KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. --
The sounds of more than 100 pairs of feet trekking up the Manzano Mountains filled the somber and chilly spring air. The 11 mph gusts cutting through their sweaters and coats wouldn’t stop the mass of people from completing their mission for the day: to pay their respects and see where 13 Airmen made the ultimate sacrifice many years ago.
April 11, 2019, members of Team Kirtland and family of the fallen Airmen gathered for a memorial commemoration and marker dedication.
A Silverplate B-29 Superfortress crashed into the Manzano Foothills shortly after takeoff on April 11, 1950. There were 13 Airmen aboard the plane that fateful day: Capt. David H. Foust, Capt. John R. Martin, 1st Lt. Richard E. Coates, 1st Lt. Ralph E. Farmer, 1st Lt. Lewis B. Ranck, 1st Lt. Thomas J. Stultz Jr., Staff Sgt. Walter C. Boedeker, Staff Sgt. James R. Chilton, Staff Sgt. Richard E. Cooper, Staff Sgt. James B. Karney, Staff Sgt. Gerald M. Powell, Staff Sgt. Eugene R. Thompson and Sgt. Virgil R. Tennyson.
“It is a privilege to represent the United States Air Force today and an honor to dedicate this marker to the men of this aircrew who made the ultimate sacrifice--this day serves as a reminder and a tribute to their service,” said 377th Air Base Wing and installation Commander Col. Richard Gibbs. “The sacrifice made by these aircrew members--these warriors--holds the highest honor in our military traditions and in our hearts. This permanent marker ensures they will always be remembered.”
Members of the Rapid Engineers Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron (REDHORSE) poured over 10,000 pounds of cement and cut stones gathered from the Monzano foothills, where the plane crashed to build the memorial. The 898th Munitions Squadron created the frame for the plaque that was mounted to the memorial. Family members of the fallen aircrew were invited to the event for a chance to visit the hallowed site where their loved ones perished and to be part of the recognition of their service and sacrifice.
“Our family is here to honor my uncle Tommy and we are thrilled the Air Force saw it fit for us to come out and pay tribute, we are humbled by it and glad the [aircrew] are getting recognition,” said Thomas Stultz, nephew of 1st Lt. Thomas Stultz Jr. “I think it’s wonderful that the military did this and I know the families are grateful and thankful and just excited to be here.”
The crew and their classified mission are a solemn reference to the early years of the Cold War and the legacy of America’s strategic nuclear forces. They were part of the 509th Bombardment Group. The lineage of the 509th traces back to the 509th Composite Group, led by Lt. Col. Paul Tibbets, who was part of the crew to drop the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan in 1945.