“Missing Man Table” adapted to honor 60528’s lost crew — 17 red roses (one for each lost Air Force brother), inverted glass, salt shaker, slice of lemon, pinch of salt and piece of 60528 debris

60th Anniversary of Shoot-Down of USAF C-130 60528 over Armenia Memorialized


By Larry Tart

Special to the Armenian Mirror-Spectator

BELLEVUE, Nebraska – The 60th anniversary of the shoot-down of US Air Force C-130 60528 with its 17-man crew near Sasnashen, Armenia, is being commemorated this year. On September 2, 1958 the aircraft was shot down by the USSR. A memorial was created in 1993 for the Sasnashen site and a second was unveiled at the National Security Agency, Fort Meade, MD, on September 2, 1997. The incident and the dedication of the C-130 60528 memorial was addressed in the Armenian Mirror-Spectator issue dated August 18, 2018.

Other Memorials Dedicated to C-130 60528’s Lost Crew

In 1993, a United States POW/MIA recovery team excavated the crash site, recovering miniscule bone fragments and related aircrew artifacts. In August 1993, Sasnashen village elders and sculptor Martin Kakosian dedicated a khachkar memorial to the aircrew that perished in the edge of their village.

Lorna Bourg, sister of Airman Second Class Archie T. Bourg Jr., one of C-130 60528’s 17 lost crew members, at khachkar dedication in August 1993

The khachkar tumbled over and broke in half, and with assistance from the Big Safari Association (a non-profit USAF-affiliated organization), Kakosian created a new C-130 60528 memorial that he and the villagers dedicated at the crash site in 1998.

New modern memorial dedicated to C-130 60528’s crew in 1998 — sculptor Martin Kakosian holding “Freedom is never really free” bronze plaque
Maksena Kakosian, widow of sculptor Martin Kakosian, speaking at 60th Anniversary Memorial Service, Sasnashen, Armenia, September 4, 2018

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The Big Safari Association also funded a replica of the C-130 60528 Sasnashen Memorial as an outdoor display at the National Museum of the US Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, dedicating the replica memorial in 2002. In reverence to the lost crew, Michael Patterson, a retired Big Safari program manager, laid a 60th Anniversary Memorial Wreath at the replica on September 2, 2018 — Patterson had managed the acquisition and placement of the C-130 60528 Memorial aircraft in National Vigilance Park in September 1997, the creation of the memorial at Sasnashen, Armenia, in 1998 and the replica memorial at the Air Force Museum in 2002.

Replica C-130 60528 Memorial, National Museum of the US Air Force, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, dedicated in 2002
Mr. Chris Inglis, Deputy Director, NSA, 50th Anniversary Memorial Service — 60528’s Last Crew NVP, Fort Meade, MD, September 2, 2008

50th Anniversary Memorial Service for C-130 60528’s Crew

Gathering in front of the C-130 60528 Memorial aircraft, National Vigilance Park, Fort Meade, MD, on September 2, 2008, the National Security Agency (NSA) and the 70th Intelligence Wing hosted a 50th Anniversary Memorial Service honoring the 17 crew members who perished in the shoot-down of C-130 60528 on September 2, 1958. Heading the NSA official party, Chris Inglis, Deputy Director, NSA, provided an inspiring eulogy, speaking from the heart — the Inglis family had lost his younger brother Pat 25 years earlier (May 1983), when his Navy A-6A fighter-bomber crashed in the edge of a Soviet naval task force in the Mediterranean Sea.

Retired Lt. Gen. James R. Clapper, Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, Keynote Speaker, PWG Reunion Banquet, Baltimore, MD, August 31, 2008

The Prop Wash Gang held its 2008 reunion concurrently in Baltimore, honoring 60528’s lost crew at a reunion banquet on Sunday, August 31. Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. James R. Clapper (then Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence) was keynote speaker. John Simpson Jr, and his son John Simpson III were special guests at the banquet on 31 August and at the Memorial Service in NVP on September 2, 2008.

