In March of 1991, I was 19 years old and working as an Anti-Submarine Warfare Operations Specialist for the US Navy’s COMPACWINGSPAC. It was part of my job to brief the flight crews, and maintain radio contact with them while they were on station. I got to know them well, I could tell who was on station just by their voice, and we trusted each other, we developed friendships. Time on station was long for the crews, and it was common that I would be off duty before a flight would come back to be debriefed. One morning I had seen one of my favorite crews. The navigator’s name was Jeb, and I admit I had a bit of a crush on the handsome young lieutenant. He had arranged for me to join a flight in a couple of weeks, and I was so excited to get to observe his side of the job.
I was fast asleep when I received the call from my best friend Tina who had relieved me of duty that morning. “Put your dress uniform on and get in here.” she said “I can’t talk.” It took me about 15 minutes, but when I arrived back at the control center the scene was a somber and carefully controlled chaos. Tina grabbed me by the arm and whisked me down the hall. There she told me that two of our planes had collided on station. A rescue was underway, but the 27 men on board were considered lost. The mid-air fireball and loud explosion from the accident had been witnessed nine miles away. What was found of the crew in the water once search and rescue arrived, could only be described as pieces.
I have never forgotten those moments. It’s etched in slow motion in my memory. I remember how blue Jeb’s eyes were, and his great smile. How friendly Cmdr Tisdale was to me. I had sent 27 men to work that morning, and they simple disappeared. Death is difficult to deal with when you can see it. However, the way the mind plays with your emotions when people simply never come back, when there is nothing to be brought back, that is a different kind of hell. I lost 27 men in the blink of an eye. 27 men that gave their life serving the United States. 27 men who flew with pride and honor defending our shores.
Today I remember. Today is for them.