08/17/09 — Come jam downtown and help families

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Come jam downtown and help families

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on August 17, 2009 1:46 PM

A month after a Seymour Johnson Air Force Base F-15E went down in Afghanistan, officials from the communities that surround the installation are planning a benefit concert for the families Capt. Mark McDowell and Capt. Thomas Gramith left behind.

Downtown Goldsboro Development Corp. executive director Julie Thompson is expected to announce "The Blue Ribbon Jam" at tonight's City Council meeting.

The event, scheduled for 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Sept. 17 in the Waynesborough House parking lot, will be akin to downtown's Center Street Jam events, officials said.

Beach music group the Mighty Saints of Soul will provide the entertainment, and all money raised from concession sales and donation booths will be donated to the Blue Ribbon Fund, an account set up by the Goldsboro News-Argus to raise money for the families McDowell and Gramith left behind.

More than $12,000 has been collected to date.

News-Argus General Manager Hal Tanner III said the newspaper has been proud to lead the Blue Ribbon Fund effort.

"Wayne County has stepped up once again and showed just how special this comnmunity really is," Tanner said. "It is no surprise that so many residents have been part of this effort, and we are grateful to all who have given so generously."

The newspaper staff will be on hand Sept. 17 alongside DGDC and city volunteers to assist with the jam.

"We are looking forward to gathering as a community to have a little fun for a good cause as we remember, always, that freedom is not free," Tanner said.

News that McDowell and Gramith were lost during their tour with the 336th Fighter Squadron was met with an outpouring of grief in Wayne County.

Two memorials -- one on Seymour Johnson and the other at Goldsboro's historic City Hall -- were attended by hundreds.

Air Force officials have still not released a cause for the Strike Eagle crash, but shortly after the jet went down, enemy fire was ruled out.

McDowell and Gramith's deaths 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.