Almost 60 years ago, airmen at Fairchild Air Force Base were still getting used to the nation’s B-52 Stratofortress bombers, newly arrived in the West Plains. Crews regularly took the massive aircraft up on training missions, preparation in the days of the Cold War.
On Sept. 8, 1958, the routine training missions became anything but routine. As one B-52, Outcome 54, was coming in for a landing, another one, Outcome 55, had just completed a “touch-and-go” landing and was circling back for its final touchdown of the day.
About 2 miles from the runway, the two aircraft collided and exploded. Thirteen service members died in the wreckage.
The airmen, never forgotten, were memorialized Friday afternoon on base in a ceremony attended by about 50 people, including Col. Ryan Samuelson, the base commander, and family and friends of the fallen.
“Fairchild’s real story of success is captured by the stories of its heroes,” Samuelson said. “The men who died that day will never know the outcome of their sacrifice. But we do.”
First Lt. Reggie Frazier, a young navigator on Outcome 54, was a 1950 Lewis and Clark High School graduate and 1955 University of Idaho graduate who joined the Air Force as a commissioned officer after taking part in the college’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program.
Frazier’s brother, Larry, was instrumental in bringing the memorial to Fairchild, along with Greg Staples.
“At the time of the accident, my brother and Greg’s father were sitting side by side,” Larry Frazier said.
Maj. Donald Staples was a World War II veteran who had flown 25 missions over Europe. The pilot had flown B-17s, and survived a major crash in which he suffered a broken back and severe neck injury. He was a veteran in every sense of the word compared with the young navigator at his side.
“We’d only been here a couple of months when the tragedy occurred,” said Staples, who was 9 when his father died.
The planes collided over an open field, minimizing what could have been a much more catastrophic situation. Of the 16 crew members, only three survived, but no other personnel were hurt.
On Friday, a simple granite slab was unveiled with the Strategic Air Command slogan, “Peace is Our Profession,” chiseled across the top. Also on the monument are the names of the service members who died that day, along with the three who survived. They were read aloud before a bugle played taps, as service members saluted and civilians held their hands over their hearts, all standing.
On Outcome 54 were Maj. Theodore Held; Maj. Donald Staples; Capt. Homer Crump; 1st Lt. John Cork; and 1st Lt. Reggie Frazier. Capt. David Birdsell and Staff Sgt. Lowell Younger survived.
On Outcome 55 were Lt. Col. Andrew Creo; Capt. Roy George; Capt. Ernest Marker; Capt. Russell Snow; 1st Lt. John Black; 1st Lt. Gerald Limburg; Staff Sgt. Aubrey Moore; and Staff Sgt. David Archer. Second Lt. Walter Maguire survived the crash.