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Christopher Burns Lester
Service photo

West Virginia Veterans Memorial


Christopher Burns Lester

"To be prepared for war is one of the most effective means of preserving peace."

George Washington

Christopher Burns Lester was an Airman First Class in the U.S. Air Force. He was born in Pineville, Wyoming County, West Virginia, on February 15, 1977, to Cecil and Judy Lester. He attended Pineville High School from 1992 until 1995 upon his graduation.

During the time of his birth and subsequent growth, America was on an incline. The country was nearing the end of the Cold War and was under the leadership of President Ronald Reagan. However, on a more local level, Pineville was going through a population decline, losing a quarter of the population from between 1980 and 1990. Unemployment also reached a peak rate of 18.8 percent in early 1983.

Lester began his basic military training on July 19, 1995, as a power production specialist. After completing his basic training at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, he was assigned to the 88th Civil Engineering Group at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. Immediately upon his arrival at Wright-Patterson, he took charge of maintenance on 35 generators, as well as being trained to maintain aircraft arresting barriers. In his free time, he enjoyed softball, basketball, weightlifting, and riding his motorcycle with members of his shop. In 1996, he volunteered for a contingency tour with the 4404th Provisional Wing stationed in Prince Sudan Air Base in Saudi Arabia.

He was part of Operation Southern Watch, where all Iraqi aircraft were prohibited from entering or leaving the area. This unit would serve as the first line of defense against Iraq, following the Gulf War in 1991.

On June 25, 1996, Lester was stationed in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, in the Khobar Towers. Nearby, terrorists drove a tanker filled with two and a half tons of explosives to the north perimeter, evacuating before it went off. The ensuing explosion killed 19 U.S. Air Force personnel, as well as injuring 498 others. Christopher was one of the 19 who lost their lives.
Khobar Towers

Khobar Towers bombing in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, 25 June 1996. DoD photo #960626-N-00000-002

Due to difficulty forensically identifying remains, Lester was initially mistaken for Airman Paul A. Blais, from Patrick Air Base, Florida. It was later revealed that, although Blais was injured in the explosion, he survived. The remains were then identified as Lester's.

Airman First Class Christopher Lester of the 88th Civil Engineer Group was honored by his fellow airmen at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, with a memorial service on July 1, 1996. An exhibit featuring Lester's photo is located in Building 22 at Wright-Patterson.

His awards and decorations include the Basic Civil Engineering Badge, Purple Heart, Air Force Outstanding Unit Award, National Defense Service Medal, and the Air Force Training Ribbon.

Lester was survived by his parents, Cecil and Judy, his fiancee Andrea Brooks, and his siblings, Jessica and Cecil Jr. A memorial for him was held at 2:00 P.M. on Wednesday, July 3, 1996, at Pineville High School. Col. Louis Houck, his unit commander, said that Lester "had a contagious energy. . . . He represented the epitome of service before self." His final resting place is in Palm Memorial Gardens in Matheny, West Virginia.

Article prepared by Tim Wise and Jaydon Hamm, George Washington High School JROTC
January 2019


Christopher Burns Lester

West Virginia Archives and History welcomes any additional information that can be provided about these veterans, including photographs, family names, letters and other relevant personal history.

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