25 years later: remembering the fallen

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Amanda Ling
  • 920th Rescue Wing

Family, friends and fellow Airmen gathered here yesterday to remember and honor those who paid the ultimate sacrifice 25 years ago following the Khobar Towers bombing.

On June 25th 1996, a fuel tanker truck packed with 5,000 pounds of explosives was detonated next to the northern perimeter fence of the 4404th Composite Wing (provisional) barracks near Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. The eight-story building housed 2,000 U.S Forces, including those assigned to the 1st Rescue Group, a precursor to the 920th Rescue Wing, and a deployed fighter squadron. The explosion was heard 20 miles away and left an 85-foot-wide crater. Nineteen service members were killed and 498 were injured.

Individuals identified as members of the Iran-backed Saudi Hezbollah al-Hejaz terrorist group were responsible for the bombing.

Among the 19 lives lost, five of them served at Patrick Space Force base.

They are:
Capt. Christopher J. Adams of Massapequa Park, N.Y.
Capt. Leland T. Haun of Colvis, Calif.
Master Sgt. Michael G. Heiser, Palm Coast, Fla
Staff Sgt. Kevin J. Johnson of Shreveport, La.
Airman First Class Justin R. Wood of Modesta, Calif

Darrell Hankins, a former member of the 1st RQG and current 920th RQW employee, gave opening remarks to those in attendance

“These things we do that others may live is our creed, never to be forgotten, which is why are here today,” said Hankins. “Nineteen Airmen perished on that dreadful day 25 years ago, five of which were from our rescue family here at Patrick.”

A ceremonial presentation of colors and national anthem were performed in reverence before family and friends before the 920th RQW Commander, Col. John Dobbin, addressed the audience.

“When we ask why a friend or loved one was taken too soon, perhaps the true measure isn’t time, but rather purpose," said Col. Dobbin. "Those we recognize today lived with purpose not for self but for others.”

The 19 empty chairs to remember the fallen Airmen were front and center as retired Col. Tom Friers, former 1st Rescue Group commander, spoke about the gravity of their sacrifice and the importance of commemorating.

“This last year and half has brought us mind numbing chaos, COVID -19 and our own nation divided, we can only wonder what the future holds,” said Col. Friers. “One thing that has never wavered during this tumultuous 25 years is the love and respect for the airmen we lost and honor today.

A permanent memorial is located on Patrick Space Force Base just outside of the 920th RQW headquarters. During the ceremony a wreath was placed at the granite memorial dedicated to the 19 Airmen who selflessly lost their lives in service. The ceremony concluded with a 39th Rescue Squadron HC-130J Combat King II flyover and the rendering of a traditional salute by the tipping of their wings in honor of the nineteen.