HARLEM — About 10 miles north of Harlem, near Main Street and Highway 2, lies Centennial Park. As you enter the park, stones are gathered in a circle, resembling the lives lost by a group of airmen during a training exercise.
On November 30, 1992, two C-141 cargo planes from McChord Air Force Base in Washington collided in the air near Harlem along Montana's Hi-Line during a refueling training exercise.
As a result, the 13 airmen on board the two planes tragically died. These 13 airmen were:
- Capt. Edward Desire Parent, Jr.
- Capt. Banks E. Wilkinson
- Capt. Kevin M. Maguire
- 1st Lt. Edward H. Hoyle III
- Tech. Sgt. Peter Leo Ostenfeld
- Staff Sgt. Monte Leroy Bissett
- Airman 1st Class George Anthony Moreland
- Staff Sgt. Terrence J. Miyoshi
- Tech. Sgt. David Richard Young
- Capt. Mark Alan Elster
- Capt. Jimmy Lee Jenkins
- Capt. David J. Sielewicz
- Sr. Airman Wilbert Brown III
Plans for a memorial started shortly after the crash. A few decades later, this memorial will be awarded an "Excellence in Historic Preservation" medal given by the Daughters of American Revolution - a non-profit dedicated to promoting patriotism and preserving American history.
Vicki Selin, member of the Daughters of American Revolution, explained why the Harlem Memorial stood out to them.
"Their 30 years of continual dedication to remembering those airmen who lost their lives. Those of us who were in Great Falls, and had any connection with the Airforce, even though those planes came from McChord, were rocked pretty solidly when that crash occurred, but the people in Harlem, small community, farming community immediately responded to the site. By the next morning they had a committee ready to go because they wanted to never forget the lives of these 13, and the impact on those 13 families."
Selin says to her knowledge, this is the first time the organization will be giving this type of award.
Memorial Committee Co-Chair Darwin Zellmer stated his reaction when he got the news that they have received this award.
"I said, 'Wow, I'm just blown out of the water,' because little did we know when we built it, that this would turn into a historic event for generations to come with people to see it in the future. It's great, we have just been appreciative of it.
Most recently, a pedestrian bridge was placed at the memorial, with the airmen's names printed on the sides, as a sign of remembrance and appreciation.
Life-long Harlem resident Karolee Cronk recalled the crash.
"That night, I didn't hear the crash. I was shampooing carpet because I was having a club Christmas party the next day. So it was when I got to work the next morning and was at school and here it is, the TV going in the library and everybody just devastated,” Cronk said. "You're having to explain a bit to kids at school.”
Thankful for the award, she credits the work of volunteers, adding that community service can make a big difference in people's lives. "I'm a big believer in giving back to your community. This is a big example of what the community does, to keep this memorial going. It's doing for your community, honoring your military. She added that this recognition will hopefully bring more people to the park and recognize the work that has been done in preserving the memorial while acknowledging the sacrifices made by our veterans.
Selin says this award serves as a reminder as to why history has become more important than ever. "History is about people. It's not just events and dates. Someone once said, 'the present will be very imperfectly understood unless the light of the past is brought to bear upon it.' If we don't know where we're at now, how can we make the right decisions in moving forward into the future?"
The Award Ceremony will take place at Centennial Park on June 11th at 2pm. Click here to learn more about the crash and memorial.