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    Behind Yukla 27 Memorial

    Donald Cutler, a journeyman cement mason, was driving down the Glenn Highway on his way to his construction job inside Elmendorf when he saw an aircraft climbing after taking off from the base. Cutler said he could vividly remember the E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control System starting to change its course to the left, then suddenly disappearing into the woods. Seconds later he saw a bright fireball and plumes of smoke. At first, he didn’t think much of it; he assumed that the Air Force was burning something near the dump site and that it was unrelated to the aircraft. When he finally reached the Boniface Gate, security forces would not let him in.

    As he was driving back home, he was listening to the radio when they confirmed what he saw.

    “At first I thought we were under attack because the base was on high alert,” Cutler said. “Then I found out a flock of geese had caused a crash.”

    Yukla 27 was airborne at 7:45 a.m. on Sept. 22, 1995. At 7:46 a.m. the co-pilot declared an emergency to the tower. Less than a minute later, crashed just a short distance from where it began its mission. Yukla 27 was airborne for only 40 seconds before the flight ended in tragedy.

    Twenty-two U.S. and two Canadian Airmen lost their lives.

    “When the plane took off, it went up and began to veer to the left,” Cutler said. “If the pilot just went straight down, he would have hit the Fort Richardson housing area—so he prevented further damage and saved lives.”

    Because of his experience as a cement mason, Cutler was asked if he would like to work on the Yukla 27 memorial the following summer. The base had decided to create a monument to honor the fallen in 1996. The 61-year-old did not hesitate to accept the offer.

    “I was honored to help build the memorial; my brother and I jumped at the opportunity to create a monument that means a lot to the families,” Cutler said. “We did not hesitate because we were working on it for the brave men who gave their lives.”

    While working on the memorial, Donald along with his brother Ken, knew what it meant and what it stood for. The brothers took extra time to make sure the wall where the monument stands today was smooth and perfect. At the end of each working day, they made sure the job site was as clean as possible removing any clutter. To them, it was not a regular job; it meant something more.

    “In my mind, members who serve in the military are our heroes. Every day when you guys put on your uniform, you represent me.” Cutler said. “When I got that phone call, it was an obligation that these [Airmen] died for me. They died just as nobly as individuals who died at Normandy Beach. They died standing in line to protect me. And I felt all the emotions when I came into work. I felt a sense of pride working on that job—I was there to honor them.”

    To Air Force Maj. Michael Larson, 3rd Wing executive officer, who sees the Yukla 27 memorial every day as he walks into his office, it expresses many things; the service and brotherhood we have with other nations, such as Canada. It symbolizes the sacrifice of those that have served before us and made the ultimate price. It also symbolizes hope; a hope that we will never forget that sacrifice and learn from tragedy to better ourselves both personally and professionally.

    Though Larson never met Donald in person, he said he had the privilege of speaking to Donald on the phone.

    “I could hear the pride in his voice as he talked about him and his brother, Ken, working to build the iconic memorial,” Larson said. “It was an honor to speak with him. I would simply like to shake their hands and thank them for, not only the work they did but also for providing such a timeless symbol for current and future generations of aviators.”

    The Yukla 27 memorial is a constant reminder of the importance placed on the mission at JBER, how precious life is and how quickly it can be taken from any of us.

    “I knew this site would be revered. I was hoping younger generations will not forget the sacrifice made by the crew,” Cutler said. “Their legacy lives on. The monument is a reminder of the 24 [Airmen] who lost their lives. They will never be forgotten.”



    Date Taken: 03.07.2017
    Date Posted: 03.10.2017 13:24
    Story ID: 226470
    Location: AK, US
    Hometown: WASILLA, AK, US

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