|By Carmelo Turdo|
Boeing Employees, family, and guests assembled before the 3:30pm ceremony at the former McDonnell Douglas World Headquarters, now part of the Boeing Company, and now the site of the Military Veterans Honor Wall for St. Louis employee veterans. It was dedicated on November 11, 2005, and contains small metal plaques with the name and branch of service for each current or past St. Louis Boeing or McDonnell Douglas employee veteran.
Prior to the official ceremony, we captured some photos of the Boeing Fire and Rescue crews visiting with Liberty, a bald eagle from the World Bird Sanctuary. Liberty was severely injured while living in Florida, and since he cannot survive in the wild, he has served in the educational programs at the World Bird Sanctuary for over 20 years.
Introductory music was provided by the John Ford Highland Pipe Band and the Boeing Employee Musical Performance Club Concert Band.
Dave Thomas, U.S. Marine Corps veteran and President of the St. Louis Veterans Task Force who produced the event, was the master of ceremonies for the hour-long program.
After brief welcoming remarks, Rabbi Schwab from the VA Hospital system gave a moving invocation.
The service branch colors were posted by the USTRANSCOM Joint Service Color Guard from Scott AFB, IL and the National Anthem was performed by the Boeing Employee Musical Performance Club Balladeers vocal group.
Guest speakers for the program were (L-R) Rocky Sickmann, U.S. Marine Corps Sergeant who was one of the 52 U.S. hostages held in Iran for 444 days from 1979-1981; Brigadier General Leo Brooks, Jr., U.S. Army (Ret.), and current Boeing Defense, Space and Security Vice President of Government Operations; and Lt. General, U.S. Air Force (Ret.) and former NASA astronaut Thomas Stafford, veteran of Gemini VI, Gemini IX, Apollo 10 and the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project flight.
General Stafford remained on the stage and was joined by General Brooks and the bald eagle Liberty for the unveiling of the Gemini IX Memorial. Stafford and fellow astronaut Gene Cernan were the backup crew for astronauts Elliot M.See, Jr. and Charles A. Bassett, II. On February 28, 1966, both crews were flying in NASA T-38 jets from Ellington AFB, TX to St. Louis for a visit to the McDonnell Aircraft plant for training in the rendezvous simulator. Both aircraft reached St. Louis around 9:00am, and Lambert St. Louis Airport was experiencing drizzle and fog - instrument flight conditions. Tragically, See and Bassett were killed when their jet struck McDonnell Aircraft Building 101, ironically where the Gemini spacecraft were being produced, as they missed their approach and began a low-level turn to attempt another landing. Stafford and Cernan, in the other T-38, pulled up higher in their missed approach and landed safely on the next attempt. Fifty years later, a memorial plaque has been produced and was unveiled during Wednesday's Veterans Day Recognition event. The memorial has been years in the making, and has reached fruition in part through much effort by Dan O'Hara, President of the Missouri Aviation Historical Society, and Boeing St. Louis. Following the dedication, a group of McDonnell Douglas retirees who worked on the Gemini Program were featured in a group photo.
The program concluded with the traditional singing of the service anthems by the Boeing Employee Musical Performance Club Balladeers vocal group and recognition of veterans of each service. The USTRANSCOM Joint Service Color Guard then returned to remove the service flags. Refreshments were served, and Boeing presented each veteran with a Boeing Centennial Veterans Recognition challenge coin.
Well done, Boeing St. Louis and all those who participated in this year's Veterans Day Recognition event.