Kosovo government dedicates memorial to fallen U.S. pilots
May 30, 2014
PRIZREN, Kosovo -- As a tribute to Memorial Day, two fallen U.S. Army pilots who died at the start of the 1999 NATO operations were forever memorialized as the Kosovo government unveiled a new monument marking their sacrifice, May 26.
Chief Warrant Officer 3 David A. Gibbs, 38, and a native of Massillon, Ohio, and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Kevin L. Reichert, 28, and a native of Chetek, Wis., were AH-64 Apache pilots with 6th Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment, who died when they crashed near Tirana, Albania, May 5, 1999. The two pilots were leading a nighttime mission when their aircraft suddenly experienced mechanical failure and plummeted to the ground.
To recognize these first military casualties of Operation Allied Force, the Kosovo government formulated a plan to pay homage to the pilots who died fighting for peace in the Balkans region. Last February, Kosovo's Prime Minister, Hashim Thaci, directed the building of a memorial in the closest Kosovo city to where the helicopter crash occurred.
The memorial would be a symbol from the people of Kosovo to express their thanks for the cooperation of NATO and the United States over the past 15 years.
"In respect of our close cooperation with NATO and with the United States of America, I have today ordered the (Kosovo) Ministry of Culture to take the appropriate steps to build a memorial to honor two American pilots, fallen in duty during the NATO intervention in Kosovo," Thaci said during a government meeting, Feb. 5.
"I suggested that as a sign of gratitude, we must honor these American military, the NATO forces, on the 15th anniversary of Kosovo's freedom by building an obelisk in the closest town of Kosovo, in the place where they have fallen, in Prizren," he continued.
The Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports designed and built the all-black monument, which was placed near the center of downtown Prizren, and included an engraved marble plaque at the bottom showing Gibbs' and Reichert's names. A lone triangular-shaped attachment hangs from the memorial symbolizing a helicopter in flight.
Memli Krasniqi, the Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports, said the Kosovo people will always treasure the Americans' assistance, while the monument can serve as inspiration throughout Kosovo.
"[The] Kosovo population will forever be grateful to the American nation for their support in our most difficult times, support that is ongoing to this day in all areas. [Americans] are our greatest friend," Krasniqi said. "We would like to forever remember the men and women of America that came to bring peace and stop the genocide in Kosovo, and the building of this memorial is a symbolic action for the great contribution of the American Soldiers. It will be an inspiration to us, and a lifetime reminder of the love between us."
During the unveiling ceremony in Prizren, Prime Minister Thaci and the U.S. Ambassador to Kosovo, Tracey Ann Jacobson, laid a wreath at the monument's base. U.S. service members who work at the embassy also attended the ceremony wearing their dress uniforms.
For Jacobson, dedicating the monument on Memorial Day was a tangible way to remember the lives of David Gibbs and Kevin Reichert and their families left behind.
"Memorial Day is an opportunity to honor the sacrifices of our service members and their families," Jacobson said. "And it's fitting that today we are honoring these two heroic U.S. pilots who made the ultimate sacrifice to help bring peace and stability to Kosovo."
The ambassador noted the project was led and initiated entirely by the Kosovo government.
"This monument and ceremony was organized solely by the Government of Kosovo at their initiative. The monument itself is a design by a Kosovo artist, and we're honored to represent the U.S. Embassy at today's opening ceremony," Jacobson said.
Minister Krasniqi said the pilots' families, albeit feeling sorrow for the loss of their loved ones, should be proud of the assistance the pilots provided to bringing peace to Kosovo.
"We are aware that they feel a lot of sorrow. They must be proud of the sons, the sons that brought freedom to the people of Kosovo," Krasniqi said. "For us, these pilots will always be flying 'peace-bound,' and will always be an inspiration for our new horizons."