PORT WENTWORTH, GA (WTOC) - In a ceremony Thursday afternoon, first responders, community members and military members came together at the future home of Port Wentworth City Hall on Highway 21 to remember the nine airmen lost in the C-130 plane crash last year.
The C-130 was headed from a National Guard Air Base in Puerto Rico to an Air Force base in Arizona.
There was a large military presence at the ceremony, as well as first responders who came to the crash site one year ago. They all looked on as families of those lost were recognized, and the lives of their loved ones were remembered.
The public ceremony comes at the end of about a week-long visit from the families of the fallen airmen, accompanied by leadership from the 156th Airlift Wing Puerto Rico Air National Guard. Proclamations recognizing the lives and service of the crew of the Rican 68 were read, and family members representing each of the nine airmen were also recognized. They were given small gifts to remember their loved ones by.
Attending the ceremony was a three-star general out of Washington, Director of the Air National Guard, Lt. General L. Scott Rice. General Rice was one of several to offer remarks to the crowd.
"As you travel west, my fine friends, may you dance the skies with silver wings. May the sun always shine on your face. May fair winds be at your back, and your heart and souls in our family, in our kids, in memory of the Puerto Rican Nine.
WTOC met people from the community who didn’t know the airmen, but wanted to pay their respects. One women works at the 165th Airlift Wing. She was working the day the crash happened and says it’s something she will never forget.
“It just means a lot to every one of us that they can memorialize them, and what the families went through, we can only just feel for them, and it was just a terrible day for everyone,” Caryn Smith said. “We had gone to lunch and we were sitting in the break room after, and we saw this big puff of black smoke. We were like, ‘what is that?’ We knew the plane had just left."
She says it’s a day she and her coworkers will never forget.
“We were all so upset that it happened and we just started crying. It was real sad,” Smith said.
Like Smith, Anne Martin couldn’t believe it when she heard the news that a plane crashed right here in her small community.
“I prayed for them, first of all and foremost. I prayed for the families. I prayed for the survivors on the ground. Thankful no one else was hurt. It will be a memory we will never forget," Martin said.
Martin says she may not have known the nine men, but she’s thankful for their service. She says Thursday’s ceremony was a wonderful way to remember them.
“It was hair raising, heartwarming. It made me have way more compassion than I can ever fathom, what these families are going through.”
Having the families there made it more special.
“It’s just amazing the love they had for their loved ones. I think this country does everything they can for our military, so why shouldn’t we," City of Port Wentworth Mayor, Gary Norton.
Smith says the day offered a little bit of hope and healing on the one year anniversary of a very gloomy day.
“Everyone coming together to just be there for the families. Our base - everyone was so sad that day. It was just a terrible, terrible day. We just wish the families well.”
“The community is the lifeblood of our military," Lt. Gen. Rice said. "Being in the community is just so special to myself and my wife, Nancy, and we are both down here to show our support to the community, because this is the community that really came together to help another part of our country, Puerto Rico, the commonwealth of Puerto Rico, when they were under great stress and great need.”
Members of the team from Joint Base Charleston, who actually responded for the crash investigation, were also in attendance to show support for the families.
“I just think of the honor, of the honor that I got to be able to do the job that we did; to be part of that team, and...just the family members. I think about them all the time, and for us to be able to do the job that we did efficiently, and the way that we did it, I think that brings closure myself, every single time I think about the event," said Senior Airman Juan Ramirez-Ceballos, Joint Base, Charleston.
“When you’ve got a fallen comrade, you have always got to take care of their family. You have got to help each other, because that’s teamwork. It’s brothers helping brothers and sisters, and that’s what it’s all about," said Joe Oliver, VFW, Post 660.
Nine trees were planted in honor of the nine men who died. They are on the property where the new City Hall will be located.