Face of Defense: 1985 Photo Strengthens Bond Between Father, Son

MOODY AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. --

Glancing over 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 their father back from a deployment captured a moment that was stronger than words.

The Elliott family poses with their 1985 family portrait that shows retired Air Force Lt. Col. Gary, far left, being welcomed back to Moody Air Force Base, Ga., after a deployment, by his wife and children, June 18, 2017. After being notified of this portrait, the Elliot family searched for the photo for about 20 years. Upon receiving orders to Moody in 2015, Air Force Maj. Jonathan Elliott, 23rd Logistics Readiness Squadron director of operations, continued to search for the snapshot, obtaining it in 2016. Courtesy photo
The Elliott family poses with their 1985 family portrait that shows retired Air Force Lt. Col. Gary, far left, being welcomed back to Moody Air Force Base, Ga., after a deployment, by his wife and children, June 18, 2017. After being notified of this portrait, the Elliot family searched for the photo for about 20 years. Upon receiving orders to Moody in 2015, Air Force Maj. Jonathan Elliott, 23rd Logistics Readiness Squadron director of operations, continued to search for the snapshot, obtaining it in 2016. Courtesy photo
The Elliott family poses with their 1985 family portrait that shows retired Air Force Lt. Col. Gary, far left, being welcomed back to Moody Air Force Base, Ga., after a deployment, by his wife and children, June 18, 2017. After being notified of this portrait, the Elliot family searched for the photo for about 20 years. Upon receiving orders to Moody in 2015, Air Force Maj. Jonathan Elliott, 23rd Logistics Readiness Squadron director of operations, continued to search for the snapshot, obtaining it in 2016. Courtesy photo Picture worth 1,000 words: 30 years of heritage
The Elliott family poses with their 1985 family portrait that shows retired Air Force Lt. Col. Gary, far left, being welcomed back to Moody Air Force Base, Ga., after a deployment, by his wife and children, June 18, 2017. After being notified of this portrait, the Elliot family searched for the photo for about 20 years. Upon receiving orders to Moody in 2015, Air Force Maj. Jonathan Elliott, 23rd Logistics Readiness Squadron director of operations, continued to search for the snapshot, obtaining it in 2016. Courtesy photo

Although he was too young to remember the moment, Air Force Maj. Jonathan Elliott, 23rd Logistics Readiness Squadron director of operations here, 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 Air Force Lt. Col. Gary Elliott, a 347th Tactical Fighter Wing F-4E Phantom II pilot from 1983 to 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."

The wife of a former squadron mate who lived in Valdosta, Georgia, sent the family a snapshot of the framed photograph that hung on the wall at the officers' club here.

Plans Derailed

Determined to find it, the Elliotts asked the Moody Field Club and base photo lab for a chance to reprint the photo, but unfortunately, the host wing had changed, resulting in the removal of the large frame from the heritage wall, 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 [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 [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 said, he kept coming up empty while he rummaged through various storage closets and boxes of old pictures. One day in May 2016, however, that all changed. As Air Force Col. Susan Riordan-Smith, 23rd Mission Support Group commander, gave a briefing in the First Term Airmen Center, she saw the picture that Jonathan was searching for all along and immediately notified him.

Seemed Too Good to Be True

"I was shocked and relieved because it seemed too good to be true," Jonathan said. "I went over to the [First Term Airman Center] immediately so I could see it for myself. It was a bit surreal as well, 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," he added. "It just has that iconic look."

While he was tempted to immediately tell his dad of the finding, he said, he wanted to savor the moment for a special day. As all parties in the photo were present in Washington state in June, on 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 it 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 that 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!"

Strong Bond

For Gary, no gift could compare to the strong bond that 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," he said.

Gary said he also appreciates Jonathan wearing his old squadron's paraphernalia and highlighting his heritage, which is among the many things he says brings him pride.

"Two of my most proud moments of Jonathan was presenting his [Air Force Academy] 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," he continued, "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.”