08/14/11 — Immortalized in linen

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Immortalized in linen

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on August 14, 2011 1:50 AM

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Before he left for Vietnam, then-Capt. Thomas Reitmann and his wife, Carol, stitched their names onto the 334th tablecloth that has reached "relic" status in recent years. Hundreds of names appear on the fabric.

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Members of the 334th Eagles hold up a tablecloth that has been signed by those who have served in the squadron since the 1940s.

The names date back to World War II -- members of the 334th Fighter Squadron family represented on a tablecloth that, for decades, has found a home in a display case on Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.

And when the unit's current commander, Lt. Col. Brian Armstrong, heard that one of the men represented on the relic had been identified more than 45 years after his F-105 was shot down in Vietnam, he pulled it out and started searching.

"It was incredible when I heard the story," he said. "To know that after 45 years, he's finally coming home to his family ... it's great for the squadron."

Not far from a likeness of the squadron's symbol, a fighting eagle, "Tom and Carol Reitmann" is stitched into the fabric.

"To look at this tablecloth and find their names on it, that, too, was just a really big deal," Armstrong said.

Particularly now that Reitmann is set to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Armstrong said his fallen comrade's story is among those used to show the current generation of aviators just how many sacrifices have been made in the name of the same cause so many men and women fight for today.

"The more we can talk about our heritage and our history and let them know the sacrifices that guys in the squadron made, I think it's an important part of their professional development," he said.

And as long as that tablecloth calls a display case in the squadron headquarters home, none who wear the Eagles patch will ever forget that when they take flight, they do so on the shoulders of men like Reitmann.

"Heritage is a big deal for our squadron," Armstrong said. "And it's a proud history."