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New park honors lost aerial reconnaissance servicemen

Released: Sep 9, 1997

by Master Sgt. Jerald Hawkins
694th Intelligence Group

FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Maryland (AFNS) -- As the morning sun burned away the thick ground fog here, officials from the National Security Agency and the 694th Intelligence Group here dedicated the new National Vigilance Park and the Aerial Reconnaissance Memorial Sept. 2. The park and memorial are on NSA property adjacent to the National Cryptologic Museum.

The Aerial Reconnaissance Memorial honors the individuals who lost their lives on aerial reconnaissance missions during the Cold War. A new exhibit focusing on these missions will be added to the museum to acquaint the public with the sacrifices made by the Department of Defense servicemen who flew them.

The centerpiece of the National Vigilance Park is a C-130A, which has been refurbished to resemble the U.S. Air Force reconnaissance-configured C-130A aircraft shot down exactly 39 years ago by Soviet MiG-17 aircraft over Soviet Armenia, killing 17 crewmembers. Eighteen trees form a backdrop, symbolizing 18 types of reconnaissance aircraft lost during the Cold War.

The park includes three memorial plaques: one listing the names of the crewmen lost during the Sept. 2, mission; one containing a dedication statement outlining the purpose of the memorial; and the third giving a brief description of the aircraft.

Gen. Ralph E. Eberhart, Air Force vice chief of staff presented Air Medals to the families of the 17 crewmen in recognition of their loved ones' "heroism, courage and gallantry." A joint-service honor guard also presented the families with U.S. flags which had flown over NSA and aboard the final flight of the memorial C-130A.

"We want to publicly acknowledge to the families and to the nation that we will never forget," said Lt. Gen. Kenneth Minihan, director of NSA and chief of the Central Security Service. "We are taking a major step to publicly recognize and remember the sacrifices and dedication of aerial reconnaissance servicemen and women from all branches of the armed forces throughout the Cold War.

Minihan noted that although it was termed a "cold war," the danger was real, and the price for peace and freedom was paid in American lives. Many of these lives were lost while soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines were performing, what was at that time, classified aerial reconnaissance missions.

"Of the 152 cryptologists from all services who lost their lives during the Cold War, 64 of them -- over one-third -- gave their lives in the conduct of this aerial reconnaissance mission. Peace and security have prevailed, in large part to the vigilance and sacrifice of those we honor today," said Minihan.

Senator Paul Sarbanes of Maryland pointed out that this was the first C-130 lost to hostile fire and that its dedication as the Aerial Reconnaissance Memorial is "our nation's first large-scale memorial to the Cold War service and sacrifice.

"The vital role these 17 crewmen performed in preserving our freedom and which many others in other locations performed must not be forgotten," Sarbanes continued. "It is a critical piece of this country's aerial reconnaissance history and of our overall military heritage. We must preserve this military history and heritage for present and future generations so they will learn for themselves what this country stands for and the sacrifices that have been made to preserve the freedoms that we so often take for granted."

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