Keesler Celebration Of Flight And Legacy - - The News for South Mississippi

Keesler Celebration Of Flight And Legacy

BILOXI (WLOX) -- Dedicating an aircraft is a long and cherished tradition for the Air Force. Tuesday, Keesler Air Force Base named another C-130J, a hurricane hunter in its 403rd Wing. The plane was dedicated to Keesler's namesake. It was a true celebration of flight and legacy.

The latest aircraft to be named at Keesler represents a rich heritage -- one that the base itself was named for.

Brigadier General Richard Moss, commander of Keesler's 403rd Wing led the ceremony saying, "We dedicate this airplane in memory of Lt. Keesler for his courage, his valor, and his dedication to service. And we hope through the dedication of this airplane we'll help his memory live on forever."

Lt. Samuel Reeves Keesler, Jr. died while serving in World War I. Biloxi's air force base was named in his honor in 1942. His niece, Isabel Keesler Pitts Miller remembers that day, as if it were yesterday.

"Lt. Keesler's father was here, and his mother," she recalls. Now, 66 years later, Miller is back to witness her uncle's legacy again, and her wishes are simple.

"I hope this field will keep his memory alive always."

General Moss doesn't think that will be a problem. According to him, "We get to take the name of Lt. Keesler everywhere throughout the world. Everywhere it goes, they're going to see it, and know that we remember what made us what we are today."

A testament to that strong tradition, is the 403rd's most recent accomplishment -- 35,000 hours of flight in the C-130Js, which is more than any other unit in the entire department of Defense.

"For a unit this size, in the time we've had the airplane, that's a tremendous amount of flying," says General Moss.

Lt. Col. Malcolm Shannon is a crew member aboard the "Spirit of Keesler." He's already flown about 1500 hours in the aircraft, but flying has a new purpose to him, now that his plane has a name.

Shannon says, "We are recognized all over the world, and to have the cities and our base's name on our aircraft. It's special to us because it helps us remember why we're doing it in the first place."

The "Spirit of Keesler" is the third C-130J to be dedicated so far. The other two named planes are the "Spirit of Gulfport" and "Spirit of Biloxi." The 403rd has a total of 18 Js, and there are plans to name more.

By the way, be on the lookout for a tribute to Keesler's reservists at Hard Rock Casino. Plans for the display were unveiled Tuesday during the dedication ceremony at Keesler Air Force Base. Keesler officials say, it's just another example of the great community support the base gets from south Mississippi.

By Meggan Gray

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