VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) – On this day in 2001, 18 Virginia Air Guardsmen from the 203d Red Horse Squadron at Camp Pendleton in Virginia Beach and three Florida Army National Guard aviators were killed. They were returning from military training when their plane went down. The disaster was the worst loss of life in the Virginia National Guard since World War II. The victims will never be forgotten.
“It’s sad, but we want to honor our loved ones,” Bonnie Self said. “I want to honor Jim as a good man, a good father, a good friend.”
He was a hero, who chose to make a difference with his life. And on March 3, 2001, what seemed routine — a plane-ride returning from military training — turned tragic. Twenty-one of those “good fathers and friends” lost their lives, including Staff Sergeant Paul Cramer.
“It was completely unexpected,” Sarah Cramer said. “We did not see this coming. He just went down to Florida for the training. I was 10, and it was incredibly shocking.”
“As the news trickled in all day and evening long, it was just unbelievable and still seems like it was just yesterday,” Al Dirosa said. “We brought Red Horse units from all over the country to help build this, so that was very, it was a really unique experience and kinda helped with closure. I think it helped us, and I try to always come, always come and remember.”
Fourteen years have gone by, but the close-knit family once shaken has remained strong with constant reminders of sacrifices already made.
“These citizens have additional jobs,” Lt.Col. Stock Dinsmore said. “This isn’t their full-time duty, so it’s even more of a commitment for them to come in and give their service to their country. I think it’s important that we take the time to remember those who set the stage for future generations. We remind them of the sacrifices that others have made so that they can be a part of this great military and carry on that heritage.”