North Hempstead veterans stood solemnly in the snow, saluting an American flag lofted high and presenting the colors at a Sunday service for the 75th anniversary of a plane crash that killed five servicemen.
On Jan. 1, 1942, just minutes after the B-25a bomber took off from Mitchel Field, one of its engines failed. To avoid crashing into the homes below in the Hillside Park Oaks area of New Hyde Park, the pilot directed the plummeting plane into a sand pit in the area. All crew members aboard perished.
More than 100 residents, veterans and local officials gathered at the memorial service in Michael Tully Park in New Hyde Park to honor the heroism of the young men, who ranged from 21 to 24 years old.
“The sacrifice of the five young airmen is why we are here today so that we can remember them and we can honor them,” said North Hempstead Supervisor Judi Bosworth. “As the remaining survivors of World War II grow older, it is so important that we pass down stories like this to younger generations so none of these tragic deaths will have been in vain.”
Bosworth said it was difficult to comprehend the duties that the young soldiers were tasked with at such a young age. She read their names: Lt. Charles Van Eeuwen, the pilot; Lt. James Orr, co-pilot; Aviation Cadet Earle Ray, navigator; Pvt. Edwin Onufrowicz, engineer; and Pvt. Joseph Gallik, radio operator.
State Sen. Elaine Phillips (R-Flower Hill) said she hoped that young people today would be able to rise to the same standard of heroism.
“I think we all could say we hope we’re raising our children with the same selflessness and pride in our country that all of you in this audience and these five gentleman gave for us today,” Phillips added.
The New Year’s Day crash happened just weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The plane, which was likely on an anti-submarine patrol, was loaded with multiple bombs, according to local aviation historians.
New Hyde Park resident Michael Dolan said that for veterans, decades-old war memories were still fresh. At age 20, Dolan served as a paratrooper in Vietnam.
“Being a serviceman, it’s something to be proud of all your life,” Dolan said.