Air force cadets dedicate bench to deceased officer and father

DAN DOUCET, Evergreen opinion editor

In the rain along the Latah County Trail on Saturday, WSU and UI Air Force ROTC cadets, along with family and friends, dedicated a recently built bench in honor of a deceased Air Force officer and former WSU professor.

Former Moscow Mayor Nancy Chaney spoke about Lt. Col. Bret Hyde’s career as a 1981 Air Force Academy graduate and track star. He was the 1987 Air Force Male Athlete of the Year, as well as a WSU aerospace studies assistant professor from 1989 to 1993. Chaney said his influence was substantial and enduring.

“Sorry if I am overcome with emotion,” she said. “This is so great.”

Bret Hyde died in 2001 at the age of 41 from a rare neurological condition, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

The disease affects and deteriorates nerve cells used for voluntary muscle movement, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. People with the disease eventually lose control of all voluntary muscles, along with their ability to move, speak and breathe.

Within three to five years of the first symptoms, most people diagnosed with ALS die of respiratory failure. There is currently no cure or treatment.

The memorial began with attendees gathering around files of cadets lined up in front of a color guard. Military members, both current and retired, were asked to salute while the rest of the attendees put their hands over their hearts for the Pledge of Allegiance.

Hyde’s family, including his wife, Susan, and his two sons, Paul and Seth, attended the memorial on Saturday as well. Paul and Seth Hyde are both current Air Force officers.

“I remember most of all his character and his attitude,” Paul said.

Seth said the Lou Gehrig quote inscribed on the bench’s plaque, which reads, “I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for,” embodies his father’s strength and refusal to give up.

“We thought that it captured him and the way he was,” he said.

The bench, built by the cadets last spring, is about halfway between Moscow and Troy along Idaho State Highway 8. Air Force Col. Greg Cain said the idea was originally Chaney’s.

Chaney said she was friends with Bret and Susan Hyde. She said they made a connection through running and all used the trail often.

“Bret and Susan and I were avid runners all our lives,” Chaney said.

She said she was a member of the Latah County Trail Foundation for 12 years and had the idea to build the bench in 2001 when Bret passed away. Chaney sent a letter to Cain in 2014 in which she stated that she would like to involve cadets in building a memorial along the trail.

“They picked it up and literally ran with it,” she said.

Cain said he contacted Chaney the same afternoon he received the letter. The cadets started working on the project right away, he said, and raised more than $1,500 to put toward the memorial bench. They then sought approval from the county and purchased the bench, dug holes and assembled it.

“The county didn’t have someone to install it,” Cain said. “So we did it ourselves.”

Chaney said the bench and the memory of Bret Hyde will help bring attention to the disease.

Standing on either side of the bench with the community members observing, a bugle player signaled “Taps,” a traditional call often played at dusk and at military funerals.

“I think the plaque is so fitting to represent Bret and all aspects of his life,” Chaney said.