By Jim Dresbach, Pentagram Staff WriterJune 27, 2017
For the ninth year in a row, the Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall community remembered and honored an Army Air Corps tragedy that occurred 74 years ago.
World War II allies, the United States of America and Australia, remembered victims of the Bakers Creek air disaster in a commemorative ceremony near Arlington National Cemetery's Selfridge Gate June 14.
On June 14, 1943, 40 American servicemen were killed in a crash of a B-47 Flying Fortress plane at Bakers Creek near Mackay, Queensland, Australia. The plane's destination was New Guinea after a rest and relaxation leave to Australia.
The flight crashed moments after takeoff. Those who died in the crash were reported killed in action, but full details of the crash were not revealed until years after the war.
Attending this year's Bakers Creek Memorial Ceremony were Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall Commander Col. Patrick Duggan, Australian Ambassador to the United States Joe Hockey, Air Commodore Gary Martin, Australian air attaché and assistant defence attaché, Bakers Creek Memorial Association Executive Director Dr. Robert S. Cutler and Australian historian and retired Col. Colin E. Benson.
"News of the accident was barely heard outside of Queensland," Benson told the crowd of the censorship of the crash news. "But thanks to a number of diligent people, the stories of these young American servicemen live on in our memories."
While many triumphs have been won as the American military conquered the skies, Duggan pointed out tragedies have also claimed the lives of service members. The JBM-HH commander explained Fort Myer's place in military aviation history and the triumph and tragedy of air flight on the base.
Duggan reminded the international crowd that U.S. Army Officer 1st Lt. Thomas Selfridge was killed during a test flight of the Wright Flyer Sept. 17, 1908 near the Tri-Services parking lot. His flying companion was Orville Wright. Wright was seriously injured but survived the crash.
Duggan noted the ironic location of the Bakers Creek monument and its proximity to an Arlington National Cemetery gate named after Selfridge.
"It is fitting that the memorial found its home here as this site reminds us of not only the dangers of military aviation; but even more, paying the ultimate sacrifice of service to the nation in her defense," Duggan said.
Duggan also spoke of the modern-day sacrifices of the 2005 and 2011 crashes in Afghanistan which took a total of 57 American lives and a 1985 Canadian air crash where 258 American servicemen died.
Duggan said the deaths of the Bakers Creek victims remind Americans of the dangerous, daily duties of the U.S. military.
"It is befitting that Bakers Creek serves as a poignant reminder of the honor, service and sacrifice of all our men and women who have served in the ranks of the United States Army and all our Armed Forces," Duggan said. "From the searing jungles of the bloody Pacific to the brutal wastelands of Iraq and Afghanistan, we thank and pay tribute to the many who have fallen and paid the ultimate sacrifice for the freedoms you and I enjoy here today."
Duggan, Hockey, Martin and Arlington County Board Member Libby Garvey laid wreaths at the pink marble monument. To finish the ceremony, audience members assisted to lay 40 flowers of remembrance at the base of the monument while names of the crash victims were read. Elements of The U.S. Army Band provided musical support during the ceremony. Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Byrne played Taps to honor the Bakers Creek dead, and Staff Sgt. Matthew L. Smith sang the National Anthem and the TUSAB Brass Quintet provided pre-ceremony music.
Old Guard Chaplain Capt. Alvaro Rivera offered the invocation.
Pentagram Staff Writer Jim Dresbach can be reached at email@example.com.