08/25/09 — Blue Ribbon Fund soon will hit $20,000 mark

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Blue Ribbon Fund soon will hit $20,000 mark

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on August 25, 2009 1:46 PM

Donations are still being made the Blue Ribbon Fund, an account established by the News-Argus to honor the families of two Seymour Johnson Air Force Base captains who died last month when their F-15E Strike Eagle went down in Afghanistan.

And thanks to recent pledges from the Goldsboro and Wayne County governments of $2,500 apiece -- money set to be handed over to the fund Sept. 17 at the Blue Ribbon Jam benefit concert -- $20,000 has already been raised in memory of Capt. Mark McDowell and Capt. Thomas Gramith left behind.

News-Argus General Manager Hal Tanner III said the fund's success should come as no surprise to those who understand the unique relationship between Seymour Johnson airmen and those who live outside the installation gates.

"This is not about the money, really, although that response has been overwhelming and a heart-warming sign of the generosity that makes this community so special," Tanner said. "This is the community's chance to thank two men who gave their lives in service to their country -- and to acknowledge the importance of the contributions of all those who wear the uniform at Seymour Johnson.

"We want these families and those who serve to know that Wayne County understands the sacrifices they make every day."

Tanner said the newspaper has been working closely with base personnel to find the most appropriate tribute to the men that will not only honor their memory, but acknowledge their families as well.

"The Air Force will take care of the families these men left behind -- just as they care for all those who lose a loved one in the performance of his or her duty," Tanner said. "This is the community's effort to contribute something to that effort -- and we are proud to work with Col. Mark Kelly and the families is creating a lasting memorial to these brave men."

And he encouraged everyone to come out to the Blue Ribbon Jam as another tribute to McDowell and Gramith.

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.

Downtown Goldsboro Development Corp. executive director Julie Thompson thinks the setting is fitting.

"Downtowns are intended to be the common area where community commemorates so we are pleased to assist in the Blue Ribbon Jam as we could not think of a better event that fulfills this purpose," she said. "We are pleased that a Center Street Jam could be the venue; that downtown is the place and that we are part of a much larger effort than ourselves because we believe the Blue Ribbon Jam will collectively demonstrate a powerful story about our community."

Beach music group the Mighty Saints of Soul will provide the entertainment free of charge, and all money raised from concession sales and donation booths will be turned over to the Blue Ribbon Fund.

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.