Then they did the one thing that changes a good idea into something meaningful and valuable — they got busy. They helped raise the $2,300 needed for the marker. A crowd of more than 100 turned out for its unveiling.
“There is a lot more people here than we would have thought,” Bennett said.
Becky Riddle, Historical Marker Program Coordinator for the state, was also impressed by the large turnout. She said she has attended a lot of these events, but this is the first where there was a tent.
According to Riddle, there are more than 2,100 such markers throughout the state with 22 in Lincoln County.
Seeing each marker in the state, then, would be a history of the commonwealth. A history that would not be complete without remembering what was a life-changing event in the lives of the families of the men and the community touched by the tragedy.
According to a website created to enlist support for the marker project, the B-58 Hustler was the first operational supersonic jet bomber capable of Mach 2 flight. It was designed to fly so high and fast that Soviet radar and bombers would not be able to keep the plane from dropping its nuclear payload capable of destroying a city the size of Chicago.
That December night in 1966 was not only cold but also was during the height of the cold war. The Air Force would officially renamed Bunker Hill Air Force Base as Grissom Air Force Base in 1968 in honor of Gus Grissom who died on Apollo 1. The B-58s, including the one that crashed in McKinney, were part of the genesis of the space program, which was in itself largely an element of the cold war.
Many who were close by when the plane crashed thought first the Soviets had attacked.
Of those gathered under the tent Saturday, many remember the tension and fear, which makes the idea of three young crew members strapped to what was essentially a rocket even more poignant.
A large photo of the actual plane was found online and framed for the occasion. A gust of wind sent the photo to the ground, breaking the glass. It was good-naturedly replaced on the easel to become an unintentionally powerful image for the event.
Photos of the aftermath were shared for the first time, uncovered from a drawer at The Lexington Herald-Leader where they had been for decades. The state police confiscated those taken by reporters, citing national security.
In attendance was a veritable battalion of motorcycles driven by the Patriot Guard Riders in their uniforms of leather. Also on hand was family members of the fallen crew, some from as far as Florida.
Rev. Donald Scilley, who was on the scene 47 years ago while the ground still smoldered, took the stage to talk and was moved to tears by the memories.
Darrell Houvios lives in Cincinnati now but he was a boy dozing in front of “The Big Valley” on TV when the earth shook and the lights went out.
“I remember seeing the hillside lit up like a Christmas tree,” he said. He and his family hopped into the Rambler and got there fast. Maybe too fast.
“I still remember the lines stretched out — from the parachute that had not opened — where they were too low for the parachute to deploy by the time he ejected,” he said about one of the crew members, still strapped into his seat on the ground. Houvios holds his fist by his side to show how the officer was still holding on to the stick at his side even in death.
Houvios, Scilley and others in the area remember the night and tell the story as if they have been placeholders in history for the men who died there. Two bodies were never recovered.
Bennett and Reed took over that task and now have helped mark the place so everyone can share that story forever.
“It’s in no way about me or Alan,” Bennett said. “This was a piece of history that had not been recorded and neither one of us — any of us — wanted to see it lost.”