Forgotten heroes: Arlington base drops the ball on veteran memorial service

Advocates fear growing neglect from military

ARLINGTON, VA - The base where the Bakers Creek Memorial sits has a long tradition of honoring the nation’s fallen heroes in Arlington Cemetery. The memorial is devoted to ensuring 40 American World War II servicemen who died in a tragic plane crash in Australia and the crew's lone survivor aren’t forgotten.

The base houses ceremonial units and honor guards such as “The Old Guard,” the Army’s elite 3rd Infantry Regiment. Members conduct memorial affairs, appear at White House events and meet stringent requirements for solemn occasions.

A memorial service for the Bakers Creek veterans has been an annual tradition at Arlington Cemetery since 2009. But this year, there was no speech, prayer or base commander in attendance and an early start time meant elderly family members from West Virginia and Maryland couldn’t attend. 

Robert Cutler, the volunteer executive director of the Bakers Creek Memorial Association U.S.A, worried last week's cursory wreath-laying ceremony signaled growing neglect from Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall.

“The concerns of the families were never considered in the planning of this event,” Cutler, a retired George Washington University professor, said. “We’re being marginalized, and we don’t like it.”

Cutler and other volunteers have been instrumental in telling crash victims’ family members what really happened to their loved ones. Wartime censorship kept the story of the crash secret for decades.

The plane nicknamed “Miss Every Morning Fix’n” went down about 6 a.m. just after takeoff, crashing near the tiny town of Bakers Creek about five miles the east coast of Queensland, Australia.

Cutler became interested in the tragic World War II crash after discovering a reference to it in his father’s wartime diary.

The late Sam Cutler was officer of the day and closed the hatch on the B-17C, a “Flying Fortress” converted for troop transport, just before it took off the last time. Foye Kenneth Roberts of Wichita Falls, Texas, was the only soldier to walk away from the crash.

After Friday’s ceremony, Cutler confronted a civilian base official. “What’s happened to the dignity and the honor of the ceremony?” Cutler said.

The base official, who declined to give his name, said the ceremony was held in the morning because unpredictable spring weather often brings afternoon showers.

He told Cutler they could review his complaints later.

The base later issued a statement, saying requests for support are “fulfilled based on availability of assets, cost and mission tempo. A request is granted if there is no other conflicting mission to the joint base.”

The "Miss Every Morning Fix’n" was full of American G.I.s who had been on 10 days R&R. They were returning to the battlefield in New Guinea when the plane went down on June 14, 1943. The cause of the crash is still unknown.

Scripps Washington correspondent Trish Choate can be reached at Trish.Choate@Scripps.com. Follow her on Twitter at Trish_in_DC

Print this article Back to Top

Comments
Featured
DecodeDC's Mission

DecodeDC's foremost aim is to be useful. That means being a reliable, honest and highly entertaining source of insight and explanation. It also means providing multimedia coverage of Washington's people, culture, policies and politics that is enlightening and enjoyable. Whether it's a podcast, a video, an interactive graphic, a short story or a long analysis, it will be based on this guiding principle: We are in DC but not OF DC.