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87 Forgotten Heroes remembered in Moses Lake
Col. Thomas F. Roshetko, 92nd Medical Group commander, addresses an audience of Korean War veterans, families and friends and community members who honored 87 “Forgotten Heroes” of a tragic 1952 Air Force C-124A Globemaster crash during a memorial dedication ceremony at the Grant County International Airport in Moses Lake, Wash., June 9, 2012. The personnel transport took off Dec. 20, 1952, from what was then Larson Air Force Base as part of a continuation trip from Korea called “Operation Sleighride,” bringing servicemembers home for the holidays. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Benjamin Stratton)
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87 Forgotten Heroes remembered in Moses Lake

Posted 6/14/2012   Updated 6/14/2012 Email story   Print story


by Senior Airman Benjamin Stratton
92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

6/14/2012 - MOSES LAKE, Wash. -- Korean War veterans, families and friends and community members honored 87 "Forgotten Heroes" of a tragic Air Force C-124A Globemaster crash nearly six decades ago, at what was then Larson Air Force Base, during a memorial dedication ceremony at the Grant County International Airport here June 9.

As the personnel transport took off Dec. 20, 1952, it experienced difficulties as its flight controls locked up. The aircraft, carrying 106 servicemembers and crew, crashed in a fiery blaze at the intersection of the runways on a cold, windy early Saturday morning. The flight was part of a continuation trip from Korea called "Operation Sleighride," bringing servicemembers home for the holidays. A staggering 87 of those aboard were killed leaving but 19 to tell the story.

Nearly 60 years later, the residents of Moses Lake began an 18-month project in mid-2011 to build a memorial remembering these "Forgotten Heroes."

"They are the '87 Forgotten' no longer," said Tommie Tindell, a Moses Lake resident and survivor of the tragic day's events. "This memorial has been a long time and coming."

Tindell was originally on the manifest to board the flight. However, that morning he received a phone call from his wife, Wilma, asking him to trade his seat based on a gut feeling. So he swapped with his best friend for the next available flight. His best friend died that morning in the crash. Tindell said he thanks God for his life and prays everyday for all the souls lost, but never forgotten.

From the ground breaking, Sept. 24, 2011, to Saturday's dedication, Col. Thomas F. Roshetko, 92nd Medical Group commander, formed a lasting bond with the people of Moses Lake. At the groundbreaking and dedication he stirred tears in even the burliest of those in attendance.

"A plane crashed here shortly after taking off, claiming the lives of 87 military members," Roshetko said. "This forever changed the lives of those who survived and the families of those who died."

One family member in attendance lost her father that frightful December morning. Hazel Bishop, who was 3-years-old then, mourned the loss of Master Sgt. Wendell L. Burton, who was one of the C-124's air crew.

"It was a horrible tragedy," she said. "From time to time I still feel sorry for myself -- sorry I didn't have a dad growing up."

However, through the flowing tears streaming down her face as she described her childhood without a father, Bishop emphasized her dad's love for this country's military.

"It only takes one to make a difference in this world," she said. "And yet you are all here today to support those of us who lost family, friends and coworkers that day. Words just cannot express how grateful I am for every single one of you. This means worlds to my family."

As attendees who were directly impacted by the loss of a loved one, Bishop and Tindell were each presented a ceremonial U.S. flag.

"Our flag has been bathed in the blood and tears of every single servicemember who has come before us," Tindell said. "This flag is an emblem of our unity as a nation."

Roshetko emphasized this tragedy came just days before Christmas and just six months before North and South Korea would sign an armistice on July 27, 1953.

However, the armistice, or cease fire, didn't effectively end the war or even rejoin the two warring nations. Unity has yet to be realized in a nation these 87 were fighting for.

"These men had sworn allegiance to support and defend the constitution of the Unites States," the colonel said. "They had all finished their training and were executing the skills necessary that would allow democracy to be sustained in America and expanded elsewhere.

"What you [memorial committee] have done here is very personal," Roshetko continued as he began listing off the 'Forgotten' by the nicknames their family may have called them.

"And if we close our eyes for a moment, what we can really hear is wives, parents, siblings, friends, teachers and pastors calling for Robbie, Bobbie, Joe, Joey, JoJo, Jim, Jimmy, Jimbo, Johnny, Jack, Tom, Tommy, Bill, Billy, Will, Willie, Chuck, Charlie, Chaz, Al, Alex, Don, Donny, Lou and Louie," he said. "Even more heart wrenching you can hear children calling Father, Pa, Pops, Dad and Daddy."

The colonel continued as he explained that those who waited at home for their loved one's return were not looking for Airman 3rd Class Walter E. Smith, as it showed on the manifest, they were waiting for "Wally."

The morning they entered that plane, a new song had reached number one on the charts. It was all the craze and 'til this day it is an American holiday favorite. The song, "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus," is, according to the colonel, a cute sappy song about a boy who sneaks out of his room and catches his mother kissing Santa Claus... who is really his Dad dressed up as St. Nick.

"He came bearing gifts for the kids and making a beautiful, beautiful, beautiful Christmas memory for his family," continued Roshetko. "I'm sure that song was never the same for those 87 families. Instead of tears of joy for a Christmas celebration, they were shedding tears of agony because of the funeral preparations."

That day America lost 87 defenders.

"Our loss was great, but our pain was greater," said Roshetko. "Yet, America, like it always does, raised up new Airmen to take their roles. The family of these military men lost far more and their pain was greater. And due to the special beauty of each person's life, for these families, their loved ones can never be replaced."

Not only did the community of Moses Lake realize the importance of recognizing and remembering these 87 heroes, but more than 5,000 miles away on the other side of the world, the Wolf Pack shared in their memory. The American flag, which flies over the memorial as a sentry, was donated by the 8th Fighter Wing and flown by an F-16 Fighting Falcon over Kunsan Air Base, Republic of Korea.

"Let us never forget who and what we are," Tindell said. "Be proud above all things that we are all Americans."

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