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Honored in stone
An airman looks through the names of the 22 instructor pilots from the 3645th Pilot Training Squadron, whom were killed in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War, carved on a memorial at Ribas-Dominicci Circle at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas, May 8, 2013. A memorial dedication ceremony is scheduled for May 31, 2013. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class John D. Partlow)
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Honored in stone

Posted 5/13/2013   Updated 5/13/2013 Email story   Print story


by Senior Airman Nathan Maysonet
47th Flying Training Wing Public Affairs

5/13/2013 - LAUGHLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Texas  -- Carved into stone are the names of 22 individuals. Each was a pilot who served their country in the skies over Southeast Asia, and each paid the ultimate price, but another fact unites them: they were all instructor pilots here at Laughlin.

The Laughlin Heritage Foundation in Del Rio, Texas, and Laughlin have spent almost two years crafting a memorial honoring fallen instructor pilots from Laughlin with a dedication scheduled for May 31.

"The purpose of our foundation is to honor and remember servicemen like these," said Jim Long, Laughlin Heritage Foundation chairman of the board. "We need to honor these men and their commitment to duty and honor."

One of the initial sparks behind the idea of creating a memorial was a former instructor pilot here with the 3645th Pilot Training Squadron, who revealed in a discussion with Long, that of the 15 instructor pilots in his flight, a third had lost their lives in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. As the discussion went on, additional names from fellow flights he worked alongside were mentioned, painting a startling picture of sacrifice.

"We had always assumed we lost airmen in the fighting," said Long. "But when we were told that 22 instructor pilots from Laughlin were killed in Southeast Asia, it hit us hard. Instructor pilots are some of our best and they touch a lot of lives."

Long took the names of the deceased and began pouring over old class books to put a face to each name and to add more weight to the list of the fallen, he explained. Once done, he began researching each individual to learn more about their lives and deaths.

The task became a personal quest for Long as he learned of the pilots' sacrifices and recounted his own memories of watching in awe as A-1E Skyraiders, an aircraft that some of the fallen pilots flew, took off in support of ground operations in Vietnam.

"I don't remember a single A-1E pilot ever having to buy a drink thanks to their support of ground troops," said Long.

With support from Laughlin and retired Maj. Gen. Gerald Prather, a Laughlin pilot training graduate and president of the board for the Laughlin Heritage Foundation, the mission of crafting a memorial went forward.

Memorial makers were contacted, designs chosen, and cost agreed upon. In the end, a large black granite plaque with the pilots' names inlaid in a granite rock was picked, and the hard work of making the memorial a reality began, explained Long.

Money was easy, former friends, colleagues and interested parties donated in large sums to see the memorial made. Contacting the families of the deceased proved challenging at first, but those same donators helped in the leg work of tracking down children and widows to tell them the news. However, the largest hurdle was getting the paperwork completed approving the memorial for placement on Laughlin.

Capt. Derek Marchlewicz, 434th Flying Training Squadron assistant operations officer and project officer for the memorial, was tasked with completing the paperwork required by Air Force Instructions governing memorials and their authentication.

"It was interesting getting out of the flying world, reading the AFI and seeing the complex process in getting this done," said Marchlewicz. "Working with everyone on base and the Laughlin Heritage Foundation to do this was eye opening."

Eventually his hard work paid off and the memorial was approved. A place was made in Laughlin's Ribas-Dominicci Circle for the more than 4,000 pound stone memorial.

"The ease in which we collected money, the support we received from Laughlin and the help from those that knew the fallen told me this project meant something," said Long.

With the dedication scheduled for May 31 at 2 p.m. at Ribas-Dominicci Circle, the years of planning and development have at last, come together.

"The names listed on this memorial mean something special and it has been an honor to have played a part in remembering those who flew in the same sky as me," said Prather. "Instructor pilots keep America's air power strong, and this memorial is a 'thank you' from the community to our instructor pilots who gave all."

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