Medal of Honor recipient’s family reflect on his sacrifice, honor during visit to Air Force Memorial

  • Published
  • By Jasmyne Ferber
  • AFDW Public Affairs

It was the middle of July 2023, as Kerry Wilkins stood with her daughter before an obsidian black granite wall, their reflections mirroring the weight of their gaze. Kerry traced her fingertips along the names etched in stone until she found it: Maj. Raymond H. Wilkins.

“When I found my Uncle Raymond’s name, I actually started to cry,” Kerry said. “It was very emotional, happy tears.”

Kerry’s great uncle, Maj. Raymond H. Wilkins – a member of the U.S. Army Air Corps – posthumously received the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions during World War II. He, along with 61 Airmen Medal of Honor recipients, are featured on the Air Force Memorial’s Medal of Honor Wall, highlighting their sacrifices in conflict.

According to Maj. Wilkins’ Medal of Honor Citation: On November 2, 1943, as he led the 89th Bombardment Squadron in an attack on shipping at Simpson Harbor in Rabaul, New Britain, Maj. Wilkins placed his airplane in front so that he would be in the position of greater risk as they took on enemy fire.

Maj. Wilkins’ squadron was the last of three in the group to enter the target area. His airplane was hit almost immediately. Although enemy fire had seriously damaged the right wing and left vertical stabilizer of his plane, he refused to deviate from his mission. Maj. Wilkins returned fire, neutralizing two enemy vessels.

Unfortunately, in his pursuit, his damaged stabilizer was completely shot off. To avoid swerving into his wing planes, Maj. Wilkins exposed the belly and full wing surfaces of his plane to the enemy, who shot and crumpled his left wing. Past the point of control, he crashed into the sea. His heroic self-sacrifice made possible the safe withdrawal of the remaining planes in his squadron.

“He was a hard worker,” Kerry said. “He was willing to do whatever it took for this country.”

Although Kerry never had the opportunity to meet her great uncle, her grandmother kept his spirit alive. By seeing photos and listening to stories of him as a child, Kerry felt like she knew him personally.

“This is lifelong,” Kerry explained. “I mean, as a child at my nana’s and then growing up and being more and more interested in seeking out more information. Seeing things published about him, it’s just so wonderful that these stories are carried on.”

Her mother, Kathy, who also never met Maj. Wilkins, was able to form a connection with his legacy by attending his squadron’s reunions.

“The men in his squadron really had great admiration for him and really liked him,” Kathy said.

His squadron described Maj. Wilkins as a very quiet, very reserved man, which came as a shock to Kathy as this contrasted what relatives told her about his happy-go-lucky personality as a child growing up in rural Virginia.

“He was always pulling practical jokes…so when they told me how reserved and quiet he was, I was just so surprised,” Kathy said with a chuckle. “They told me he used to pull pranks. They had goats, and he would paint the goat pellets white and put them in like a medicine bottle and take it to one of his cousins and say, ‘this is your medicine!’”

According to his family, Maj. Wilkins was a wonderful student growing up. He had plans to marry his sweetheart in Australia after the war was over. Kathy said he also aspired to enter the medical field.

“I did find a letter one time that he had written back, I think to his mother, and he said in the letter that when he comes back, he’s gonna be a doctor,” Kathy said. “I think he was in pharmacy [school], and I thought, wow, all of the wonderful men that we lost, all the things that they could have done, all the wonderful contributions they could have made to this country.”

Although perceptions of his demeanor differed, one thing remains certain: Maj. Wilkins was not only a hero to his family, but also to his country.

“It was overwhelming,” Kerry said, describing seeing her great uncle’s name on the wall for the first time. “I get teared up just thinking about it now. Just seeing his name there, just to find it. It was such a beautiful day.”

As March 25 is National Medal of Honor Day, Air Force Memorial Events and Outreach Coordinator Chris Frank said it was important to the memorial’s staff to highlight the Wilkins’ family and their experience visiting the wall to honor their uncle and other Medal of Honor recipients.

“This reverent place was designed to exalt aerospace pioneers and honor those who serve, and our Airmen Medal of Honor Wall serves that distinct purpose,” Frank said.

For Kerry, it is important for people to visit memorials like this to understand the legacy of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice.

“It was magnificent. It was breathtaking,” Kerry said. “The whole experience was just incredible, and [the fact] that I could share it with my daughter. But just seeing his name there just meant so, so much…I’m so pleased that this kind of honor is being done.”

For more information and to plan your visit to the Air Force Memorial, please visit

Dedicated on October, 14, 2006, The Air Force Memorial honors the service and heritage of the men and women of the United States Air Force and its heritage organizations. Located in Arlington, Virginia, the Air Force Memorial is the last military service monument erected in the National Capital Region. The memorial is free and open to the public every day except for Christmas Day. If you are an Airman interested in hosting your promotion or retirement ceremony in the memorial’s plaza, please visit