Mark Cowart stood among more than 1,000 people in Itta Bena Saturday for the unveiling of a memorial dedicated to 16 military personnel who died in a plane crash in Leflore County a year ago.
The memorial — a 24-foot replica of the KC-130 that crashed — was built at Columbus Marble Works’ site on Highway 45, where Cowart is division director. He said it was “incredible” to attend the monument’s unveiling — and to see those who turned out for the ceremony, including about 200 family members of the men killed in the crash.
“They were all very appreciative and so impressed by what was done,” he said after the ceremony Saturday. “I think it was more than they expected. Everyone has been positive, all I’ve heard today has been positive.”
A Navy sailor and 15 Marines died on their way to Arizona when the KC-130 T Marine tanker they were flying crashed west of Greenwood in Leflore County on July 10, 2017. The Yanky 72 Memorial dedicated in their honor was commissioned by the Department of Mississippi, Marine Corps League.
The project’s lead designer, Allan Hammons of Greenwood, specifically recommended Marble Works for the structural design, said Marble Works General Manager and Vice President Key Blair.
The granite structure boasts a marble band that includes the names of the 16 men that were killed in the crash, as well as the company names — the Marine Raider Group and the airplane crew, Yanky 72.
Blair says he and his company feel privileged to have a hand in remembering the crash’s victims.
“It’s a great honor for us and all others involved,” he said. “…It’s a way to give back to the men who serve us.”
The memorial took about a month to build, Blair said, and was taken to Leflore County in separate pieces last week and were pieced together before Saturday’s ceremony.
“We cut (all the pieces) out and it’s like a big puzzle,” Blair told the Dispatch.
Families of the 16 men who died also began arriving last week and were taken to the site of the crash, a soybean field west of Greenwood, on Friday.
Columbus Fire and Rescue sent two members of its force, Captain Damon Estes and firefighter Michael Miller, to help escort the families to the site. Estes was one of eight CFR workers who responded to Leflore County in the days after the crash last year to help aid search and recovery efforts.
CFR Chief Martin Andrews believes this memorial is important to remember those who lost their life.
“This is honoring fallen servicemen giving the ultimate gift of their life,” Andrews told the Dispatch.
Miller said he feels gratified to have escorted the families to the site of the crash and been able to be a part of their grieving process.
“It helped them to have closure,” he said. “..It was their way of saying goodbye.”
Following the service, a team of 30 Marine Raiders and Special Amphibious Reconnaissance Navy Corpsmen began a march from the crash to North Carolina while carrying soil from the crash site, which they will use to plant a tree at a memorial service at Marine Corps Special Operations Command at Camp Lejeune, their final destination on the march. The march, which is approximately 900 miles and will take eleven days, will make a stop to meet with community members at the Dick’s Sporting Goods on Highway 45 in Columbus on Monday morning.
A list of items the team requests to bring to the meet and greet on Monday or donations to the march can be made at RuckingRaiders.com.
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