Traveling memorial honors fallen service members day after Kansas airman dies

By: - June 9, 2021 5:37 pm

The traveling “Remembering Our Fallen” memorial on display outside the Museum of the Kansas National Guard in Topeka opened Wednesday. It honors those military service members who passed away after 9/11. (Noah Taborda/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Veterans, family and friends attended a memorial ceremony for fallen service members Wednesday just one day after an airman of the Kansas National Guard died in a military vehicle training accident.

Airmen of the 184th Air Support Operations Squadron were training 10 miles west of Salina when their vehicle overturned, according to the National Guard. All three people on board were injured, one found unresponsive.

The unresponsive airman died on the way to the hospital via helicopter. The other two airmen are being treated in Salina.

Gov. Laura Kelly in a moment of prayer at the opening ceremony of the traveling memorial Wednesday. Kelly expressed her condolences for the airmen who died Tuesday and said this loss was an example of the value in these memorials. (Noah Taborda/Kansas Reflector)

“I am hoping the two injured airmen a speedy recovery and share my condolences with the family, loved ones and fellow guardsmen of the service member who tragically lost his life,” Gov. Laura Kelly said in a statement following the ceremony, where she also spoke. “His commitment to our state will not be forgotten.”

The cause of the accident is not yet known and is under investigation.

The governor attended the opening ceremony of a traveling memorial honoring veterans who have died since 9/11. The “Remembering Our Fallen” memorial is on display outside the Museum of the Kansas National Guard in Topeka.

The memorial features more than 30 towers with thousands of photographs of deceased veterans. The exhibit will be on display until 6 p.m. Monday.

Kelly said the airman who lost his life in the accident is the reason these types of memorials are important.

“These are folks who really did sacrifice their lives in service to our country,” Kelly said. “They were in training exercises … because you know, much like firefighters, you train, train and train for that one moment and you might be actually required to put it into place.”

The ceremony was attended by dozens of soldiers, active and retired, their families and two Gold Star mothers, whose children died in service to the country.

Justin Gordon, an Army veteran and museum board member, reflected upon his own fallen comrades to help ensure their memories live on. Gordon told the story of Sgt.t 1st Class Paul Smith, who served in the same battalion as him for several years. Smith died in April 2003 outside Baghdad International Airport after defending his fellow soldiers in an ambush.

In 2005, Smith’s family was invited to the White House, where he was honored as the first recipient of the Medal of Honor during the Iraq War.

A veteran performs “Taps” on his trumpet during the opening ceremony. Speakers there shared stories of those they’ve known and lost. (Noah Taborda/Kansas Reflector)

“I myself have eight towers that I need to visit while the memorial is out here,” Gordon said. “These were my West Point classmates. They were my fellow soldiers, and they were my friends.”

Col. Dan Skoda, commander of the Kansas National Guard’s 190th Air Refueling Wing, paid tribute to three Topeka natives killed in action Pfc. Richard Dewater, Pfc. Jeremy Drexler and Spc. Kyle Thomas

Skoda invited those in attendance to share their stories with him and others so that their loved ones would also live on in memory.

“Tell your story with us and the legacy they left behind,” Skoda said. “We will listen and are here to share in your pride and in your sorrow. …By attending today’s event, you honor those who sacrifice everything, and you ensure their brave actions are not forgotten.”

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Noah Taborda
Noah Taborda

Noah Taborda started his journalism career in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Missouri, covering local government and producing an episode of the podcast Show Me The State while earning his bachelor’s degree in radio broadcasting at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Noah then made a short move to Kansas City, Missouri, to work at KCUR as an intern on the talk show Central Standard and then in the newsroom, reporting on daily news and feature stories.