CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Twenty Air National Guard members who died 62 years ago in one of the worst air tragedies in southern West Virginia history are being honored in a living memorial at Yeager Airport.
The special project, which aims to recognize contributions of West Virginia veterans, will feature a changing display of photographs in the baggage claim area.
The Wall of Honor was unveiled Monday with a ceremony featuring the 130th Air Guard Honor Guard.
The first photo display stems from a tragic chapter of Yeager Airport's own history.
In 1951, an Air National Guard transport plane clipped the top of a hill and crashed about 10 miles north of Charleston. Nineteen servicemen immediately died; two others died later of severe burns. Twenty of the 21 were from West Virginia.
The servicemen were flying home from Godman Air Base in Fort Knox, Ky., for the funeral of Major Woodford "Jock" Sutherland, who died when his F-51 Mustang collided with another fighter at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.
"This event has big ties to the community," said Tim Murnahan, assistant director of Yeager Airport. "It's altogether fitting and proper for this flight group to be our first showcase of photos on the 62nd anniversary of the crash."
Murnahan, who said he couldn't claim the original idea, was inspired by a Yeager Airpport display that was part of a veterans project sponsored by Glenville State College. After that, Murnahan talked to other staff members about a permanent display.
The airport has partnered with the West Virginia Military Retiree Association to display photos of state veterans that will rotate periodically. Yeager Airport is donating space, lighting, lettering and frames while the association will collect and organize the photos to alternate on the wall as well as archive them.
"We'll keep the photos up for a month or so," said Beth Kerns, president of the West Virginia Military Retiree Association.