John Simpson Jr., Larry Tart and John Simpson III, 50th Anniversary Memorial Service, NVP, Fort Meade, MD, September 2, 2008

60th Anniversary Memorial Services, August and September 2018

On August 30 and September 2, 2018, the Prop Wash Gang (PWG) took the lead role in two 60th Anniversary Memorial Services — both in commemoration of 17 Air Force brothers who perished in Sasnashen, Armenia, on September 2, 1958. Gathering in Bellevue, Nebraska, five miles from Offutt Air Force Base, for their annual reunion, PWG members devoted their long Labor Day weekend to honoring their 17 lost Air Force comrades. On Thursday, August 30, the 55th Wing 97th Intelligence Squadron (IS) and the PWG hosted a memorial service on the wing’s parade ground on Offutt. The Prop Wash Gang’s Lonnie Henderson was keynote speaker at the ceremony. After the memorial service, the PWG veterans were guests of the 97th IS at a BBQ lunch and an afternoon gathering with the squadron’s active duty airborne reconnaissance flyers.

Keynote Speaker Lonnie Henderson, 60th Anniversary Memorial Service, Offutt AFB, Nebraska, August 30, 2018

At a reunion banquet on Sunday, September 2, 2018 —  exactly 60 years after Soviet pilots shot down US Air Force C-130 60528 at Sasnashen, Armenia, killing the 17-man crew — the Prop Wash Gang conducted a special 60th Anniversary Memorial Service honoring the crew. Recognizing the gravity and reverence an Armenian priest would evoke with a requiem service for the 17 deceased comrades, in July 2018 I contacted Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, Primate, Western Diocese, Armenian Church of North America, Burbank, California.

PWG Reunion Banquet — 60th Anniversary Memorial Service, Bellevue, Nebraska, September 2, 2018

Explaining our planned memorial service, I provided His Eminence an overview of the C-130 60528 shoot-down incident and requested his assistance in making a priest available in Bellevue, Nebraska, for the memorial service. Seventy minutes after sending my email, I received Abp. Hovnan’s response (sent from his iPhone) — “I am certainly interested in this matter.”

Two days later, an assistant informed me that His Eminence had assigned Rev. Fr. Vazken Movsesian “to join you for the special 60th Anniversary Memorial Service.” As keynote speaker, Fr. Vazken gave a brief history of Armenia and its people and the early history of the Armenian church  — the first nation to accept Christianity in AD 301. He continued with a brief overview of the Armenian Genocide of 1915 and used analogies to memorialize the 17 American flyers who perished in Sasnashen 60 years earlier.

Fr. Vazken Movsesian, Priest in Armenian Church, Keynote Speaker, 60th Anniversary Memorial Service, Bellevue, Nebraska, September 2, 2018

As the grandson of a survivor of genocide, Fr. Vazken has devoted much of his life to helping victims of genocide. When told to “get over the Genocide, it happened a hundred years ago,”  Fr. Vazken’s response is, “You can’t get over it, the moment you forget, you have given in.”

He said, “Sixty years ago on that fateful day, 17 United States Air Force airmen perished in that crash, it was in Armenia, shot down by the Soviet Union.” He pointed out that we must remember their losses, but it is not enough to just remember, you can’t end it with just a memorial — the reason for that is that in 1938, Adolf Hitler stated that he was going to invade Poland. When one of his generals said, “You can’t do that, we won’t get away with it,” Hitler responded, “Who after all today, speaks of the annihilation of the Armenians?”  Just 20 years later, not 60 years, not 100 years!!!

Fr. Vasken ended his moving speech by singing an Armenian hymn and delivering an ancient prayer of the Armenian Church — a requiem service for the departed — naming each of the 17 US airmen who were being memorialized.

