Bakers Creek Memorial ceremony pays tribute to War veterans on Army birthday
June 21, 2010
By Rhonda Apple
On Monday the U.S. Army commemorated the 235th birthday of the service. A number of other events with historical significance also shared the spotlight with Flag Day.
At Arlington National Cemetery's Selfridge Gate at Fort Myer, the Australian flag proudly stood sentry with the Stars and Stripes as another event was underway. Across the world in the state of Queensland, Australia, less than five miles from the city of Mackay in the small village of Bakers Creek, local Australians observed a similar tribute, paying homage to the 40 American World War II servicemen who died there 67 years ago, as well as the only survivor, Foye Kenneth Roberts, who passed away in 2004. American and Australian dignitaries, military retirees, organizers, friends and family members honored the victims of the Bakers Creek air crash Monday morning at a ceremony on Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall marking the monument's first anniversary here.
A permanent home for the monument was established last year on base after volunteers worked since 2003 to find an official resting place to honor the servicemen who died in what was Australia's worst aviation disaster and the worst American accident in the southwestern Pacific in World War II involving a transport plane.
The commander of Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Colonel Carl R. Coffman Jr., accepted the Bakers Creek Monument, which rests for the first time on Army soil during his address to the small group ... "I'll take good care of it and make sure everybody who comes after me does as well," Coffman, an Army aviator, stated. The monument, a gift from the citizens and government of Mackay, Queensland, Australia, is about five-feet high and four-feet wide. The names of the servicemembers who died in the crash and the one survivor are inscribed on a marker. The base of the monument is made of pink granite from Queensland, Australia.
The Bakers Creek monument rests near Selfridge Gate which is named for Lt. Thomas Selfridge. Selfridge was killed during a demonstration flight he took on Fort Myer with Orville Wright on September 18, 1908. He was the first aviation fatality during the first flight of an aircraft at a military installation. Wright, the aviation pioneer, was badly injured during the crash, suffering broken ribs and a leg.
Locals from Down Under consider the American servicemembers from the crash at Bakers Creek "their own," and in keeping with the strong ties between the two countries, residents of Mackay have been honoring the American servicemen at their own monument for the past 18 years.
The U.S. branch of the Bakers Creek Memorial Association, along with other sponsors, has paid tribute for seven years. Shortly after takeoff from Mackay, June 14, 1943, the six-man crew and 34 of the 35 passengers returning from R & R leave at Mackay lost their lives when a U.S. Army Air Force B-17C Flying Fortress, a bomber converted for troop transport, crashed at Bakers Creek. The flight was transporting the men back to the front line in Papua, New Guinea, when it went down. Roberts, an Army Air Corps corporal at the time, walked away from the crash.
The crash was kept secret for decades due to wartime censorship. The cause of the crash is still unknown. The aircraft, known as "Miss Everymorning Fixin," was part of America's Fifth Air Force and was operated by the 46th Troop Carrier Squadron, part of the 317th Troop Carrier Group.
In a similar ceremony in Mackay, reporter Fallon Hudson of Mackay's newspaper The Daily Mercury, "about 100 people witnessed 41 carnations being placed at the Bakers Creek Memorial to mark the anniversary of the Flying Fortress crash... Dundula State school students played "Waltzing Matilda" while flowers were laid and Australian Air Force Cadets ... carried 15 U.S. home state flags." Former Daily Mercury editor Rod Manning provided a historical perspective during the Australian ceremony and recalled the determination of Mackay citizens to honor the crash victims and their Families.
Robert S. Cutler, executive director of the Bakers Creek Memorial Association (USA), said the wreaths placed at the memorial - one to honor the 40 servicemen who died at Bakers Creek and one to honor the only survivor -- will be placed inside ANC at the graves of two of the crash victims. Air Vice Marshal Kym Osley, the Australian Embassy's top defense official, said. "These U.S. servicemen were heroes who gave up all they had to give just like anyone who died in combat." He spoke of the tragedy at Bakers Creek, saying the servicemen "were sons of Australia as much as sons of the United States of America."