With the placement of a brick engraved with his uncle's name in the center plaza of Memorial Grove on McChord Field, Dr. Mark Fagan closed the book on a six-year mission.
Pvt. Fred Fagan, a member of Merrill's Marauders (officially named the 5307th Composite Unit), was killed along with six other Servicemembers when the C-47 Skytrain he was on crashed while flying the India to Burma hump on May 23, 1944. Merrill's Marauders were a U.S. long-range penetration special forces unit in the South-East Asian Theater of World War II that fought in the Burma Campaign. The unit was comprised of U.S. Army Rangers and was an all-volunteer group that was first sent to India for training in 1943.
Private Fagan was on that aircraft with two other Marauders, as well as four aircrew members from the 4th Troop Carrier Squadron, which is today called the 4th Airlift Squadron and based at McChord Field.
The 4th AS hosted a ceremony Monday to honor those Servicemembers who died in the crash.
"Your career is encapsulated by small events, and you have to recognize when you're in the presence of a special event that you may not get to experience again," Lt. Col. Rod Lewis, 4th AS commander, told those in attendance. "Today is one of those days."
The crew's status was listed as missing until in November 2003, when a Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command crew surveyed a site in India and found insignia, clothing and wreckage. The tail insignia of the 4th Troop Carrier Squadron was identified, and was linked to Fagan's aircraft, which was commanded by Capt. Joseph Olbinski.
C-17 Globemaster III that performed a ceremonial flyover, and met with family members after the ceremony.
"He spoke at the family visitation night and he basically told us that the legacy of these guys' lives on today at McChord through the 4th Airlift Squadron," said Mark Fagan, who traveled from Jacksonville, Ala. to attend the ceremony. "He's saying in an open way, ‘You're family, come and see us.'"
Fagan, head of the Sociology and Social Work Department at Jacksonville State University in Jacksonville, has been chronicling the story of his uncle for years. He jumped at the chance to visit McChord add another chapter to his archives.
"What started out as a way to inform our relatives turned out to be a tribute to these men and the mission," he said. "So I felt like it was important to come and continue that."
It was also equally important for the 4th AS to tell the story and honor each aircrew member with an individual brick.
"Eighty-one aircraft were listed as missing by the end of the China/Burma/India operations," Lewis said. "That tells you the significance of this event, for our nation to send our best young and brightest. We lost 590 aircrew members."
And that's something each 4th AS Airman today considers an important piece to the squadron's history as the oldest continious airlift squadron in the Air Force.
"Today the flight suits that we're wearing have changed just a little bit," Lewis said. "However, the patch the 4th is wearing today on our right shoulder is the same patch we wore on the 23rd of May, 1944, as the 4th Troop Carrier Squadron."