Bakers Creek ceremony honors Soldiers
June 22, 2012
By Rhonda Apple
Located outside the hallowed ground where battle buddies, Family members and prominent military heroes are buried in Arlington National Cemetery, a monument stands to pay tribute to American Soldiers and crew members who also died during war.
The servicemembers who died at Bakers Creek, near Mackay, Queensland, Australia, are buried near Selfridge Gate on Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall -- an appropriate location to honor the 40 unrecovered American Soldiers, crew members and a sole survivor. They were all members of the Army Air Corps, lost in the greatest aviation disaster in Australian history and the worst single airplane crash in the southwest Pacific during World War II.
Corporal Foye Kenneth Roberts of Wichita Falls, Texas, the lone survivor of the crash, died in 2004. The Bakers Creek annual memorial ceremony commemorated those Soldiers who lost their lives on June 14, 1943. This is the third year the annual event has been held since the memorial was placed on JBM-HH.
Both the Australian and American flags stood sentry at the ceremony, attended by Australian Ambassador to the United States Kim Beazley, Returned Services League Historian, Colin Benson, of Mackay, Australia, Australian embassy members, JBM-HH command leadership, Family and friends. "With Arlington National Cemetery serving as a dramatic backdrop, we are reminded of the many men and women who have served and given their lives for our great nation. Monuments have been erected to memorialize their service so they are not forgotten and so that we never forget," said Col. Carl R. Coffman, commander JBM-HH.
"We gather to remember the 40 American Soldiers … who lost their lives in a transport airplane crash at Bakers Creek … 69 years ago today," he continued. "They rode in a B-17C Flying Fortress converted for troop transport during the war. It was operated by the 46th Troop Carrier Squadron of the 317th Troop Carrier Group."
Coffman explained how after a well-deserved leave for rest and relaxation in Australia, the Soldiers were being transported back to the front line in Papua, New Guinea, when, shortly after takeoff, the transport crashed for unknown reasons.
The names of the 34 Soldiers and six crew members are etched into a bronze plaque on the back of the monument. Coffman said during the ceremony that they came from 23 states across the country. The marker, with a pink granite base from Australia -- a gift of the people of Australia -- rested at the Australian Embassy in Washington, D.C., a few years prior to the memorial's permanent home on JBM-HH in 2009.
"It is only fitting that the monument memorializing these fine Americans found its final resting place here -- in the shadow of Arlington National Cemetery and next to our nation's capital," said Coffman.
"And it is probably no coincidence that this memorial marker is located next to our Selfridge Gate -- named after Lt. Thomas Selfridge -- a Soldier who was the first person to die in an airplane crash back in 1908 -- when he and Orville Wright rode in a test flight of the Wright Flyer here at Fort Myer."
"We are reaching the point where our greatest generation is just about gone," said Beazley, speaking for the first time at the annual ceremony. "Next year will be the 70th anniversary of the crash. It is the 70th anniversary, too, in the minds of many, many Australians," of a strong defense alliance between the United States and Australia, Beazley said.
The ceremony also included a wreath-laying and a reverent salute rendered by American and Australian leadership as taps was played by Master Sgt. Kenny Rittenhouse of the U.S. Army Band. Australian and American volunteers also honor the Bakers Creek crash victims and their Families annually in a ceremony in Mackay, Queensland, Australia.
Coffman reminded those attending the ceremony, the Army's birthday was the same day, June 14. "As we celebrate the Army's 237th birthday today, we pause to honor the sacrifices of all who have served in the ranks of the U.S. Army ... of those who have fallen and of their Families ... of those who have paid for the freedoms we enjoy today."