CHANNEL ISLANDS AIR NATIONAL GUARD STATION, Port Hueneme, Calif. --
On the anniversary of the D-Day invasion of the beaches of Normandy, a setting aided by providence, 146th Airlift Wing hosted current and former members of the unit for a memorial service honoring the life, legacy, and career of Col. Ed Bellion.
Coordinated through the 146th Wing Association, a volunteer force composed of active and alumni who belonged to the wing, the memorial service drew many to share memories and stories of a truly beloved man.
The event took place inside Heritage Plaza, which, coincidentally was established with the assistance of Bellion, was now decorated with displays and mementos of affection from his career. Featuring his famous cartoon drawings, photos during his infamous emcee duties, and treasured keepsakes from his countless deployments and travels worldwide.
Bellion, a C-130 pilot who had an illustrious and dutiful career serving 27 years with 146th Airlift Wing, was promoted to the rank of Col. serving as the wing's vice commander until his "retirement."
For most, retirement might consist of days relaxing at home or spending hours devoted to the simpler things in life. However, this wasn't always the case with Bellion. In his retirement, Bellion became an active member of the 146th Wing Association (formerly the 146th Alumni Association), where he played a vital role for 20 years, continuing to serve the "Hollywood Guard" until his final days.
Bellion's passion for the wing lead him to develop many programs that raised money for airman relief funds, education scholarships, and holiday financial relief for struggling airmen and community members alike.
During the ceremony, several of Bellion's closest friends rose to speak of their fond memories of him and of the selfless contributions he made for others around him. Many acknowledged that Bellion could not have done as much as he did without the support of his lovely wife, Helena Bellion, who was also in attendance.
In a decisive moment during the ceremony, retired Brig. Gen. Dan Pemberton, a former commander for the wing and close friend, read a letter aloud to the crowd that was written by Bellion's twin brother Robert. During the reading, Pemberton delivered a powerful favorite saying of Bellion's, surmising his service in one beautiful sentence that Pemberton says described him perfectly.
"It's not the years in your life that matters, but the life in your years," said Pemberton.
According to retired Lt. Col. Bob Kramer, who emceed during the ceremony, Bellion's tenure at the wing was filled with highlights and countless years of volunteerism. Kramer also shared the charismatic origins of the "Killer B's," an infamous group of renowned pilots from the 146th Airlift Wing that included Ed Bellion, Tom Bellion, Doug Broadhurst, Ron Boll, and Bob Kramer.
Based on the group's last names' first letter beginning with the letter "B," the moniker was later revised to include first names Kramer later explains. Just then, retired Col. Paul Hargrove, another former commander of the 146th gives out a laugh filled retort from the crowd.
"Let's not forget our other member, Col. Clyde BO-heny!"
The joke lands nicely, and the crowd laughs. Col. Clyde "Bo-Heny's" real last name is Doheney. If you didn't know before, it's clear now, despite whatever letter your name started with, no one was excluded from Bellion's friendship. It's another example of Bellion's impact on the wing shining through.
Midway through the next part of Kramer's speech, he would be beautifully interrupted by a C-130 flyover. Soon after, a flying group known as the Condors, piloting World War II aircraft led by 146th alumni, retired Chief Master Sgt. Chris Rushing followed. Delivering a flyover complete with the missing man formation honoring Bellion's absence.
Later, retired Senior Master Sgt. Erin McPherson performed an extraordinary rendition of Frank Sinatra's "My Way." Complete with revised lyrics to include Bellion's name, highlighting how he did indeed do everything "his way."
Coupled with McPherson's vocal tributes, the wing's Honor Guard provided a flag-folding ceremony during the 562nd Air National Guard Band of the West Coast's Superintendent, Senior Master Sgt. Gerald Lockwood's chilling performance of Taps.
Retired Chief Master Sgt. Rick Onsgard, a former Command Chief for the wing and acting Wing Association President, fought back his tears as he addressed the crowd at the podium during his speech.
"Ed was always there in any situation, good or bad, and I'd follow him anywhere. Ed epitomized the guard mantra of mission first and family always. As we pay our final respects to a dear friend and fellow service member, I can't help but think he's sitting up there, somewhere, on a cloud high above Channel Islands. He's looking down at the Hollywood Guard, smiling upon us all, as he always did – his way.
Onsgard, a close friend of Bellion, says as the crowd began to mingle, he was reminded of just how special Bellion was to everyone that knew him.
"Ed, I wish you were here, brother. But something tells me – you are," said Onsgard.