HARLEM — On November 30, 1992, two C-141 cargo planes from McChord Air Force Base in Washington collided in the air near Harlem along Montana's Hi-Line during a refueling training exercise.
As a result, the 13 airmen on board the two planes tragically died.
On Wednesday afternoon, a pedestrian bridge was placed at the memorial, with the airmen's names printed on the sides, as a sign of remembrance and appreciation.
- Capt. Edward Desire Parent, Jr.
- Capt. Banks E. Wilkinson
- Capt. Kevin M. Maguire
- 1st Lt. Edward H. Hoyle III
- Tech. Sgt. Peter Leo Ostenfeld
- Staff Sgt. Monte Leroy Bissett
- Airman 1st Class George Anthony Moreland
- Staff Sgt. Terrence J. Miyoshi
- Tech. Sgt. David Richard Young
- Capt. Mark Alan Elster
- Capt. Jimmy Lee Jenkins
- Capt. David J. Sielewicz
- Sr. Airman Wilbert Brown III
Tom Hofer, who lived in the northern Harlem colony, was the first to witness the crash.
Hofer said, “We actually heard the plane crash from where we lived in the north Harlem colony. We went out to see what happened and saw the fire from a distance. We stopped the vehicle, got out and walked up to it. The first thing I found was a wallet laying open-faced, and seeing a driver's license ... By that time, the fire crew showed up and we made sure the fire wouldn't burn the bodies, so we protected them."
Kraig Hansen was the Harlem Fire Chief during that time. He recalled what he saw that day.
"We didn't know what it was, initially," he said. "Dispatch got a lot of calls about explosions, and I was called to go to the dispatch office ... A person brought in some pieces of debris that he found, and we knew right away it was a military aircraft. That was when north Harlem colony came in and said they found the wreckage. The Air Force also called us and said they had planes go down."
Hansen added this was "a one-of-a-kind" experience. "Being 30 years, it still brings back a lot of memories," he said. "I think I can remember everything I did that night - what I did, what I saw, and this memorial is just another closure for us after 30 years."
Plans for a memorial started shortly after the crash. Memorial Committee Co-Chair Darwin Zellmer explained how the memorial came together.
Zellmer stated, "The next morning (after the crash), I talked with Mayor Vic Miller, and I said, ‘You know, we need to do something for these boys, and their families,’ and with that, he said, ‘Well, Francis Bardanouve, our State Representative, already beat you to it.’ He said he’s going to set up an account at the bank, to start something for these boys, so I’d like to have you be a co-chair on it with him, and you two can communicate together, and that was the start of the memorial."
Life-long Harlem resident Karolee Cronk also remembered the night of the crash. However, her focus was the new addition to the memorial. She said it was to simply give recognition.
"The builder was really struck by this emotionally," she said. "If you go by this bridge and look, it really does put pain into you. Oh, my goodness! These young men, they are still being remembered!"
Remembered by both community and family, Kevin Maguire was one of the 13 airmen that died. He was 32 years old. His brother Frank made an appearance at the memorial.
Frank described his younger brother as a military man, and as a person.
"He had a good sense of humor," he said. "He worked hard. He had a sense of righteousness, and he was very much into the Air Force. He enjoyed it. He was dedicated to it, and he had pride in the fact that he did good work for the Air Force. It's what was his life's calling.
Frank also expressed his appreciation for the support by the Harlem community,
“When you see how the community came together, and how they cooperated with each other, how they dedicated this monument to these 13 Airmen, and appreciate what they did for the country, you can stand back, look and say, ‘yes, their sacrifice is worth it because the people here are worth it.’”
While the ceremony serves as an important reminder of the tragedy 30 years ago, it's also an important reminder about what's needed for the next 30 years and beyond.
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