Honoring the fallen

Drew Rhoads (center) helps break the ground for the NAS Lemoore Aviator Memorial Association's monument along with NAS Lemoore Commanding Officer Capt. Monty Ashliman, Lt. Cmdr. Erik Kenny, Lt. Cmdr. Ben Charles, and Capt. Dave Koss, Deputy Commander Strike Fighter Wing U.S. Pacific Fleet. (Not pictured, AMA board members Charlie Meyer, Travis Lopes, and Guy Brautigam.)

Photo by Melinda Larson

Eight shovels broke the ground on Aug. 12 where a seven-foot tall bronze statue of a pilot holding his helmet will stand watch over NAS Lemoore’s runway 32L. With the groundbreaking, the NAS Lemoore Aviator Memorial Association (AMA) is one step closer to its vision.

“We want a memorial that will remind us in our own ways to remember, honor and cherish those who have gone before us,” said Lt. Cmdr. Erik Kenny, one of the AMA’s founders.

Kenny, and fellow aviator Lt. Cmdr. Charles Benjamin, began the association after losing two friends in an aviation training accident on April 6, 2011.

“The loss of Lt. Matthew Lowe and Lt. Nate Williams affected everyone dramatically in our community. The accident happened just about a mile over my left shoulder. We felt like there had to be a memorial to them as well as the 168 NAS Lemoore pilots who were lost during the Vietnam War,” Kenny said during remarks before the groundbreaking.

It took the AMA some time to become a legal fund raising, non-profit entity. Once fundraising began, the memorial took on a life of its own. Everyone from corporate sponsors to seven-year olds wanted to help make the memorial a reality.

“Drew Rhoads is a perfect example of the amazing relationship that we have with the local community,” said Lt. Cmdr. Ben Charles, another AMA founder. “I was Drew's coach during T-ball. He heard about our project and during a game he gave me the contents of his piggy bank, $9, as a donation. More recently, he had a birthday party and instead of gifts, he asked for donations to the AMA. He gave us just over $280.”

With a junior-sized shovel for the young Rhoads, base leadership and AMA board members lined up to scoop up the ceremonial dirt signifying the groundbreaking.

The statue, which will be surrounded with donor bricks, is expected to stand tall for a ribbon cutting at the site on Oct. 4.

The AMA has raised more than $80,000, well past its goal of $50,000. Charles said the AMA’s new goal is to raise $100,000 that could expand the walkways at the site. The group also hopes to eventually fund scholarships.

To learn more about the NAS Lemoore AMA, follow them on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/NASLEMOOREAMA

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