Destin Vigil: Memorial items to be sent to servicemen’s families

Savannah Vasquez
Although some items have been removed for an upcoming vigil, the memorial along the Destin Airport fence still displays flags and flowers honoring the 11 fallen servicemen of the Black Hawk accident March 10.

Tim Kirk enjoys taking daily walks along Airport Road with his wife. Recently, the couple has taken a moment of silence during their walk at the memorial along the fence of the Destin Airport that honors the 11 fallen servicemen in the Black Hawk accident earlier this month. However, this week the couple noticed something disturbing; all of the messages and personal items were missing from the memorial.

“To the eye it’s obvious a lot of stuff is gone,” Kirk said when he first noticed the disappearances. “The crosses are out of the ground and the flags that people owned and signed have been taken down. The real personal stuff is all gone, all that is left is fake flowers and little flags. It doesn’t make sense to me.”

With such a tight-knit Destin community, Kirk said it was disconcerting to think that anyone would want to vandalize the memorial.

But vandals were not to blame.

“There is a community group that includes the Destin Jet that is planning a vigil,” said Kathy Newby, public information officer for Okaloosa County. “They are gathering all the personal messages to send them to the families in the units and are going to start a permanent memorial.”

The group planning the vigil is actually headed up by the man who inadvertently started the memorial site, Destin resident Jeff Cole.

“We went and pulled the personalized items from the fence because our plan is to have them sent to the command of each of the soldiers,” said Cole. “I was wondering if I would get anyone concerned, but there is definitely a plan to see to it that they are given to the soldiers families, or at least the command for the soldiers. Rest assured it is all being handled with heart.”

Brian Cherry, one of the general managers at Destin Airport, said on his part, he is happy to provide a location for the vigil.

“From what I understand, some things have been taken off the fence line that will be used in the vigil,” he said. “We are going to take it upon ourselves to send them to the families of the eleven men.”

Cherry added that some of the memorial items have been moved to a more permanent location.

“The painted U.S.A. canvases are being displayed at the U.S.O. at the Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport,” he said. “We wanted to contact the painters to let them know it will be permanently displayed there.”

Final plans are now underway for the Destin vigil, set to be held Tuesday, March 31 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Destin Executive Airport on the tarmac where the Black Hawks are housed. The vigil will include a candlelight service, the Eglin Honor Guard, patriotic music salutes by various performers and speeches given by local pastors, chaplains and community leaders.

“I think it will be a really nice way for the community to come together,” said Heidi LoCicero of Southern Airways Express, who is helping organize the vigil. “We truly want these servicemen’s families and military comrades to know that we stand with them in grief, and plan to honor them going forward.”  

As for Kirk, he was relieved in hearing the news that the missing memorial items are being preserved for the vigil.

“Oh good, I’m so happy to hear that,” he said. “It really was bothering me to think that something had happened. I’m so glad that somebody is doing that for the servicemen.”

Community members interested in adding to the mementos for the families are asked to drop off the items at the Destin Executive Airport. Those wishing to attend the vigil are also encouraged to bring lawn chairs for the ceremony.