For an Air Force pilot, loving family rolls holiday season into one evening

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comOctober 28, 2012 

Ray and Alice Depew of Sun City Hilton Head have already celebrated Halloween. And Thanksgiving, and Christmas.

They did it all in one evening earlier this month in Savannah with both sons and their daughter-in-law. They did it because one of their sons won’t be here for the real holidays.

He will be on his fourth deployment to the Middle East.

Rather than concentrate on their own anxieties, the family of U.S. Air Force Capt. Ryan Depew poured their hearts into his happiness. What a testament to the human spirit.

Where there could easily have been bitterness, there was celebration.

Beneath the Depew family’s Halloween garb lies a treat we don’t enjoy enough. It is the resolve found in the “everyday,” “ordinary” American. It is the grit to not only cope but to excel, even when things are rough.

“I know that my son is the best pilot, in the best air force, flying the best aircraft maintained by the best airmen in the world,” said the young captain’s father. “We’re still the gold standard in the world.”


Capt. Ryan Depew was visiting his parents for a couple of days from Scott Air Force Base in Illinois when the celebration took place.

It was a surprise to everyone except the ring-leader, the pilot’s sister-in-law, Dr. Jessa Ford Depew. She’s a doctor of pharmacy and a medical scientist in Savannah, where her husband, Dr. James Depew, is a surgery resident at Memorial University Medical Center.

Jessa told everyone to dress nicely and meet at their house in Savannah.

When they arrived, they were surprised to be served a Thanksgiving dinner, the table laden with a roasted turkey and the all-American side dishes and desserts.

And then an impromptu Halloween broke out, with bits and pieces of costumes passed around. That evolved into a quick Christmas, with Santa caps.

Then the “Thanksgiving” leftovers were boxed up, and the whole crew took them to the surgery residents’ lounge at Memorial as James started another long shift in the Trauma Center.


Ryan Depew was a junior at Stafford High School in Virginia when he told his parents that every time he looked in the sky and saw an airplane he thought that’s what he wanted to do.

They took him to a flying school at the Manassas, Va., airport. All three of them — mother, father and 16-year-old boy — climbed in a Cessna 172 with a training pilot. He pointed to a landmark below and said to the boy, “Why don’t you fly us over there?”

Ryan, they discovered, was a natural. Sort of like his mother, a United Airlines stewardess for 33 years; or his ancestor, Richard H. “Dick” Depew Jr., recognized on the “Early Bird” plaque at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum as one of America’s earliest pilots.

Ryan enrolled in the Department of Aerospace at Middle Tennessee State University, finishing in three and a half 3 1/2 years with a 4.0 average. He got a job with a regional airline, but it went belly up before he ever flew. He turned to the Air Force, saying he knew it would never go out of business.

That was six years ago. Today, the captain flies a KC-135 Stratotanker, a four-engine Boeing jet that cruises above combat areas refueling fighters and bombers.


Ray Depew took a tour with the U.S. Army, so he knows the drill.

“Ryan’s job is to go into harm’s way,” he said. “We know that his part of the occupation. That’s the tradition of our country. We always ask the strongest and brightest to go, never the sickest and weakest. And he is the best and brightest America has to offer. We’ve been blessed with our sons. We don’t take credit for it, but we are extremely proud of it. We think of him as our Captain America.”

Alice said tears and fears come with sending your son away for each three- or four-month deployment in “the gas tank in the sky.” She first turns to her faith. “I have to trust,” she said.

Secondly, she knows he is a fantastic pilot. “He would never do anything risky,” she said.

And then she thinks of his grander mission.

“He, and all the other young men and women in the service, are putting their lives at risk for all the freedoms that some of us take lightly in our country,” she said. “They do it so people have freedom, even so that people who hate this country can bash it while people who love this country can say it’s the greatest.

“I’m so proud of him.”

Follow columnist David Lauderdale on Twitter.

The State is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service