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Fallen rescue pilot to receive full military honors

Retired Col. Christopher "Sunshine" Hannon

A funeral service for retired Col. Christopher “Sunshine” Hannon will be held noon Feb. 23, 2018 at the South Patrick Air Force Base Chapel, 84 Harrier Ave., Satellite Beach, Florida, 32937. Hannon's burial will follow at 2:30 p.m. at Cape Canaveral National Cemetery, 5525 U.S. Highway 1, North Mims, Florida, 32754. Upon arrival to the cemetery, there will be signs posted directing people where to go. (U.S. Air Force photo)

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla -- Friends and family of retired Col. Christopher “Sunshine” Hannon are invited to attend his funeral service at noon Feb. 23 at the South Patrick Air Force Base Chapel, followed by his burial with full military honors at 2:30 p.m. at Cape Canaveral National Cemetery, Florida.

The former Reserve Citizen Airmen rescue pilot was fatally struck by a car while riding his bicycle in Vero Beach earlier this month, less than two years after his retirement from a 32-year Air Force career.

"The loss of Colonel Chris Hannon came as a shock to us all,” said Col. Kurt Matthews, 920th Rescue Wing commander. “It's still hard for me to believe. He was an incredible husband, father, pilot, and leader.”

“He had a passion for life, and always had fun,” he continued. “He was taken way too soon. He was my boss, my mentor, and my friend... I miss him. Our hearts go out to his wife Teresa, and daughters Chelsea and Caitlyn. Chris ‘Sunshine’ Hannon was a legend in the rescue community and we are rallying around them during this tragic time."

While Hannon spent close to the last seven years of his Air Force career at Headquarters Air Force Reserve Command, Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, he spent more than a decade and a half with the 920th Rescue Wing between 1994 and 2011. Hannon last served at the wing as the 920th Operations Group commander from December 2009 to September 2011.

Chief Master Sgt. Randy Wells, 301st Rescue Squadron chief enlisted manager, said he first met Hannon when he was a major serving as the squadron’s director of operations in 2000. Hannon hired Wells as an air reserve technician in the unit that year.

“He had such a good disposition,” said Wells. “He always saw the brighter side of things in life, hence his call sign, ‘Sunshine.’ It’s an honor to have served alongside him.”

Hannon was a command pilot with more than 6,000 flying hours in various aircraft to include the HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter and HC-130 King. He flew missions in support of special operations forces and combat search and rescue personnel during Operations North and Sothern Watch, Noble Eagle, Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.

Wells recalled several deployments spent alongside Hannon to include an especially memorable one to Afghanistan in 2005 in which the rescue team recovered the final member of the original Operation Red Wings mission, Petty Officer Matthew G. Axelson, who was killed in action June 28, 2005.

“It was under his watchful eye that we were able to accomplish that mission,” Wells said. Hannon was awarded the Bronze Star for his actions downrange that summer.

Lt. Col. Robert Haston, 301st Rescue Squadron safety and special projects officer, shares Wells’ warm memories of a caring wingman and friend who he first came to know in 1995.

“His call sign, Sunshine, was as accurate a moniker as anyone ever had,” he said. “He was always fun to work and fly with, regardless of how bad the conditions were. Situations other leaders would turn into high drama, he made feel like working on a sitcom like MASH. He was a great guy, a greater pilot and the greatest boss – at least the best I ever had.”

As a testament to just how loved Hannon is in the rescue community, thousands of people from across the globe reached out to the 920th Rescue Wing via social media with comments of disbelief, sadness and fond memories.

“We all miss him deeply and can’t believe the tragic accident that took his life,” said Wells, “but Sunshine would be the first to tell you not to mourn him. He knew that nothing in life is guaranteed and to enjoy every day. He’d only ask to raise a glass in his honor for the dedicated life he so nobly served ‘that others may live.’”