Germans, Americans honor U.S. military plane crash victims, strengthen friendships
EDELWEILER, Germany - Nearly 100 German and American citizens gathered here Aug. 11, 2006, to remember and honor 66 American Airmen and Soldiers who died here 51 years ago in a mid-air collision between two C-119 Flying Boxcar transport aircraft. The planes, from the Air Force's 10th Troop Carrier Squadron, collided shortly after takeoff from Stuttgart Army Air Field in Echterdingen.
The two aircraft were part of a nine-ship formation on a training mission airlifting troops and equipment in a joint exercise with the Army's 499th Engineering Battalion. According to records, 44 individuals were on the aircraft that crashed into what was a cornfield in August 1955. The second aircraft crashed nearby in a dense area of the Black Forest with 22 aboard. There were no survivors.
A handful of older Edelweiler villagers remember the accident, according to Prelate Eberhard Mühlbacher, who helped organize this year's ceremony. He added that the owner of the land on the edge of the forest planted an oak tree in 1993 at the site where one of the aircraft came down. More recently, other villagers began an initiative to place a stone marker at the exact spot where the aircraft hit the ground. The marker was placed last year, on the 50th anniversary of the crash.
"When the dead are lost from out of our memory and knowledge, it feels like a second death," deputy county leader Klaus-Ulrich Roeber said through a translator. "Because of this, I value the activities of the people here today because it keeps the memory alive.
"Reflecting on this accident helps me understand the meaning of living in freedom and in a democracy, as I have been able to do through my childhood to my adult life," Roeber continued. "I owe this to the American people, and I thank you for that."
Several village leaders and representatives from the U.S. military spoke to the standing-room only crowd gathered inside a local church hall before the ceremony continued at the site of the crash. Most of the speakers recognized the individuals who worked through the years to remember the fallen American service members and to create a lasting tribute to them.
"I know that [the families of] these young men who died would be very, very grateful to know that this community is honoring those young Soldiers and Airmen who died and never got to experience the joy of growing old and seeing their grandchildren, who died never knowing that there could be such a place of peace," Army Chap. (Col.) James Hoke said. "We honor them today, and you honor them by what you're doing,"
The attendees were not deterred by the light rain as the ceremony continued at the site of the crash. Members of the Stuttgart and Ramstein Air Base communities read the names of the individuals lost in the crash, and Stuttgart-area Girl Scouts placed a wreath beside the memorial to honor the service members. Representatives from the Veterans of Foreign Wars and Boy Scouts of America were also in attendance.
"It's a very good chance to come together to see American friends and German friends, because in death all people are the same," Pastor Oliver Velm said. "We live in the landscape, in a small city, and this is a very good sign for the people here. The older people remember the catastrophe, and it's good for the younger Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts and Americans to remember together. The good point is the word ‘together.'"
That sentiment was echoed by the Americans who traveled to Edelweiler to be part of the remembrance.
"This is especially important because of all of the people who have died recently. It gives you something to think about," Linda Bruckart said as the ceremony ended. "I didn't know how profoundly it would hit me. I'm glad a lot of folks came out today."
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