Meaning in sacrifice for Vancouver airman

Military memorial in England honors four who died in Jan. 7 crash

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter




The Twitter tag for the lost helicopter crew is #JollyDown. Shoulder patches for search-and-rescue airmen feature the “Jolly Green Giant” — a nod to a helicopter once flown by rescue units. The call sign for Capt. Christopher Stover’s HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter was Jolly 22. That call sign has been retired.

More than 2,000 people gathered at a British air base Friday to honor four airmen, including Capt. Christopher Stover of Vancouver, who died Jan. 7 in a helicopter crash.

Stover, Capt. Sean Ruane, Tech. Sgt. Dale Mathews and Staff Sgt. Afton Ponce were with the U.S. Air Force's 56th Rescue Squadron, based at RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk, England.

Stover, 28, was a 2004 graduate of Evergreen High School. His parents are Maribel and Richard Stover of Vancouver.

The memorial in Hangar 7 featured a tribute on the draped speakers' platform for each member of the crew, including flying helmet, body armor, rifle, ID tags, boots and "Jolly Green Giant" rescue-unit shoulder patch. Helicopters assembled just outside the open hangar door provided a backdrop to the memorial service.

In his address, Col. Kyle Robinson, 48th Fighter Wing commander, referred to the rescue unit's motto: "That Others May Live."

"We seek to find meaning in their sacrifice," Robinson said, according to a news release from 48th Fighter Wing Public Affairs.

"These airmen go anywhere, anytime, under fire. They never sought out the spotlight. They are the quiet professionals. The things that they do are so that others can live," Robinson said.

Lt. Col. Jared Herbert, 56th Rescue Squadron commander, retired the call sign Jolly 22, which was the designation of the HH-60 that went down.

Herbert then presented medals to the families of the air crew, reported Master Sgt. Carissa Lee and Staff Sgt. Stephanie Mancha of the fighter wing's public affairs office.

The service included an aerial salute by F-15 jet fighters that flew over in what is known as the missing-man formation.

The bodies of the airmen had been returned to the United States on Monday; they were flown to the military mortuary center at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.

According to a friend of the family, the Stovers plan to hold a memorial service for their son in Clark County. When that happens, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee will call for a statewide tribute to Stover.

"We will lower the flag (to half-staff) for Chris on the day of his memorial service," Schuyler Hoss, Inslee's Southwest Washington representative, said in an email. "In addition, we will present a Washington state flag to the family."

According to the Air Force, Stover was piloting the Pave Hawk helicopter when it crashed. The flight was a low-altitude training mission over a nature reserve near Salthouse, England, about 50 miles from their base.

The accident is still under investigation, which could take several weeks. Some media outlets have speculated that the aircraft may have been struck by waterfowl as the helicopter flew low over a salt marsh.