By Maj. Matthew T. Mutti, 104th FW Executive Officer, 104th Fighter Wing
/ Published May 05, 2013
104th Fighter Wing, Westfield, Mass. -- Every day, we drive by it. Every year, we rededicate it. But have you taken the time to learn about the peoples' names affixed to it?
Since 1947, members of the 104th Fighter Wing have sacrificed to preserve freedom. Some of those warriors died while involved in aircraft related accidents.
The F-100 Memorial, originally dedicated by the 104th Fighter Wing's Chiefs Council in 1987, was dedicated to memorialize those members; the dedication followed the death of Maj. John Southrey who was in an aircraft accident over Wells, New York in his A-10 aircraft on Sept. 17, 1986.
Maj. Southrey is the last name on the monument, preceded by 11 other BarneStormers.
1st Lt. Edward W. Meacham's name is the first to appear on the monument. Meacham was 28 when he died performing dive-bomb attacks south of Chatham Mass. Aug 17, 1948. His P-47 Thunderbolt crash marked the first aircraft lost for the 131st Fighter Squadron (then known as the 131 Fighter Group.)
Six years later, Maj. Robert Anderstrom of West Springfield lost control of his F-51 on May 7, 1954. Anderstrom was returning home following a military-planning conference at Mitchel Air Force Base, outside of Long Island NY. (Mitchel AFB was decommissioned in 1961.)
The names are not all officers, one enlisted member, Tech. Sgt. Austin Cooper's name appears next to 1st Lt. Richard Brown. Cooper was the aircraft mechanic who was flying in the backseat of Brown's T-33. The two perished in Granville Mass. shortly after takeoff on Oct. 19, 1954. In addition to being on the memorial, Cooper's name is on the Blvd. that encircles the base's perimeter.
Later, in 1958, Capt. Frank Gibe was unable to safely land his aircraft here at Barnes; after making multiple attempts to land, he crashed in a wooded area off the main runway.
The danger of training was made evident by the unfortunate crash of an F-86, while Capt. Hugh Lavallee was performing low-level navigation training near Warren County, NY in 1963.
Every crash was not fatal, as learned by Maj. Philip B. Burke, who was the passenger of a 131st Fighter Squadron F-94C piloted by Maj. Richard W. Mahoney. As they returned from a cross country mission, the F-94C's jet engine flamed out over New Orleans Naval Air Station April 22, 1961. Burke walked away from the crash. Very unfortunately, Mahoney, the previous 131st FS Commander, incurred fatal injuries in the crash.
March 21, 1962, 1st Lt. Joseph F. Crehore was the only wing casualty during its deployment to Phalsbourg AB, France. During a flight over Chalons France, his F-86 aircraft crashed into a wooded area during a low-level navigation mission.
In 1964, the Wing transitioned to the F-84F Thunderstreak. On Feb. 1, 1965, while returning from a weapons exercise at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., Maj. James Romanowicz died when his aircraft crashed North East of Westover Air Force Base.
Romanowicz was a seasoned combat pilot with 1,200 hours of flight time. He flew the F-51 Mustang, F-47 Thunderbolt and P-40 Warhawk, as well as the C -45 and C-47 transport aircraft.
The last of the 11 fallen 104FW members that preceded Maj Southrey name is Capt. Leonard E. Bannish of Westfield, Mass. Bannish passed away when his F-84F Thunderstreak crashed during a training flight near Wilkes-Barre, PA., May 30, 1968. He crashed while attempting an emergency landing at the Wilkes-Barre PA airport.