MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan (NNS) -- Navy Information Operations Command (NIOC) Misawa held their 44th annual memorial ceremony April 15 to honor the 31 service members who perished after their EC-121 aircraft was shot down over the Sea of Japan 44 years ago.
The EC-121 shootdown incident occurred April 15, 1969.
A Navy Lockheed EC-121M Warning Star aircraft was on a reconnaissance mission when it was shot down by North Korean MiG-17 aircraft. The entire crew was killed.
Since then, Misawa-based Sailors have been
conducting an annual memorial ceremony in honor of the entire crew who lost their lives while flying on a routine mission.
"Their mission, call sign, 'Deep Sea 129', was referred to as intelligence gathering," said Commander Task Force 72 Deputy Commander Capt. Dave Wright, who served as the ceremony's guest speaker. "Two-hundred of these flights were executed without incident in just the first three months of 1969, the acknowledged risk to the aircraft and crew was minimal. However, that mission was never completed, the aircraft was never recovered, 30 Sailors and one Marine never saw home base again."
The EC-121 Warning Star belonged to the Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron (VQ) 1. On this fateful day 44 years ago, it departed Naval Air Facility Atsugi, Japan and disappeared off radar at 1:47 p.m.
Pilot Lt. Cmdr. James Overstreet received word six hours into the mission that two North Korean MiGs were en route to intercept. Despite all efforts, the slower propeller-driven aircraft was unable to evade the MiGs. The EC-121 went down in international waters.
"Any time you're flying aircraft, there's always some level of danger," Said Cryptologic Technician Collection 1st Class Brady T. Craig, a native of Rogers, Ark., who coordinated this year's event. "So today's memorial is a humbling experience because we're representing the people who've gone before us and carry on the torch for them."
At the closing of the ceremony, the names of the fallen were read aloud. As each individual EC-121 crew member's name was read aloud, two bells were rung in their honor. After all 31 names were read, a bugler from the Japan Air Self-Defense Force played taps.
As part of the ceremony's tradition, NIOC Misawa concluded the ceremony by taking a ceremonial wreath to Misawa Beach, where it was laid out to sea as a final tribute to the fallen.
As the wreath slowly was pulled out to sea, NIOC Sailors silently observed its exodus into the horizon.
"The crew members of Deep Sea 129 will not be forgotten. Their dedication to our country and their ongoing mission is something we still celebrate today," said Wright. "With every mission flown by VQ-1, and indeed every other reconnaissance mission flown by U.S. aircraft in the Navy, Army, and Air Force, the mission, memory, and dedication of the 31 men of Deep Sea 129 lives on."
For more news from Naval Air Facility Misawa, check out our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/nafmisawa.