Remembering one of their own who didn't come home
By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on June 7, 2006 1:45 PM
Nearly 16 years ago in the Saudi Arabia desert, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base lost one of its own.
Tuesday, the airmen he served with and the family he left behind gathered to honor his life and commitment to freedom with a road named in his honor.
Airman 1st Class Rocky J. Nelson didn't perish on the battlefield. He died from injuries sustained in an equipment accident that occurred while he was performing his duties as a pavement maintenance specialist. Still, he is considered an unsung hero by those who gathered in his memory -- a man who gave the ultimate sacrifice maintaining the base from which armed forces planned and fought.
Tuesday, as Nelson's wife, Cassie, and daughter, Sasha, helped 4th Fighter Wing Commander Col. Mike Holmes unveil a new cul-de-sac named in his honor, emotions took hold.
"They remember him, and that is really nice," Mrs. Nelson said, looking back at the sign reading "Nelson Court."
Holmes said it was only fitting that a street on base be named for a fallen member of the 4th Civil Engineer Squadron. After all, had Nelson not perished while serving in support of Operation Desert Shield, he might have been one of the men who built it.
"The Civil Engineer Squadron built these homes," Holmes said. "And they wanted to honor one of their own."
Nelson was born Jan. 10, 1969, in Bloomer, Wis. He was a football standout in high school but decided to enlist in the Air Force shortly after graduating in November 1988.
"He was talkative," Mrs. Nelson said. "And he was overly friendly, sociable and had a really good sense of humor."
He was stationed at Seymour Johnson in February 1989 and was subsequently deployed in support of Operation Desert Shield on Oct. 21, 1990.
Holmes said it is unusual, but fitting, to name a street after someone who did not go on to become an officer. Most of the signs on base bear the names of generals and other decorated war heroes.
"(The dedication) helps us recognize all enlisted airmen who do the dirty work," he said. "I can imagine that when Rocky enlisted, he wasn't thinking about being a hero."
But in many ways, Holmes added, he was one.
Nelson is survived by his wife, Cassie, daughter, Sasha, and parents, Jerry and Kathryn.
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