Meanwhile others at home prepared the Welcome Home Party. At Fort Campbell where the Division is housed, each Brigade has it's own area which included a shopette, gym, and other facilities which allowed the Brigade unit to operate independent. The gym was being prepared as a meeting area for the Soldiers to meet Family and loved ones when they deplaned. These preparations had started early, and on 12 Dec 1985 were going into the final preparations stages, early in the morning. Friends and family of the returning soldiers were coming in as early as 0500, though the flight was still hours from arriving.
After stopping off in Europe for fuel, the Arrow Jet plane had landed at Gander, New Foundland, Canada for it's final refueling and leg of it's journey home. After filling it's tanks and deicing it's wings the plane taxied down the runway for final take-off. Shortly after it was airborne the plane suddenly nosed down in a woods approximately 1 mile form the end of the runway.
Back at Fort Campbell a SP(4) chaplain assistant who had just graduated from chaplain assistant school was preparing for PT. He was a newsaholic, and while preparing kept CNN Headline News on. This morning there was something about an airplane crash somewhere in Canada, with soldiers aboard. Then came the phone call, it was our plane and preliminary reports indicated there were no survivors.
At the gym, people stood around in shock, others came in in a party mood, and realized that something was wrong. One of there people was a Korean wife who spoke no English, she did not know what was going on but knew there was something wrong here. Finally a Korean chaplain assistant (one of the last chaplain assistants to OJT into the MOS) came in and explained things in Korean for her.
Back in Gander Canadian and US officials were working hard to recover and identify the remains. One major problem was that medical and dental records normally used to help in the identification process were also on the plane and were burned or scattered about. It was over 6 months after the crash before the final remains were identified.
At Fort Campbell, Christmas was put on hold, memorial services and funeral services were the order of the day. Memorials were being planned. Sunday services were highlighted with 148 candles for each soldier who had lost their life. Some chapels stayed open and were staffed 24 hours a day during this period. Perhaps one of the positive things to come out of this was the establishment of an Emergency Family Center which housed all of the support organizations needed by the families such as Medical Experts, Legal assistance, housing, Insurance reps, Red Cross, and the chaplains.
Today memorials stand at Fort Campbell, Clarksville, KY; Hoppkinsville, TN; and Gander, New Foundland, Canada, for these these brave soldiers who make the ultimate sacrifice. My heart and my prayers go out to the families and loved ones who lost someone in that tragic event.