Thousands pay tribute to tragic airmen

THE American flag hung in eerie stillness from the roof of an RAF hanger.Beneath it, 3,000 men, women and children remembered the nine brave "warriors" who died doing the job they had been trained to do.

THE American flag hung in eerie stillness from the roof of an RAF hanger.

Beneath it, 3,000 men, women and children remembered the nine brave "warriors" who died doing the job they had been trained to do.

Some wept, others sat in silence. But no one present at yesterday's memorial service could fail to be moved by the poignant sight of nine helmets and pairs of boots, laid in honour of the Suffolk airmen who were killed in the worst air disaster in RAF Mildenhall's history.

The moving service was the final chapter for many who wished to pay their respects to the nine men, who died during last Thursday night's tragic air training mission in Albania.

With a mixture of grief and pride, friends and colleagues said their final goodbyes to the dead through specially chosen prayers and hymns, including "Lord Guard and Guide the Men Who Fly".

"These men made a difference," said Lieutenant Colonel Patrick Dean, commander of the 7th Special Operations Squadron.

Most Read

"They were warriors, husbands, fathers, sons, leaders, and defenders of our freedom, and the impact they made on life will be everlasting.

"As I was thinking of words to say about these men, these came to mind: courage, excellence, selflessness, pride, sacrifice.

"Thank you for your service to our great nation. I salute your families, and I am proud of you.

"Your footprints are here and we will not forget you."

Last week the nine men set out from RAF Mildenhall to take part in a training mission with the Albanian military. It was to be their last.

Their plane – an MC-130H Talon II – crashed near the remote village of Rovie, in the Drizez mountains, about 35 miles east of Tirana.

News of the tragedy soon spread, and the base and surrounding community were left in shock as the terrible reality of what had happened finally started to sink in.

During yesterday's service, which included a moving rendition of Amazing Grace, Colonel Dennis Jones honoured the sacrifice given by the nine men.

"Courage is what these nine airmen showed," he said.

"They knew what challenges they were facing and they accepted those risks, but all of them were taken too soon, leaving behind them loving families, devoted friends and colleagues."

Chaplain Captain Chad Zielinski said: "We come before you this day with a sadness in our hearts as we recognise the loss of husbands, sons, brothers, and fellow comrades.

"They have given the ultimate sacrifice, and we ask God to give assurances that their souls are at peace in a place of eternal rest."

Captain Tamara Prasse, commander of Detachment 2 of the 25th Information Operations Squadron, to which Technical Sergeant Glenn Lastes was assigned, said: "This reminds us of our own mortality. Death reminds us that you only get one chance in life. Our hearts go out to the families. It is difficult but not impossible to find peace through this time."

The nine men have now been awarded with a Meritorious Service Medal for services to their country.

It is the highest military medal any soldier can receive.

The men's passion and commitment they showed was expressed in touching eulogies released yesterday.

That of Technical Sergeant Glenn Lastes read: "Glenn was a patriot at heart, who loved to fly and never took for granted the unconditional risks of his calling. We remember his sacrifice, honour his family and friends who loved him, and celebrate the freedom he gave with his life."

Outside the RAF hanger, nine candles burned underneath nine American flags in the Remembrance Park.

A solitary airman stood guard - taking it in shifts with other soldiers to provide a 24-hour-a-day, seven day vigil - over the memorials which were shrouded in flowers and cards from loved ones.

One card read: "Glen, remembering you always", while another simply said: "To my godfather Surender, I love you".

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter