Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point --
Silent tension filled the ready room of Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron 3 as the squadron’s executive officer, Maj. William A. Schultz, approached the flawlessly unblemished plaque with a set of dog tags in his hands.
The clinking of the tags against the chains cut the silence as Schultz’s voice cracked with emotion when he announced their owner – Capt. Andrew Muhs, who passed away in an aircraft mishap in 2002.
Schultz hung the dog tags on the plaque, which bore the heading, “Missing Moondogs.”
A second set of dog tags were handed to Burton S. Paynter, the father of their owner, the late Capt. Jason J. Paynter, who passed away April 12, also in an aircraft mishap.
The father clutched the dog tags and looked up with sad eyes. “What do you want me to do with these?” he asked the Marines.
Once he understood, he rose and hung the tags on the same plaque, right next to those of Muhs.
Both Paynter and Muhs were members of VMAQ-3, and now the squadron’s ready room was being dedicated to them.
Lt. Col. Dominic Roberts, the commanding officer of VMAQ-3, presided over the unveiling of the memorial.
“Though neither one of these pilots were with the Moondogs at the time of their deaths, it is important to memorialize them for two reasons,” Roberts said, referring to the squadron by its nickname. “First, they were members of this squadron and we are a family here; secondly, it helps keep us sharp to remember what can happen out there.”
VMAQ-3 had previously dedicated its ready room in Muhs’ honor, but after the squadron moved to a new hangar the memorial seemed to fall by the wayside. That seemed to many to be a wasted opportunity for remembrance and learning.
Paynter said he had driven over 1,500 miles from Moorhead, Minn., to see his son’s memorial and that every mile was worth it.
“There’s a lot going through my mind right now,” Paynter said. “One year ago Jason and I were planning my final days; I was suffering from a lung disorder. Now, I’m okay and he’s gone – we didn’t expect it but we accepted it.”