On May 6, 1981, an Apollo/Advanced Range Instrumentation Aircraft (ARIA) tail number 61-0328 departed from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base on a training mission with two spouses (non-crew members) on board; it was to be 328's be the last flight. The aircraft crashed at Walkersville, Maryland with 21 on board.
Three and months earlier (January 21, 1981) I had separated from the Air Force. I was an antenna operator on tail number 329, but sometimes flew on 328. I loved the job as antenna operator and flying to points around the globe - I literally got to see the world. But I tired of watching our daughter and now son grow up via something like time lapse photography with my frequent travels. So I made the decision to separate with just under 10 years service and refused to test for promotion knowing a promotion with 12 years of service would make it even more difficult to separate.
On that fateful day in May of the 21 people who died, I knew at least 14 of them. Maybe more, but the memories have begun to fade over the past 29 years. Nonetheless, I remember many of them very clearly and not just my best friend at the time.
But it wasn't just my best friend, I knew and respected almost everyone I had the honor to serve with - we worked diligently to do our jobs in the best possible way. And it was always a team effort.
At unit gatherings, the favorite song was "We Are Family" by Donna Summers. We looked out for each other - in the air, downrange, on the flight line, and when we were home.
At the Air Force Museum now known National Air Museum, you will find a memorial to those who died that day - 21 trees planted and a plaque with all their names. Including the two wives on board that day to share in the experience of what ARIA's mission was like and to help lower the divorce rate with the frequent travels. After all, this was a simple training mission - what we, the crew members, called flying around the flag pole.
Today, Memorial Day, May 31st, I salute my former crew mates as I do every May 6th as well. May their souls rest with God the father and Jesus.
Note: More information on ARIA may be found at ARIAMemorial.com