07/24/09 — In their honor

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In their honor

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on July 24, 2009 1:46 PM

It was just a simple photo session -- no more than two or three minutes of posing and smiling on cue.

But for the hundreds who gathered on the Seymour Johnson Air Force Base flight line this morning, the images captured there were part of a healing process.

In the foreground of the shots was the mass of senior leaders, friends, family members and comrades left behind when Capt. Mark "Pitbull" McDowell and Capt. Thomas "Lag" Gramith died in Afghanistan nearly a week ago.

In the background was an F-15E Strike Eagle -- one that will soon touch down on Bagram Airfield to replace the 336th Fighter Squadron flagship that went down with the crew.

The Seymour Johnson community -- and those outside the gates -- are still mourning the loss of Gramith and McDowell.

And they will continue to honor them with flags flown at half staff and moments of silence until the formal memorial service scheduled for 9 a.m. Tuesday at Heritage Park.

Gramith, 27, of Eagan, Minn., and McDowell, 26, of Colorado Springs, Colo., both members of the 336th, were recovered by U.S. and Coalition forces shortly after their Strike Eagle crashed in the vicinity of the country's Ghazni Province around 3:15 Kabul time Saturday morning.

The crew's death marked the first combat-related losses suffered by the 4th Fighter Wing since Operation Iraqi Freedom, when, on April 7, 2003, an F-15E crash claimed the lives of Maj. William R. Watkins III and Capt. Eric B. Das.