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Medal of Honor recipient remembered for small acts of kindness

Aug. 23, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Then-Maj. Bernard Fisher prepares for a mission with the 1st Air Commando Squadron.
Then-Maj. Bernard Fisher prepares for a mission with the 1st Air Commando Squadron. (National Museum of the U.S. Air Force)
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Viewings will be between 6:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Sunday in Kuna, Idaho, for Col. Bernard Fisher, renowned as the first airman to be awarded the Air Force-designed Medal of Honor. Fisher died Aug. 16 at age 87. But those who knew him appreciated him for everyday generosity.

Retired Master Sgt. Jim Wade and Fisher were both stationed in Pleiku, South Vietnam, in 1966 — Wade with the 15th Aerial Port Squadron and Fisher with the 1st Air Commando Squadron.

“We did not have a chow hall in the Air Force area at the time or a shower,” Wade said in an email to Air Force Times. The airmen had to walk to the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, headquarters for meals and to wash up. Fisher “would be driving a pickup, stop and pick us up,” Wade said. “We would talk about little things while we were going over to the compound. ... Those [times] were enough to know he was a great person.”

That same year, then-Maj. Fisher received nationwide publicity after, under intense ground fire, he landed his Douglas A-1E Skyraider on an airfield in the enemy-controlled A Shau Valley to pull a downed pilot aboard his aircraft, and then successfully escaped despite several bullets striking the plane, according to his Air Force fact sheet.

“The[ir] airplane had seven men onboard, and they carried the mini-guns and high-powered guns, and they fired 6,000 rounds a minute,” Fisher, speaking about the enemy attack on his plane, told KBOI 2News in 2008. “That’s a lot of rounds. That’s 120 rounds a second.”

Today, the aircraft is on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

“I think he was a real fierce competitor, he worked real hard at the things he did,” Fisher’s son, retired Maj. Steven Fisher, told Air Force Times. “But he … also always looked out for the little guy, the underdog.”

President Lyndon Johnson presented Fisher with the Medal of Honor on Jan. 19, 1967. The medal, the first fitted for the Air Force, was established April 14, 1965. The first Medal of Honor received by an airman was awarded to Capt. Edward Rickenbacker for aerial combat in 1918.

Fisher, who volunteered to go to Vietnam, commissioned into the Air Force in 1951 after serving in the Idaho Air National Guard for three years. He served briefly in the Navy at the end of World War II before becoming an airman.

“I know he always wanted to fly, he told us, even as a little kid,” Steven Fisher said. Steven said he thinks his father’s Guard service was what “got him interested in the flying side of things in the Air Force,” and what cemented his attachment to Idaho.

“He was a strong community member. The Air Force community knows him as this war hero, but people of our community knew him as ‘Bernie the farmer,’ ” his son said.

Fisher regarded his Vietnam service highly — he would travel across the country to speak about his experience, Steven said, because his notoriety and the medal made him feel he held that responsibility. “He was a great public speaker, he could have a three-by-five card and he could get up and speak for an hour and keep people’s attention,” Steven said.

Born in San Bernardino, California, in 1927, Fisher was raised and educated in Utah before he retired as a colonel in 1974 in Kuna, Idaho.

Fisher and his wife, Realla, raised six boys, three of whom joined the Air Force:Steven, and brothers retired Lt. Col. William Courtney Fisher and former Maj. Scott Fisher. Fisher’s grandson, Capt. Adam Fisher, flies A-10s.

Fisher had extensive experience, according to the fact sheet, in fighters such as the F-80, F-86 and F-101, along with hundreds of close-air support missions in the A-1E. In addition to the Medal of Honor, Veteran Tributes Founder Erich Anderson said Fisher received the Legion of Merit; he was also awarded the Silver Star, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal with six oak leaf clusters, and various service medals, sons William Courtney and Bradford Fisher confirmed.

“A lot of kids think, ‘I want to be a pilot or an astronaut,’ and it becomes kind of a long shot or impossible dream,” said Steven, who flew KC-135s. “But for me, dad came home from work every day, and he was a pilot so I thought it was very reasonable. ... We had an enjoyable lifestyle in the Air Force, and the Air Force took good care of us and our family.”

Funeral services will be Monday at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints on Linder Avenue in Kuna, the same location as the viewing. Fisher will be buried at the Idaho State Veterans Cemetery.

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