceremony, sharing appreciation to the Chapman family and military veterans for their sacrifices.

“I often think of how difficult it must be to answer the call, especially today in America, less than 1 percent, of the nation serves in our military,” said Larson. “And, to have the exemplary Americans like John Chapman step forward and do what generations before him have done is a tip of the hat to all those who serve this great nation of ours.”

As the ceremony came to a close, Tudor detailed the events of Chapman’s sacrifice, his reverence for the city of Windsor Locks and offered examples of how the selfless, never-quit virtues that Chapman exemplified can be found in sacrifices of ST Airmen today.

“The use of strong, descriptive language in William Ernest Henley’s poem, ‘Invictus,’ clearly convey its theme to never lose hope, no matter the circumstance, that you control your fate, and you decide your future,” said Tudor. “John was the master of his fate, he paid the ultimate sacrifice to save his teammates. And that very character of John, was originally forged from this city called Windsor Locks.”