Memorial dedicated to 11 airmen who lost their lives in accident at Gum Springs

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On Oct. 16, the Winn Ranger District of the Kisatchie National Forest held a memorial service for 11 airmen who lost their lives in a plane crash over the Gum Springs Bombing Range March 3, 1945. These men were flying a B17-F Flying Fortress (42-30893) from the 3rd Army Air Force, III Bomber Command, out of Alexandria Army Air Base.

United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service employees researched the crash and discovered the names and hometowns of the men who lost their lives. A granite marker was placed in their memory and was dedicated at the event. Attending the ceremony were several representatives from Barksdale Air Force Base. Christopher Allen-Shinn, the 2nd Bomb Wing Historian, reminded those in attendance that at the time of the accident, these men were preparing for combat.

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Hitler had not yet been defeated (he would commit suicide in Berlin on April 30, 1945), and it would be another five months before Japan would surrender. The 3rd Army Air Force’s mission was to train units, crews, and individuals for bombardment, fighter, and reconnaissance operations. Louisiana was very active in preparing those who would go overseas to fight in the war.

It was during a routine training mission March 3, 1945, when the 11 airmen would lose their lives due to an aircraft mishap, killing all those on board. Hosting the event was District Ranger, Brad Cooper, of the Winn Ranger District of the Kisatchie National Forest.

“The U.S. Forest Service has a long-standing relationship with the U.S. Armed Forces and we have many veterans within our agency. This monument is our way of never forgetting the sacrifices made by the brave men and women of our armed forces,” Cooper remarked.

Cooper performed a roll call of the fallen crash victims:

* 2nd Lieutenant Russell L. Cobbs, Pilot, 28, West Newton, IA

* 2nd Lieutenant Robert J. Keavy, Co-Pilot, 20, Minneapolis, MN

* 2nd Lieutenant Omar H. Lauridsen, Navigator, 28, Dedham, IA

* 2nd Lieutenant Bruno J. Wieclaw, Bombardier, 23, Ravenna, OH

* Technical Sergeant Alexander G. Harwood III, Radio Operator, 32, Williamsburg, VA

* Sergeant Harold D. Bush, Radio Operator, 23, Salem, IN

* Corporal Lester J. Smejkai, Gunner, 26, Lucerne Surgeon Bay, WI

* Corporal Jay “Joey” E. Crites, Engineer, 19, San Bernardino, CA

* Corporal Niels Anderson, Gunner, 19, International Falls, MN

* Private First Class Bruce C. Rue, Gunner, 19, Benton Harbor, MI

* Private First Class Millard B. Beaird, Gunner, 23, Grand Junction, CO

After roll call, TAPS was played by a member of the Barksdale Air Force Base Honor Guard and Chaplain Walker, also from Barksdale, delivered a closing prayer in memory of the fallen airmen.

The public is welcomed and encouraged to visit the memorial which is erected at the Winn Ranger District Office, located at 12319 U.S. Highway 84 West, Winnfield, LA. If you would like more information about the Kisatchie National Forest or the Winn Ranger District, contact Stacy Blomquist at stacy.blomquist@usda.gov or (318)473-7242.