John Simpson Jr., son of copilot Lt. John Simpson Sr. holding color-enhanced gun-camera photo of C-130 60528 during attack by Soviet MiG-17 pilot on September 2, 1958 —photographed in Bellevue, Nebraska, September 1, 2018

He was enamored with the love and comradeship he witnessed amongst Prop Wash Gang members, commending the audience specifically on the energy he detected in the banquet room. In particular, he regarded with great respect John Simpson Jr., who was three years old when his father, Lt. John E. Simpson Sr. perished aboard C-130 60528, and Sam Clark, who lost several friends/flying comrades aboard 60528. Mr. Simpson, who had attended memorial services honoring the lost crew in 1997, 1998, and 2008, was the only family member present at the 60th Anniversary Memorial Service in 2018. Retired Lt. Col. Sam Clark, an enlisted (Airman Second Class) Russian linguist (airborne voice intercept operator) who flew reconnaissance missions from Rhein-Main Air Base, Germany, 1957-1962, was the only attending veteran who had served with 528’s lost crew 60 years earlier.

Fr. Vazken and Sam Clark, 60th Anniversary Memorial Service, Bellevue, Nebraska, September 2, 2018
Attendees (PWG Families), 60th Anniversary Memorial Service, Bellevue, Nebraska, Sept 2, 2018

The memorial service ended with the Prop Wash Gang surprising Fr. Vazken with a most unusual memento (a piece of C-130 60528 debris mounted in a shadowbox), an autographed copy of The Price of Vigilance, Larry Tart’s extensively researched history of the C-130 60528 shoot-down incident, and a plaque “We Saw An Eagle Fly,” composed by the PWG’s poet laureate Lonnie Henderson as a tribute to our 17 lost Air Force brothers. The entire event was recorded and is now available to watch on YouTube.

Chief Lonnie Henderson describing shadowbox containing fragment of C-130 60528 to Fr. Vazken, September 2, 2018
Close-up view of 60528 fragment & ID Plaque — Fr. Vazken’s shadowbox, September 2, 2018
The Price of Vigilance, Larry Tart & Robert Keefe, published by Ballantine Books, 2001

In an email exchange on October 1, Fr. Vazken provided a personal assessment of the 60th Anniversary Memorial Service. “Indeed it was a pleasure and honor to be at the commemoration last month in Nebraska. The group made me feel right at home in the PWG family.” Meeting John E. Simpson Jr. and Sam Clark brought an element of connectivity to the events of 1958 in very real human terms. Additionally, at the beginning of his speech, Fr. Vazken made a point of placing the 17 names of the lost crew on the dais “in front of me, just so at no time would I be tempted to speak of an ‘incident’ and forget that the personal sacrifices of these men translated into personal tragedies for the families.” He also commented that “the missing-man table, which Chief Lonnie Henderson had set, was very touching and moving — “I don’t think it could have gotten any more personal.”

Having watched in awe when presented the shadowbox containing the piece of 60528 debris, Fr. Vazken saw a greater purpose than a personal keepsake. “I’m transferring the shadowbox with the piece of the plane to the Western Diocese of the Armenian Church Museum so that it can stand as a marker/witness to the shoot-down for future generations. We’re working with the archbishop to schedule a special presentation one evening for the local Armenian community.”

Transferring the 60528 debris shadowbox to the Armenian Church museum is unto itself an inspiring summation for the 60th Anniversary Memorial Service in Bellevue, Nebraska, on September 2,  2018, but there is more.

During the memorial service in Nebraska, Fr. Vazken reflected that although he had been to Armenia many times, he has never been to Sasnashen. “I will not go back to Armenia again without visiting Sasnashen after this,” he declared. He has a planned trip to Armenia on October 21, and has volunteered to deliver a small gift from the Prop Wash Gang. In appreciation of the villagers’ reverence to C-130 60528’s lost crew — annual remembrance ceremonies by villagers and their progeny honoring an alien aircrew since 1993 — the PWG recently solicited voluntary donations from its members to help with the education of Sasnashen’s youth. Fr. Vazken will deliver collected proceeds to Sasnashen village leaders to be used in the village’s school system.

Remembrance and connecting the dots —  Sasnashen where the airplane fell and where the villagers honor the deceased crew is now connected to Bellevue, Nebraska, it is connected to Burbank, California, it is connected with the PWG audience in Nebraska going back to their homes, to Fr. Vazken’s visit to Sasnashen and the crash site, and to the Prop Wash Gang contributing to the education of Sasnashen village youth — the big picture!!!

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