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Ky. community marks Trigg Co. site where two Black Hawk helicopters crashed this spring

Members of the 101st Airborne Division salute a sign unveiled Monday near the site in Cadiz where two Black Hawk helicopters crashed in March.
Derek Operle
Members of the 101st Airborne Division salute a sign unveiled Monday near the site in Cadiz where two Black Hawk helicopters crashed in March.

A peaceful field on the side of a country highway in Trigg County now bears a sign marking it as the site of a tragedy.

A pair of Black Hawk helicopters crashed not far from where the sign now stands – at the 4.5 mile marker of Maple Grove Road in Cadiz – in March during a nighttime training exercise. The crash killed nine U.S. Army soldiers stationed at Fort Campbell as part of the 101st Airborne Division.

More than 200 community members, officials and relatives of victims of the crash came to the site Monday to pay tribute to the fallen soldiers.

Trigg County Judge-Executive Stan Humphries led the proceedings.

“Today is about much more than a metal sign on a county road. This is our community's way of honoring the lives of nine of America's best,” Humphries said, speaking to the families of the soldiers. “This community has grieved … since that fateful day in March. We have all been forever changed by the events of that night. Your loved ones’ lives will be remembered by this community and we place this sign here as a testament to that.”

Humphries said the community will continue to pay tribute to the soldiers’ “ultimate sacrifice” with the erection of another memorial sign along U.S. 68/80 and – as WKDZ NewsEdge reports – the eventual building of an “all-encompassing military memorial” that pays tribute to Trigg County’s storied military history.

Lt. Col. Tyler Espinoza, commander of 6th Battalion, 101st Combat Aviation Brigade, spoke about the value of community in the Army and how it helps in times of disaster.

“Words cannot express what the community here under your leadership has done for the families of the 101st, and the families of the fallen,” Espinoza said. “These gentlemen who stood on the sacred ground alongside me and my team that morning, shoulder to shoulder with frozen feet, working tirelessly in both the literal and figurative darkness … the kind of emotional darkness that bonds humans together like nothing else.”

Though for many Monday was their first time seeing the site, Maj. Garrett Kuipers said Maple Grove Road has become a place for reflection, storytelling and healing.

“The sign will serve as a beacon of remembrance – a place where future generations of [Screaming] Eagle dustoffers can come to learn of our history, and the resilience of its soldiers and families,” Kuipers said. “Because out of the darkness, chaos and destruction of that night, eventually came the dawn … and the dawn reveals a peaceful meadow, a quiet creek and farmland as far as the eye can see. It is a peaceful place where I've come many times over the past six months to sit, reflect and remember.”

The Army identified the soldiers who died in the crash in April. They include Warrant Officer Jeffery Barnes, 33, of Milton, Florida; Cpl. Emilie Marie Eve Bolanos, 23, of Austin, Texas; Chief Warrant Officer 2 Zachary Esparza, 36, of Jackson, Missouri; Sgt. Isaac J. Gayo, 27, of Los Angeles, California; Staff Sgt. Joshua C. Gore, 25, of Morehead City, North Carolina; Warrant Officer Aaron Healy, 32, of Cape Coral, Florida; Staff Sgt. Taylor Mitchell, 30, of Mountain Brook, Alabama; Chief Warrant Officer 2 Rusten Smith, 32, of Rolla, Missouri; and Sgt. David Solinas Jr., 23, of Oradell, New Jersey.

“They were your loved ones, they were my soldiers and friends and I, as you, miss them dearly. This place reminds me to cherish every moment we have with our loved ones and to live our lives to the fullest,” Kuipers said. “Memorial efforts like this, and the monument that will be erected at Fort Campbell, stand as a promise that we will never forget these brave nine soldiers who were training to uphold the most sacred mission to save human life.”

A native of western Kentucky, Operle earned his bachelor's degree in integrated strategic communications from the University of Kentucky in 2014. Operle spent five years working for Paxton Media/The Paducah Sun as a reporter and editor. In addition to his work in the news industry, Operle is a passionate movie lover and concertgoer.
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