by Master Sgt. Jim Katzaman
FORT MEADE, Md. (AFNS) -- Four decades of anguish and uncertainty came to closure Oct. 21 when family members of an aircrew downed in the early days of the Cold War gathered here as the Air Force honored their fathers' and brothers' ultimate sacrifice.
For more than 40 years, the aircrew of RB-29 "Alone, Unarmed and Unafraid" was listed as presumed dead after a "non-battle" accident. Back home their families and loved ones could only wonder what happened to the reconnaissance aircraft that disappeared without a trace June 13, 1952, during a mission over the Sea of Japan.
The mystery began to unravel in 1993 as archives from the former Soviet Union revealed that two MiG-15 fighters shot down the 91st Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron plane and crew. No longer an accident, the Air Force reclassified the disappearance as a combat action.
In September, after reviewing specifics of the mission and the shootdown, the Air Force authorized posthumous presentations of Purple Heart and Distinguished Flying Cross medals to the crewmen's next of kin.
The downed crew members were Maj. Samuel N. Busch, Capt. Samuel D. Service, Capt. James A. Sculley, 1st Lt. Robert J. McDonnell, Master Sgt. William R. Homer, Master Sgt. David L. Moore, Staff Sgt. William A. Blizzard, Staff Sgt. Miguel W. Monserrat, Staff Sgt. Eddie R. Berg, Staff Sgt. Leon F. Bonura, Staff Sgt. Roscoe G. Becker and Airman 1st Class Danny H. Pillsbury.
Through the years the 91st SRS, based during the Korean War at Yokota Air Base, Japan, has changed names and locations. The unit is the present-day 91st Intelligence Squadron at Fort Meade.
When squadron officials learned the Air Force authorized the medals, they offered family members the opportunity to attend a formal military presentation. Eight families accepted the invitation to the ceremony.
Maj. Dorothy J. Whitlock, 91st IS commander, addressed the families and current Air Force members at the presentation:
"To those of us who wear a military uniform or to those who have worn a military uniform in the past, we know there is no greater service, no greater sacrifice than to give your life in the performance of military duties for your country.
"These men never returned," she said, "but these men and their sacrifices are not forgotten ... May their story and their spirits provide inspiration to us all."
Army Col. Stuart Herrington, former deputy director of Task Force Russia, which has combed through Russian archives to learn the facts of this and other unsolved Cold War incidents, joined Whitlock to present the medals.
The Bolling AFB, D.C., Honor Guard rendered a 21-gun salute and played "Taps" to close the ceremony.
(Katzaman is assigned to 694th Intelligence Group public affairs)