By Ian Graham, Pentagram Staff WriterJune 12, 2009
FORT MYER, Va. -- Nearly 70 years ago, a B-17 Flying Fortress crashed near Mackay, Queensland, Australia, killing all but one of the 41 American servicemembers on their way back to battle in the Pacific Theater.
The Bakers Creek crash, as it's known, was the worst transport aircraft disaster in the southwest Pacific during World War II, and to this day remains Australia's worst aerial crash by death toll.
On June 11, a memorial marker to those who died in the crash made it to American soil. After spending two years at the Australian Embassy in Washington, D.C, the marker, a large engraved granite slab with a bronze plate describing the crash, was brought to Fort Myer, Va., the birthplace of military aviation.
Fort Myer Garrison Commander Col. Laura J. Richardson said it's a proper tribute to place the marker on Fort Myer, near the Selfridge Gate, on the site the Wright brothers tested the first military aircraft.
"I'm deeply honored to have it here on the historic grounds of Fort Myer, the birthplace of military aviation," she said. Secretary of the Army Pete Geren echoed her sentiments, commenting on the connection between the Bakers Creek accident and the location of its new memorial.
Selfridge Gate is named for Lt. Thomas Selfridge, who was killed in a crash during the Wright brothers' test flights - he was the first military aviation casualty. "It's fitting for this memorial to be next to Selfridge Gate, where we honor a Soldier who gave his life shaping the future of defense," Geren said.
"Now we honor the sacrifices made by all of these Soldiers, American and Australian." Santo Santoro, a former senator for Queensland, said though he supported the military as a government employee, it wasn't until he left the civil service that he truly recognized the military's impact. It was then that he saw the selflessness servicemembers show.
"[The victims of Bakers Creek] embody for me not only the commitment of true warriors, but also the cruelty of war," he said. The plane crashed while returning Soldiers to New Guinea after some rest and relaxation leave in Mackay.
Minutes after its 6 a.m. takeoff, the plane crashed. The cause remains a mystery.
The sole survivor, Foye K. Roberts, passed away in 2004. Another memorial, constructed in 1981 in Bakers Creek, Australia, also honors victims of the crash.