CAMP PENDLETON, Va. — The Virginia Air National Guard’s Virginia Beach-based 203rd RED HORSE Squadron conducted a memorial ceremony March 3, 2014, at Camp Pendleton to honor 18 unit members and three Florida Army National Guard aviators killed in a plane crash 13 years ago. The 203rd engineers and the Florida aviators from Detachment 1, 171st Aviation Battalion, were killed March 3, 2001, when the C-23 Sherpa they were flying in crashed in a cotton field near Unadilla, Ga.
“We are here today to honor and recognize the men for which this memorial was built, for those who paid the ultimate sacrifice and to remember what it means to be Citizen-Airmen and Soldiers,” said Lt. Col. Stock Dinsmore, commander of the 203rd RHS. “Although the unit continues its service through another successful year, we will continue to build upon the legacy of our fellow Airmen and never forget the sacrifices of those that went before us.”
The 203rd members were returning home after completing a two-week military construction project at Hurlburt Field, Fla. The C-23 crash was the worst peacetime aviation disaster in the history of the National Guard, and the worst loss of life in the Virginia National Guard since World War II.
Dinsmore read the names of all 21 servicemembers killed in the crash before a color guard placed a wreath at the base of a memorial for the fallen Airmen and Soldiers.
The 203rd RHS memorial for those killed in the crash takes the form of a reflection or meditation garden complete with the unit’s mascot: a life-size, rearing red horse. The 30,000-square-foot memorial also includes a large bronze Minuteman statue rising up from a clear pool in front of a waterfall, and a second red horse. This horse kneels in front of a memorial made from a 7,000-pound, black granite boulder with the names of the 21 National Guard men etched into its one polished surface.
Encircling the border of the memorial is a winding path embracing 22 Bradford pear trees, and a plaque at the base of each tree honors each one of the Guardsmen. The 22nd tree bears a plaque honoring those who died during the terrorist acts of Sept. 11, which took place four days before the groundbreaking of the 203d’s memorial on Sept. 15, 2001.The memorial incorporates ideas from several 203rd members and used a range of the construction skills found in RED HORSE units. Members of the 203rd, assisted by RED HORSE units from Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, Washington, Montana and Texas, built most of the memorial.
RED HORSE stands for Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineers, and the unit provides a highly mobile civil engineering response force to support contingency operations worldwide.
203rd RED HORSE Airmen lost in the crash:
- Senior Master Sgt. James Beninati of Virginia Beach, Virginia
- Tech Sgt. Paul Blancato of Norfolk, Virginia
- Master Sgt. Ernest Blawas of Virginia Beach, Virginia
- Tech. Sgt. Andrew H. Bridges of Chesapeake, Virginia
- Senior Master Sgt. Eric Bulman of Virginia Beach, Virginia
- Tech. Sgt. Paul Cramer of Norfolk, Virginia
- Master Sgt. Michael East of Parksley, Virginia
- Tech. Sgt. Ronald Elkin of Norfolk, Virginia
- Tech. Sgt. James Ferguson of Newport News, Virginia
- Tech. Sgt. Randy Johnson of Emporia, Virginia
- Staff Sgt. Mathrew Kidd of Hampton, Virginia
- Senior Master Sgt. Michael Lane of Moyock, North Carolina
- Master Sgt. Edwin Richardson of Virginia Beach, Virginia
- Master Sgt. Dean Shelby of Virginia Beach, Virginia
- Tech. Sgt. John Sincavage of Chesapeake, Virginia
- Tech. Sgt. Gregory Skurupey of Gloucester, Virginia
- Tech. Sgt. Richard Summerell of Franklin, Virginia
- Maj. Frederick Watkins of Virginia Beach, Virginia
Florida Army Guard Soldiers lost in the crash:
- Chief Warrant Officer 4 Johnny W. Duce of Orange Park, Florida
- Chief Warrant Officer 2 Eric P. Larson of Land-O-Lakes, Florida
- Staff Sgt. Robert F. Ward Jr. of Lakeland, Florida
– Cotton Puryear and Tech. Sgt. Megan Skrepenski contributed to this story