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Sgt. James Hunter, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (AA) Public Affairs
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. – 12.08.2009On an early December morning 24-years ago Saturday, Dec. 12, 1985, 248 Soldiers died when their plane crashed over Gander, Newfoundland, following a six-month peacekeeping mission in the Sinai.
Just after takeoff – with many of these Soldiers gleeful and smiling thinking soon they would reunite with their families for the holidays – their plane went down at 6:45 a.m.
These Soldiers, who were aboard Arrow Airline flight 1285, were courageous men who were returning from a difficult duty abroad.
"Most of the young men and women we mourn were returning to spend the holidays with their Families," said then President Ronald Reagan, who spoke at their memorial service here, Dec. 16, 1985, just days after the crash. "They were full of happiness and laughter as they pushed off from Cairo, and those who saw them at their last stop spoke of how they were singing Christmas carols. They were happy; they were returning to kith and kin."
They would never make it home alive. These Soldiers would never get to share their happiness with their loved ones – their mothers, fathers, wives nor children. They were simply gone; however, they were not forgotten.
"Tragedy is nothing new to mankind, but somehow it's always a surprise, never loses its power to astonish. Those of us who did not lose a brother or a son or daughter or friend or father are shaken nonetheless. And we all mourn with you. We cannot fully share the depth of your sadness, but we pray that the special power of this season will make its way into your sad hearts and remind you of some old joys; remind you of the joy it was to know these fine young men and women, the joy it was to witness the things they said and the jokes they played, the kindnesses they did, and how they laughed," Reagan said. "You were part of that, and you who mourn were a part of them. And just as you think today of the joy they gave you, think for a moment of the joy you gave them and be glad. For love is never wasted; love is never lost. Love lives on and sees us through sorrow. From the moment love is born, it is always with us, keeping us aloft in the time of flooding and strong in the time of trial."
Most of these men were members of the 3rd Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, which today is known as the 1st Squadron, 75th Cavalry Regiment. As Reagan said in his speech, these were Soldiers of talent, wisdom, experience and idealism. These were things that too were lost that day.
"Who else but an idealist would choose to become a member of the Armed Forces and put himself or herself in harm's way for the rest of us?" Reagan asked. "Who but the idealist would go to hard duty in one of the most troubled places of the world and go not as a matter of conquest, but as a force that existed to keep the peace?"
And that's exactly what these brave men did over their six-month deployment in the Sinai. Besides peacemakers, they were "warriors, fierce in their marital expertise," said Reagan.
Every year since the passing of these Soldiers aboard Arrow Airlines flight 1285, the men and women of Fort Campbell and Gander, Newfoundland, ensure the lives of these fallen Soldiers are never forgotten during separate ceremonies in honor of the lives they led.
Those citizens of Gander – who rushed that day to offer assistance at the crash site and have since opened their hearts and homes to the Families who came in the aftermath of the crash seeking resolution – will forever be linked to the tragic crash 24 years ago. They saw the wreckage first hand and have had to live with that memory for many years, and they simply continue to show their support.
Family members and both past and present Soldiers of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), will gather to remember these fallen Soldiers Dec. 12 at the Gander Memorial, on the corner of the Screaming Eagle Blvd. and Wickam Ave., beginning at 8:30 a.m.