Chapman’s mother, Terry, and sister, Lori Longfritz, spoke at the ceremony, as did Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, Chief of Staff Gen. Dave Goldfein and Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth Wright. The Hall of Heroes records the names of the more than 3,460 service members who have received the nation’s highest award for valor since its creation in 1861.
One by one, the Air Force’s top leaders and Chapman’s loved ones spoke about his character and how he inspired them.
Wilson was visibly moved as she recounted the story of Chapman’s sacrifice on the mountaintop of Takur Ghar, early in the morning of March 4, 2002, when he saved the lives of more than 20 of his fellow troops.
“He will forever be in our Hall of Heroes as one of America’s bravest,” Wilson said.
Terry Chapman fought back tears as she thanked the airmen and officials gathered at the Pentagon for the recognition of her son.
“I could go on here and tell you all kinds of stories about John, but I don’t have to,” she said. “I think you already know what he was like. I can’t tell you how much it means to me and my family.”
Longfritz thanked former Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James for starting the process of reviewing Chapman’s case. That extensive, 30-month study concluded that Chapman lived for more than an hour after he was initially believed to have been killed and resulted in his Air Force Cross being upgraded to the Medal of Honor.
“In that last hour of John’s life, on that mountain … he took that fight to them,” Longfritz said. “He owned that fight. … I couldn’t be happier, and more proud of him.”
Goldfein said Chapman’s story will become Air Force legend, spoken of alongside other famed airmen and Medal of Honor recipients such as John Levitow, Bud Day and Leo Thorsness.
But while it’s important to remember Chapman’s heroic actions, Goldfein said, it’s equally important not to forget who he was as a man and to work to live up to his example.
“Perhaps that’s what distinguishes us, as American warriors, from others," Goldfein said. "We fight with a purpose, and we go to war with our values. Not only was John Chapman a fearless warrior, he was an incredibly good man.”
Goldfein said he finds inspiration from the loaned portrait of Chapman hanging in his Pentagon office.
“At difficult times, and when faced with hard decisions as the chief, I can look at that picture and find quiet strength in his strength,” Goldfein said. “While this picture will eventually have to go back to Brig. Gen. [Wolfe] Davidson, where it belongs, Wolfe, I’d be honored if I could keep it a couple more years. Because Chappie and I have more work to do, and I can’t imagine a day without him watching over me.”
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.