CLEVELAND, OH - The performance of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds is always a highlight of the Cleveland National Air Show, and on Labor Day, the world-famous aerobatics team not only thrilled the crowd at Burke Lakefront Airport with their close formation flying, they also paid tribute to fallen Akron Police Officer Justin Winebrenner.
"The Thunderbirds started the Fallen Warrior program back in 2011, and at every show site, we honor a fallen service member, a fallen firefighter, or police officer. So we did a little bit of research and we read Justin's story and we decided we had to honor this individual," said Air Force Staff Sgt. Stephanie Englar.
Patrolman Winebrenner was killed while off duty in November, 2014. He was shot when he attempted to protect customers and employees at an Akron bar from a combative customer armed with a gun. The officer left behind a loving family that includes his father, a retired police officer, and his young daughter Charlee Ayn.
The tribute from the Thunderbirds is touching the hearts of Charlee Ayn and everyone else who continues to mourn the loss of Winebrenner.
"This little girl lost a very important man in her life along with the rest of us so these are some of the things that police officers do and I'm honored. I'm a proud father," said Rob Winebrenner.
The family says they are grateful that the Thunderbirds are making sure that Justin’s sacrifice will not be forgotten, as memories fade with the passage of time.
Officer Winebrenner’s fiancée, Tiffany Miller, told Fox 8, "It's absolutely incredible. You know we're very proud and we're very happy to be here and for their support and for everyone's support all over Cleveland. It's a very proud moment and we're honored to be here with them.”
The “missing man” formation by the Thunderbirds took on a special significance when one considers what Justin Winebrenner's family, friends and fellow police officers lost on that terrible day nearly three days ago.
“It's awfully difficult being without your son. He was my best son. He was my partner, he was everything to me. The fact that he's gone, is why we're here today, in his memory," said Rob Winebrenner.