Honoring the fallen: Destin’s Airport Memorial

Savannah Vasquez
Jeff Cole salutes the flag and takes a moment of silence to remember the 11 fallen service men from the recent Black Hawk tragedy.

When Destin resident Jeff Cole heard of the tragic Black Hawk helicopter crash Wednesday morning that left 11 service members assumed dead, he was devastated. The Army veteran had once lived directly across from the Destin Airport, where the military aircraft routinely practiced, and told The Log that he was moved to do something to show his appreciation for the fallen servicemen.

“When I saw it in the news I was just struck because I am a veteran too,” he said. “They’ve been there (at the Destin Airport) on and off for years, and everyday we’d watch them take off and walk around and do maintenance, so it really hit close to home.

Around noon on Wednesday afternoon, Cole place a single American flag along the fence of the airport, then went about his day. After an hour of running errands he drove back by the sight and saw that more flags had been added to the fence line; he had unknowingly launched a memorial sight.

 “I didn’t really intend for that to happen when I put a flag there, but when I went by last night on the way home from work I even saw an electric candle,” he said. “I like to think of those guys as our neighbors now, those are the sounds of freedom, the sounds of those helicopters and things like that; it does mean a lot to America.”

Destin city councilmen Jim Foreman and Jim Wood were also moved by the memorial, as both have served in the U.S. Army.

“Having spent 21 years in the Army, I’ve been around training accidents,” said Foreman, who served as a helicopter pilot during the Vietnam war. “I know it happens but it’s never something you get used to.”

“I know I myself, and the folk’s hearts here pour out for the families who have lost,” Wood told The Log.

“We take it to heart,” said Foreman. “It’s something you don’t want to see, and you know that the lives of those people were taken in a very short period of time.”

Both councilmen explained that city of Destin has long been known for it’s close military ties, given the proximity to Eglin Air Force Base and Hurlburt Field. The Destin Airport is often used for military training.

“This is a very military area and is highly involved in that kind of training,” said Foreman. “What I learned in the military is you have to train. I spent 90 percent of my time training for the 10 percent in combat, so it’s dangerous to be in the military and you have to consider all of those where volunteers… it is a very sad thing.”

By Friday the memorial had grown with countless American flags flapping in the wind, red and white roses, patriotic balloons, personal messages and even a Marine Corps flag. Motorists constantly streamed by stopping to add to the memorial or simply take a moment of silence by the airfield. Councilman Wood even stopped by to take it all in and add his own Army flag to the fence.

“This is really special out here,” he said. “My heartfelt sympathy goes out to all their families.”

For more photos of the memorial CLICK HERE