Yeager Airport unveils veteran memorial project
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.
"And we'll accept photos from the public for military veterans that we can place on the wall, and later on we can highlight them in different ways -- maybe all prisoners of war or missing in action and pay tribute that way. My family has four generations of military personnel, so it would be nice to sort by families, too."
Airport officials are unsure how the public will respond to the request for photos, and that will help determine how long photos will remain on the wall and how they will be arranged.
"It is a wonderful thing when we can take time to remember and honor those who have given so much for those they do not know," Kerns said.
"The location is prefect as it allows new service members returning from training, and those coming home after deployments, to see that we support them and their service. For traveling families, it gives the airport a chance to show their patriotism."
In fact, Kerns spoke with a military serviceman who was claiming his baggage at the time of the ceremony.
"He had no idea this was happening today, but he was happy to see it when he went to get his things," she said. "Quite a few military personnel come through the airport."
People are encouraged to submit photos of living or deceased West Virginia veterans or of those still serving.
For a submission form, email WVMRA@yahoo.com.
Information requested on the form includes name, rank and dates of service. Photos must measure 8 inches by 10 inches and may be in black and white or color. They will not be returned.
Association members are retired military personnel who meet quarterly to share information and camaraderie. Retirees from any branch of service are welcome. For more information, visit the group's Facebook page or email WVMRA@yahoo.com.