VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WVEC) -- Air National Guardsmen and family members came together Thursday at Camp Pendleton to remember the victims of a tragic airplane crash.
It was fifteen years ago to the day that the Virginia Air National Guard airmen were on their way home to Virginia Beach.
Their C-23 "Sherpa," en route back from an engineering mission in Florida crashed in a cotton field in Unadilla, Georgia, killing the eighteen 203rd Red Horse Squadron airmen, plus three Florida Army National Guard aviators.
At a ceremony outside the unit's headquarters, the victims' names were read. An honor wreath was laid. "Taps" was played.
"And it doesn't seem like 15 years at all," said Master Sergeant Alfred Dirosa, who lost his brother-in-law in the crash. " I can still remember the exact emotions and everything we went through that day."
It goes down as the worst aviation disaster in National Guard history, and, the largest loss of life for the Virginia National Guard since World War II.
The squadron's current commander, Lieutenant Colonel Stock Dinsmore, has been a member of the 203rd for nineteen years. He said theirs' can be a dangerous business, even on a peace-time mission.
"We travel and in this case fly more than probably the normal citizens do," he said. "So there are consequences and sometimes, unfortunately they're fatal."
Family members said they take comfort of seeing one another at these ceremonies.
Laverne Johnson lost her husband, Randy.
"I never miss one," she said. "I've been to every one as far as I know of. Lord willing, I will be back here next year."
Her daughter, Ladeja, now 15, was just a baby in 2001. She said she, too, likes to attend the ceremony.
"Yes, it's good to be here because I love seeing the people and it's good to see that they care," she said.
Ellen Summerell, who lost her husband, Rick, had mixed feelings about the get-together.
"It's nice they continue to honor the men and that's what I appreciate," she said. "They continue to honor the men. But it's difficult. It just takes you back. And, you re-live."
But life certainly does go on for the 203rd Red Horse Squadron. The unit will depart for its fourth major overseas deployment since the accident, later this year.