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Air base remembers men killed on failed Iran hostage rescue mission


April 21, 2000, HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. (AP) - A rose bush has been planted for each of eight servicemen, including five Hurlburt-based airmen, who died in a failed attempt to rescue American hostages from the U.S. embassy in Iran 20 years ago next week. Related feature here

The bushes were ceremoniously placed Thursday in the ground outside the chapel at this Air Force Base in the Florida Panhandle as mission veterans and family members of their lost comrades looked on. A commemorative coin, each with the name of one the deceased engraved on it, was buried with each rose bush.

A symposium and retreat ceremony, which included a flyover by four C-130 transports in a missing man formation, preceded the planting.

Air Force Lt. Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, deputy commander of the United States Special Operations Command, spoke during the ceremony of the impact the mission had.

"It changed us forever," Schwartz said. "Never again will we be so unprepared, so ill-equipped."

The failure prompted Congress and the military to expand, improve and better coordinate the special operations forces of all services. The U.S. Special Operations Command was created at Fort Bragg, N.C., as a result of the disaster. The joint command is now at MacDill Air Force Base near Tampa.

The rosebush planting replicated a similar ceremony held outside the 8th Special Operations Squadron's headquarters here after the mission. Those bushes, however, were lost when the building and the rest of Hurlburt expanded.

The five airmen and three Marines died when a Marine Corps RH-53 helicopter that was lifting off collided with a four-engine turboprop C-130 parked at Desert One, a clandestine refueling site in Iran , on April 25, 1980.

"Be assured they did not die in vain," said Lt. Col. Ray Chapman, the 8th's current commander. "Today, we are properly funded and trained to operate the most sophisticated machines and equipment available anywhere in the world."

After being held 444 days, the 52 hostages were released in January 1981.

Symposium speakers included retired Col. James Kyle, the Air Force's on-scene commander, who wrote "The Guts to Try," a book about the mission.

Kyle, now residing in Honolulu, took the name from a message on a case of beer given to surviving airmen by British workers at an airfield in Oman, which had been used as a staging base. It read: "To you all from us all for having the guts to try."

The rescue mission had been scrubbed just before the crash because only five of eight Navy and Marine helicopters had made it to Desert One in working order after flying through a sand storm from the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz.

Kyle said there were problems both with the helicopters, which lacked sophisticated navigation gear of Air Force MH-53 Pave Lows, and pilots who were unused to flying with night vision goggles or in dusty desert conditions.

At the time, however, there were not enough Pave Lows to do the mission and the Navy resisted efforts to let Air Force pilots fly the helicopters, Kyle said.

The humanitarian group No Greater Love will hold another memorial service Tuesday at Arlington National Cemetery.

The five airmen killed were Maj. Richard L. Bakke, of Long Beach, Calif.; Maj. Harold L. Lewis Jr., of Mansfield, Conn.; Tech. Sgt. Joel C. Mayo, of Harrisville, Mich.; Capt. Lyn D. McIntosh, of Valdosta, Ga., and Capt. Charles T. McMillan, of Corryton, Tenn.

The Marines were Sgt. John D. Harvey, of Richmond, Va.; Cpl. George N. Holmes Jr., of Pine Bluff, Ark., and Staff Sgt. Dewey L. Johnson, of Dublin, Ga.

"Special Operations success in Grenada, Panama, Kuwait, Bosnia, Kosovo, and contingencies yet attempted," Chapman said, "are because they, the men we honor today, had the guts to try."


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