08/02/09 — City plans public memorial to remember SJAFB air crew

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City plans public memorial to remember SJAFB air crew

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on August 2, 2009 2:00 AM

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News-Argus file photo

Seymour Johnson Air Force Base 4th Fighter Wing Commander Col. Mark Kelly honors the fallen air crew during this past week's memorial service on base. A public memorial will be held Thursday.

Nearly two weeks after a 4th Fighter Wing air crew was lost in Afghanistan, local residents continue to mourn -- and honor -- its members.

A public memorial for 336th Fighter Squadron officers Capt. Mark McDowell and Capt. Thomas Gramith -- who died July 18 when their F-15E Strike Eagle crashed during a close-air-support mission -- has been scheduled for 9 a.m. Thursday on the steps of Goldsboro City Hall, officials said.

Mayor Pro Tem Chuck Allen, who attended the memorial held at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base Tuesday, called it "the right thing to do."

"The average person didn't have that kind of access," Allen said about last week's service, which was limited to those with the credentials needed to get on the installation. "So we feel like being as military friendly a town as we are, we probably haven't given the pubic the opportunity to get together and express their sorrow ... or whatever the right term is for what they are feeling."

The public memorial -- set to feature a moment of silence and remarks from Mayor Al King, 4th FW Com-mander Col. Mark Kelly and Wayne County Board of Commissioners Chairman Bud Gray -- will be held downtown to provide a venue for them to do just that, he added.

"We're talking about may-be a 15-minute service," Allen said. "Just something where everyone can come up and say, 'Thank you for your sacrifice.'"

In addition to the formal ceremony, donations also will be accepted for the Blue Ribbon Fund, which was set up by The Goldsboro News-Argus to pay tribute to the lost crew -- and to take care of the families they left behind.

The deaths of McDowell and Gramith 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.