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Friday, November 06, 2009

Remembering those who served

Witness recalls Huddleston crash that killed three.

A marker was erected at Glenwood Sunoco in memory of three men who died when a plane crashed at a nearby farm in 1950.

Laurie Edwards

A marker was erected at Glenwood Sunoco in memory of three men who died when a plane crashed at a nearby farm in 1950.

In 2002, the American Legion Post, Board Canady, #54, served as the military liaison at the dedication ceremony for a memorial for the victims of a 1950 Navy plane crash in Huddleston.

Courtesy of Richard McGann

In 2002, the American Legion Post, Board Canady, #54, served as the military liaison at the dedication ceremony for a memorial for the victims of a 1950 Navy plane crash in Huddleston.

It was a hot, sticky, cloudy night on June 22, 1950. With no air-conditioning, Larry Lynch, then 12 years old, and his family were sitting on the porch. Around 8:30 p.m., they heard a plane approaching from the west.

"It made a strange noise and then there was a loud pop," said Lynch of Bedford. "It was also cloudy, so you didn't see all of it until it broke through the clouds pretty low."

The plane was in a dive. Lynch recalls hearing the plane crash moments later about two miles from his family's home on the J.A. Laughlin farm in Huddleston.

"There was a neighbor, and my dad and I got in the truck and went over to the crash site," recalled Lynch. "There were probably less than 10 vehicles when we got there."

Hundreds of other cars would follow in the hour before the sheriff's department and fire department arrived. The drivers turned their cars so the headlights shone on the scene. The crash sight was on fire and the stench of gasoline filled the air. Lynch remembers seeing plane and body parts strewn across the field.

"It was a pretty gruesome sight," he said. "I was 12 years old and it made a very big impression on me."

Lynch later learned that it was an AJ-1, commonly called a Savage, an experimental Navy plane built to carry an atomic bomb.

Reports that surfaced in the days following the crash stated that the plane was on its first transnational flight from Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., to Patuxent Naval Base, Md.

There were three men on board -- Lt. Cmdr. Willard Sampson, Naval pilot; James Moore Jr., employee of North American Aviation Corp., which manufactured the plane; and Holiday Lee Turner, employee of the Navy Bureau of Aeronautics. None survived.

For more than 50 years, the crash lived in the memory of the witnesses. But in 2002, a permanent memorial was erected near the crash site at Glenwood Sunoco to the three men who died.

The memorial was the brainchild of Jeffrey Clemens, then pastor of New Prospect Church in Bedford. A former Army pastor, he was interested in erecting memorials at the sites of five military plane crashes that killed 13 men in Bedford County from 1943 to 1950.

The community came together for the task, raising money and arranging dedication ceremonies. Richard McGann, president of McGann Masonry in Lynchburg, built the markers.

At the Huddleston crash site, an 868-pound granite marker was dedicated on Nov. 10, 2002.

"We had an official ceremony here," said McGann, a U.S. Navy veteran.

A church choir provided music, including the U.S. Navy hymn "Eternal Father, Strong to Save." A bagpiper played "Amazing Grace."

Lynch gave a witness testimony at the ceremony.

An 812-year Army Reserves veteran, Lynch's American Legion Post, Board Canady, #54, was heavily involved with all five memorial sites, acting as military liaisons, said Lynch. The Huddleston one, however, held special meaning for him.

"I probably did extra work to make sure that one got up," said Lynch. "I definitely worked on that one harder than any of the others."

As the dedication ceremony loomed, Lynch said the memories of that night weighed heavily on his mind.

"It all came back, so I wanted to go to the site again," he said. "I went back and you never would have known there was a plane crash there."

The memorial, however, will live on in memory of the three men who died on that hot, sticky night in 1950. Just as the night lives on in Lynch's mind 59 years later.

"It's a strange thing, I guess. If you hear a plane, even today, and you hear it changing sounds like it's diving or climbing ... I'm going to go look at it to make sure there isn't another one crashing," said Lynch. "That's probably what brings it back more than anything else."

To view the memorial, visit the Glenwood Sunoco at 2074 Smith Mountain Lake Parkway in Huddleston.