Editor’s Note: As someone who has attended several squadron Roll Call events–with Wild Weasel Squadrons, Raptor Squadrons, and Strike Eagle Squadrons alike, they are every bit as epic as they sound. It’s a fantastic time to share stories, toast the fallen, make new memories with your bros, and carry on your respective unit’s proud heritage. And while they are often heavily laden with off-key singing, exploding glass vessels, piano burning, and all-in-good-fun shenanigans, the Roll Call is a deeply loved, respected, and appreciated event in the culture of fighter pilots.

HACK!” yells the Mayor at the start of every Roll Call. You’d better not be late, and if you can’t make it, you’d better have already checked in.

Every fighter squadron in the Air Force has a bar located within its confines, its renaming as a “heritage room” is inconsequential as it still serves aviators as a sanctuary regardless of the name.

Roll Calls: Evolution and Significance

The tradition of this most sacred event, the Roll Call, dates back to World War I when technology did not permit radios in airplanes. Reconnaissance planes occasionally had Morse-code radios but often removed them to save weight. These aircraft reportedly preferred dropping notes to the advancing forces on the ground. Fighters, however, didn’t have any radio equipment but rather utilized formation flying and visual signals to coordinate attacks.

When contact was made with the enemy and a pilot went no-joy with his formation, he may or may not ever get the wingmen back together airborne. The next chance he had to see his formation was back at base after landing.

At the end of the day, the squadron commander would summon the pilots and take roll for accountability. Those not at Roll Call were considered missing in action or killed in combat.

Moose's piano at The Final Roll Call
A piano burns in honor of Lieutenant Colonel Morris “Moose” Fontenot during his memorial at the US Air Force Academy. (Photo courtesy of Brian Duke)

It was a trying time, and roll calls were not taken lightly. Once the German and Allied armies dug in and trench warfare ensued, pilot casualty rates normally exceeded their infantry counterparts on the ground.

Over the entire war, an estimated 20 percent of all pilots were lost, and the average pilot only lasted two weeks on the front lines before being shot down. In 1918, the average British pilot lived only 93 flight hours.