Pair of aviators and community members team up to raise funds for Navy memorial

By Ed Martin, The Leader Editor
A clay rendition of what the final memorial statue will look like as sculpted by Utah artist Dee Jay Bawden.
A clay rendition of what the final memorial statue will look like as sculpted by Utah artist Dee Jay Bawden.
Photo contributed by Lt. Cmdr. Ben Charles

In the long history of military aviation, Naval Air Station Lemoore has played an integral part. Many Lemoore Naval aviators have tragically given their lives, whether in combat over the skies of Vietnam or in unfortunate accidents. A pair of current Naval aviators thought it was about time those aviators who died while serving their country should have a permanent memorial.

Lt. Cmdr. Erik Kenny, an aviator in the VFA-14 “Tophatters” squadron, and fellow aviator and friend Lt. Cmdr. Ben Charles were spurred to action by the death of a friend who perished in an accident and thought it was about time NAS Lemoore created a memorial for those aviators from Lemoore who died while serving here and embarked on a mission to get one created.

“We wanted a place that represented him and others, and honor them for what they did,” said Charles. “There is no memorial in Lemoore.”

A clay replica of the statue has been completed by Utah artist and sculptor Dee Jay Bawden. Kenny recently visited Utah, offered a few suggestions, and the two aviators hope to have a ribbon-cutting ceremony in the fall.

Contribute to the Memorial visit www.facebook/naslemooreama or call 361-816-1986

What inspired the two in their quest for a memorial was the tragic accident, in April 2011 crash of a two-seat Super Hornet in which two aviators lost their lives. One of the pilots, Matt Lowe, was a friend of theirs. They went through flight training together and served in the same squadrons. Nathan Williams, a weapons systems officer, also perished in the crash.

When the two learned that other Navy bases had memorials, they decided that Lemoore needed one. They received permission from base commander Capt. Monty Ashliman, and then members of the outside community also jumped on board, including Kings County residents Guy Brautigam, Travis Lopes and Charlie Meyer, all of whom formed the nonprofit NASL Aviator Memorial Association and set a goal to raise $50,000 for the memorial. To date the non-profit has raised $35,000.

Engraved bricks that will be set in a memorial walk are also available for $250. The aviator statue is a seven-foot bronze figure of an aviator wearing a flight suit and holding a helmet. It will overlook runway 32 L near the operations area on the base. Military and civilians will be allowed access day or night because the memorial will be located outside the operations area gates.

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