MOODY AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. --
Glancing at a 1985 family portrait, a man is awestruck at the image of his younger self -- the snapshot of his mother cradling him as his siblings welcomed back their father from a deployment captured a moment stronger than words.
Although he was too young to remember the moment, Maj. Jonathan Elliott, 23rd Logistics Readiness Squadron director of operations, began his own search to retrieve this piece of heritage, which became the event that forged a stronger bond between father and son, who both served as Team Moody Airmen and Air Force officers.
“We were completely unaware of the photo’s existence,” said retired Lt. Col. Gary Elliott, former 347th Tactical Fighter Wing F-4E Phantom II pilot from 1983-1986. “When the picture was taken, my whole attention was on my family, and I didn’t know we were the subject of an impromptu photo. I didn’t know if the photo had ever been used in an article or the base newspaper, but it was slice of life in our family history, and we wanted to obtain it.”
According to Gary, the wife of a former squadron mate who lived in Valdosta, sent the family a snapshot of their big framed photograph that hung on the wall at the Moody Officers’ Club.
Determined to find it, the Elliott’s asked the Moody Field Club and base photo lab for a chance to reprint the photo, but unfortunately, the host wing changed, resulting in the removal of the frame from the heritage wall and derailing their plans.
However, in the summer of 2015, fate would have it that another Elliott would spearhead the continued search.
“When I moved here, one of the first places I went was the [Moody Field Club],” Jonathan said. “I was excited to finally get to see the actual picture, and I wanted to get copies of it for my family. But it wasn’t there, disappointingly. So, I started asking around to try to locate it. I talked with the [Moody Field Club] management, the wing historian, and any civilian I crossed paths with who’d been working on base long enough to have seen it.”
Although everyone he asked was incredibly gracious and tried to help, Jonathan kept coming up empty while he rummaged through various storage closets and boxes of old pictures. However, one day in May 2016, that all changed. As Col. Susan Riordan-Smith, 23rd Mission Support Group commander, gave a briefing in the First Term Airmen Center building, she saw the picture Jonathan was searching for and immediately notified him.
“I was shocked and relieved because it seemed too good to be true,” Jonathan said. “I went over to the FTAC building immediately so I could see it for myself. It was a bit surreal because it’s my parents, siblings and me.
“It naturally created an emotional connection with me, and yet, the photographer perfectly captured the joy of military member and family reunited in such a way that it makes an emotional connection, even if you don’t know the people in the picture,” Elliott added. “It just has that iconic look.”
While he was tempted to immediately tell his dad of the finding, he wanted to savor the moment for a special day. As all parties in the photo were present in Washington state in June for Father’s Day, Jonathan uttered the words, “I have something for you, Dad.”
As Jonathan brought out a large, thin package in brown paper wrap, Gary handled what he says felt a framed object and wondered if it might possibly be “the photo.”
“As I unwrapped it and saw that it was, I was a little choked up,” Gary said. “I think the whole family was a bit emotional. They had all seen the little snapshot on a shelf in our dining room, and knew we had searched in vain for the actual photo. Everyone was happy that Jon had been able to track it down and get one for the family. He had it beautifully matted and framed, and it was a very special Father’s Day gift.”
For Gary, no gift could compare to the strong bond he and Jonathan have forged over the years.
“Sharing the United States Air Force Academy as our alma mater strengthened this bond, and when I visit him at his duty stations, he always takes me in to his unit and helps me understand the mission and his responsibilities,” Gary explained.
Gary said he is also appreciative of Jonathan wearing his old squadron’s paraphernalia and highlighting his heritage.
“Two of my most proud moments of Jonathan was presenting his USAFA appointment [certificate] and administering the oath upon his promotion to major,” Gary said. “I put my uniform on for both of those occasions, and although it’s not the current style, it’s still “Air Force blue” and is a bond to Jon in his blues. I’m proud to wear it, and I think Jon is proud to see me wear it.
“Beyond the Air Force bond, it is still hard for me to stand for the national anthem and look at our flag without being a little choked up, and I trust Jon will always share this mixture of pride, humility, and gratefulness with me,” Gary added. “A bond unfortunately not shared by many of our countrymen these days.”