Soldiers' bravery, selfless sacrifice honored
April 1, 2009
FORT BRAGG, N.C. - The March 27 presentation of two Distinguished Flying Crosses (DFC) started with a performance by the 82nd Airborne Chorus but the events leading up to this one day began almost six years ago near Camp Humphreys on the border between North and South Korea.
<b>A CLOUDLESS DAY</b>
Aug. 12, 2003, was a perfect day for flying, said Col. Dave Abramowitz, U.S. Army Forces Command Inspector General. At the time, Abramowitz was the brigade commander of the 17th Aviation Brigade, located at Seoul Air Base.
That day, Abramowitz had just returned from a mission to the Joint Security Area. Upon stepping out of the aircraft, an operations officer ran up to Abramowitz and
said, "Sir, we had an aircraft go down."
Looking at the cloudless sky, Abramowitz first believed a Chinook helicopter hit wires. The operations officer told him it was a C-12 transport and reconnaissance aircraft. Thirty minutes later, Abramowitz received a call that Chief Warrant Officer Dave Snow and Captain Kevin Norman, the pilots of the C-12, had been killed in the crash.
Brandi Venard, then Capt. Brandi Norman, also served in Korea with Snow and her husband, Capt. Norman. Prior to the accident, the three Soldiers had had lunch and parted ways. Snow, a maintenance officer, needed an aviator to complete a maintenance test flight.
Norman, always ready to fly, volunteered to handle the flight. From reports and flight recordings, the C-12 had engine problems and was flying at a low altitude,
heading towards a crowded restaurant.
Snow and Norman diverted the plane to an open field to avoid crashing into the restaurant.
"I believe the pilot's final act was to turn the aircraft away from a restaurant filled with people," said
Lt. Col. Timothy Brown in a testimony regarding the crash. "They heroically saved the occupants of the restaurant and committed to sacrificing their own lives."
Brown, an aviation officer, performed the collateral investigation to determine the facts of the accident.
Testimonies from witnesses supported the findings and several Korean villagers wrote letters expressing their gratitude for the Soldiers' selfless act.
"My family, including many children, would have burned to our deaths if not for the last efforts of the pilot," said Nam Ki Soon, a villager who witnessed the plane heading towards his house.
"Our heartfelt condolences go out to the families of these two heroic aviators who did everything they could to prevent civilian casualties," said Gen. Charles C. Campbell, FORSCOM commander.
(At the time of the accident, Campbell was a lieutenant general and commander of the Eighth Army.)
During the DFC ceremony, Abramowitz reflected on the men and their personalities, which he believes led to their selfless decisions on that Aug. 12.
"Both were known to have a great sense of humor," said Abramowitz. "They loved their families, but especially their wives. They both loved flying as well as teaching and mentoring Soldiers under their command."
Norman was described as an intense leader who never accepted failure. Growing up, his sister Colleen and brother Sean said they admired him and saw him as a role model. Norman was athletic and before entering West Point, he served as a volunteer firefighter.
Once, as a West Point cadet, Norman and a friend were returning from a New York Giants game and noticed a fire near a cabin across a small lake. The men pulled over, swam across the lake and used their wet clothes to fight the fire until the fire department arrived.
The fire chief wrote to the superintendent of West Point about their actions and at graduation, both cadets received the Army Commendation Medal.
"My son is graduating from West Point this year," said Abramowitz. "Kevin would have been the type of person and commander I would want to mentor my son."
Family and friends of Snow agree that the Army taught him priorities and brought out his true personality.
They also said he loved three things: his faith, his family and his profession. Snow constantly thought of ways to better life for his wife and daughters and, according to his wife, planned to get his doctorate after retiring from the Army.
Snow mentored the lieutenants in the unit, always expecting the best from them and teaching them to become the best Soldiers.
"Many officers have told me that they owe it to Dave for training them how to fly close formations and the importance and seriousness of this job," said Abramowitz.
<b>SIX YEARS LATER</b>
Abramowitz had passing thoughts over the years that someone should write a DFC for Snow and Norman, as their decisions on Aug. 12 were truly heroic.
Amy Snow, the wife of Dave Snow, brought it up yearly to Abramowitz.
"Last year, while stationed in Iraq, I finally figured it was I who needed to write the DFC, so I got out all the reports," said Abramowitz.
He said it's important for people to know that the Army community is a family with a strong bond.
"We do not leave our fallen comrades, and we never forget them," said Abramowitz.
As the nominator, Abramowitz believes he waited until Olivia, Snow's youngest daughter, who was a year old at the time of the accident, was old enough to understand the meaning of a Distinguished Flying Cross.
"I wanted Olivia to hear that her father saved the lives of at least 30 civilians gathered at the restaurant," said Abramowitz.
Because of Norman and Snow's recordings, which were recovered at the accident site, maintenance procedures of the C-12 were changed. Before their accident, four other aviators died performing the same procedure; however, their recordings were not recovered.
"Your father's and Kevin's voices carried forward; for the last six years, there have been no fatalities in this fixed wing aircraft," said Abramowitz to Olivia.
<b>ALWAYS IN THEIR MEMORIES</b>
After the ceremony, friends and families of Snow and Norman gathered at the dining facility of Fort Bragg to have lunch and share stories of their Soldiers.
A friend and co-worker of Norman, Jim Reilly, shared a story about Norman's fan dedication to the San Francisco 49ers.
"Kevin celebrates the win (over the Philadelphia Eagles) by doing a back flip over the couch, hit a free-weight, broke his foot and couldn't fly for six months," said Reilly.
However, continued Reilly, that didn't stop Norman from going to work and pitching in to help load flights going to the scene of Hurricane Mitch.
"His leadership and passion for life transcended to the people he worked with," said Reilly.
Abramowitz shared with guests the story of the one-year anniversary of the event, which was commemorated with a statue erected at the site of the accident in Korea. During the ceremony, a sergeant sang "Amazing Grace."
"She noticed Brandi crying and at that point, Olivia reached over with a Kleenex and wiped away Brandi's tears."
Upon seeing this, the singer started crying and couldn't finish the rest of the song. Abramowitz went up to help her finish by singing with her and noticed there were no words to the song.
"I asked her where the words are and she replied 'It's 'Amazing Grace', everyone knows it!,'" said Abramowitz. "I said, 'I'm Jewish, I don't know 'Amazing Grace'!'"
Unbeknownst to them, the microphone picked up their whole conversation, causing the audience to laugh, bringing a little levity to the ceremony.
Stories of both Soldiers continued around the room, shared by family members, friends and co-workers.
At the end of the lunch, Venard thanked everyone for coming and sharing their stories.
To Abramowitz, she said, "You've made it a mission to not forget Kevin, to not forget Dave."
Amy Snow added, "From the bottom of my heart, thank you."