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B-52 memorial honors Westover crew lost in 1971 accident

WESTOVER AIR RESERVE BASE, Mass. -- Family members of a Westover B-52 aircrew lost in a Great Lakes training flight accident gathered with the Patriot Wing’s senior leadership in early January to unveil a memorial of the bomber. First Lt. William Passmore, 58th Aerial Port Squadron, and an avid history collector of Westover’s Strategic Air Command era, organized the memorial event held Jan. 7 at the Westover Club. Col. D. Scott Durham, 439th Airlift Wing commander, was the presiding officer and joined the family members in paying tribute to the aircrew. It’s an honor to be here…. you guys are the real heroes,” said Todd Crowley, whose father, Capt. Joel Hirsch, was aboard the B-52. “We didn’t think something like this was going to happen all these years later. “I was really honored when Mr. Passmore reached out to us.” The B-52C Stratofortress accident took place in Lake Michigan on Jan. 7, 1971. The unarmed aircraft was flying a low-level mission when it exploded and crashed into the lake. No one in the nine-member crew survived. Westover housed two squadrons of B-52s at the time of this accident, and was home to the Strategic Air Command’s 99th Bombardment Wing, which also included a squadron of KC-135 tankers. The 99th deployed in 1967 and 1972 for duty in Vietnam. In April 1974, the 99th was inactivated, and SAC turned over operations at Westover to the Air Force Reserve. Durham joined family members in the hallway of the club to install the memorial illustration. Drawn by renowned Air Force illustrator W.C. Pope, who’s also a member of the wing public affairs office, it depicts the tail of the ill-fated B-52 with the sun’s rays shining down on the aircraft. Passmore found a way to line up the anniversary of the accident, because its date happened to match the Sunday of the first UTA in 2018. “I thought what better way to observe the anniversary of this accident than on the UTA?” he said. EDITOR’S NOTE: See the video of this unveiling on Westover’s base cable channel 50. It’s featured on YouTube.com/439westover