WILMINGTON — “It was very moving. I don’t know what else to say.”
Those were the words of James Ashley Hopkins, who helped unveil the Ohio Historical Marker at Saturday’s dedication and commemoration of the 1964 miliary air disaster held at J.W. Denver Williams Jr. Memorial Park.
Hopkins’ grandfather, Air Force pilot Maj. James A. Hopkins’ was one of the 17 servicemen killed when two C-119 “Flying Boxcars” collided in mid-air about five miles northeast of the Clinton County Air Force Base on April 18, 1964.
Major Hopkins’ grandson revealed the marker along with Kay Fisher of the Clinton County Historical Society.
President of the Special Forces Chapter 45 and retired Army Brig. Gen. Mark Arnold spoke, remembering the 17 men who lost their lives.
“Today is a day that we demonstrate that we do not forget. We do not forget the 17 brave souls that were taken from this Earth during a joint Army/Air Force training exercise in 1964,” said Arnold.
Arnold went on to say the story was deeper than just the accident; he said that it was about the community and about values.
“The men killed were not from all over the United States. They all resided right here in Ohio or in cities nearby in adjoining states. These men were citizen airmen and citizen soldiers,” he said.
He noted how, before the accident, these men were probably at their civilian jobs and then later they said goodnight to their families, put on their uniforms and drove to their respective posts.
“All of them were expected home by late Sunday evening to see their families after the end of a long training weekend. Just like they had done for many months or, for some of them, many years,” said Arnold. “They were expected to be at their civilian jobs the next morning.
“The last part never happened.”
He highlighted the connections the 17 had in their communities and the connections they helped form between the American military and the average American. He then highlighted the values they held that motivated them including duty, honor, respect, selfless service, integrity, and personal courage.
After the reveal of the marker, Buckeye Wing Association Member and retired U.S. Air Force SMSgt./Chief Flight Engineer Charles Mercer led the bell ceremony where each of the 17 names was read. Each name would be followed by a bell chime and the placing of a red rose by the marker.
Carol Heismann Minchin, the daughter of pilot Maj. Stanley H. Heismann, was moved by all the effort that made the marker happen.
“It has been a longtime dream,” she said. “The lengths that these groups went through to make it happen and to just keep on remembering this tragic event, it’s wonderful.”
Reach John Hamilton at 937-382-2574