Photographs of their smiling faces were lined side-by-side at the podium, above their “dog tags” and plaques bearing their names.
A duplicate of their hulking HC-130P aircraft was parked nearby, a horseshoe wreath of red roses placed over its nose.
The 10 Air Force reservists killed in the crash of their aircraft off the coast of Northern California Nov. 22 were honored Saturday in a solemn military ceremony in a giant hangar at the Portland Air Base.
“I think we should note,” said Maj. Gen. Robert McIntosh, the nation’s Air Force Reserve commander, “that on this gray and rainy day, the heavens weep for us.”
The ceremony also honored an 11th person, Master Sgt. Richard Harder, a famed pararescueman and, like the 10 killed in the crash, a member of the 939th Rescue Wing, a nationally known rescue unit based in Portland. Harder died of a heart attack at age 44 just one day before the crash.
Nearly 3,000 people attended the memorial service. Families of those who died filled the first few rows. Many of the victims had small children, one as young as 7 months old. Mothers, fathers, wives and children clutched each other’s hands and cried as officers and the wing’s chaplain spoke of the victims’ service to their country, and how they would be missed.
“From the birth of our nation, we have counted on citizen soldiers just like these men,” said Col. Rick Davis, the wing’s commander. “They come from the farms and towns and cities. they come from different ethnic backgrounds and they come in different colors.
“But the instant they put on the uniform of their country they become brothers and sisters. A bond is formed that lasts a lifetime because it is based on such a valuable and noble cause. For this cause we lost more than husbands, friends, sons and fathers. We lost American patriots. We lost some of the soul of our country.”
The lone survivor of the crash, Tech. Sgt. Robert “Bobby” Vogel, was among those in the crowd.
Shortly before the service began, he discarded his crutches and climbed into the C-130. A few minutes later, he emerged, nearly overcome by emotion.
“I could still see everybody sitting there at their positions,” he said, “fighting to keep the airplane in the air, and nothing was working. They tried and tried and tried and tried.
“That’s the first time I’ve been inside the aircraft. I wanted to say goodbye to my friends and get on with my life.”
He said he was unsure whether he would fly again.
As the names of each victim was read aloud, Davis placed a meritorious service medal alongside the identification tags of Lt. Col. John Keyes, Capt. Robert Schott, Capt. Kirk Wellnitz, Capt. Brant Ferrarini, Senior Master Sgt. Robert Roberts, Tech. Sgt. David McAuley, Staff Sgt. Jonathan Leonard, Staff Sgt. Marvin Forrest, Staff Sgt. James Johnson and Staff Sgt. Ronald Garner Jr.
Harder, a master sergeant who participated in more than 300 civilian rescue missions, got a medal, too.
The wreckage sank in a section of the ocean nearly a mile deep. The cause of the crash remains under investigation.