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Keeping memories alive

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  • Keeping memories alive

    June 24, 2007 - 12:00AM

    Marge Holden has been coping with the loss of her fiance for 40 years.

    George Bondarewicz perished in a helicopter crash that also claimed the lives of 21 other Marines and sailors. But the crash did not occur in hostile territory or during combat.

    These men died at Jacksonville's own New River Air Station.

    "It's unbelievable something like that could happen," said Holden, 60. "They were going around base in an area they were familiar with. That's what caught them off guard, being in a familiar area."

    The midair collision occurred when an ascending UH-1E Huey hit a CH-53A Sea Stallion from below during a training exercise. Thirteen on board that day survived and still carry the memory with them.

    "I've never left the fold," said Norman "Frenchy" LaFountaine, who was injured in the crash. "I made a pledge that they'd never be forgotten. Nobody's dead until they are forgotten, and we can never let that happen."

    After 40 years of solitary grieving, Holden has chosen a different path to recovery, one she wants to extend to families of the fallen, as well as to today's wounded servicemen and women.

    "When somebody dies, you have all these thoughts. I mean, you do hate God," Holden said. "There are 22 families that went through this, so there's a lot of healing that needs to be done."

    For the first time since the 1967 helicopter crash, survivors and family members of those lost gathered Saturday morning to honor the fallen at the New River Air Station's Aviation Memorial.

    After visiting the scene of the crash, attendees returned to the memorial for prayer and reflection on the same date the fateful incident occurred.

    Led by retired Navy chaplain Joe Capper, the ceremony allowed them to speak up and bond with friend and stranger alike.

    "I think about this all the time," said Charles Nightingale, who was critically injured in the crash. "It's hard to believe it's been 40 years. I hope this can serve as a bit of inspiration for the future."

    Lt. Colonel Victor Ambrose, operations officer for the air station, called the ceremony a time of reflection for all Marines, upholding a brotherhood that has transcended generations.

    "This is an apt time to reflect, we're still linked with those we miss," Ambrose said. "This is what Marines do - remember our own, never forget."

    Although Mary Butler was not at the ceremony, she keeps the memory of her little brother's death close to her heart, the events of that summer day still fresh in her mind.

    "The day my brother was killed will always be engraved on my memory," Butler said. "I cannot even relate the terrible grief we all felt, but I remember it clearly."

    Saturday's reunion and ceremony helped Holden spearhead her prolonged desire to develop healing programs for fallen Marines' families. The result is an alliance with Miracle Meadows Therapeutic Riding Center.

    Located off Ramsey Road, the stables offer equine rehabilitation for children and adults with neurological, emotional and mental disorders.

    Therapeutic riding helps in a number of ways, said Capper, executive director of the center. Not an entirely new form of therapy, therapeutic riding has been known to help treat myriad conditions, from multiple sclerosis to autism, he said. Not only does it build confidence by bonding with the horse, it also stimulates body coordination and exercise, Capper said.

    "Horse movements mimic human walking," Capper said. "That stimulates the brain to work the muscles and the nervous system and forces all of them to work together."

    Holden hopes the memorial fund will one day offer such support for local families of fallen Marines, as those who mourned with her 40 years ago inspired the special fund.

    "I can relate to a lot of difficult situations in life. I feel that's why people have to go through pain," Holden said. "I think it's only so we can help somebody else through it. If we don't help somebody through it, (we'll just) stew in our juice."

    Visit for more information about the memorial fund.

    Contact Kelley Chambers at or 353-1171, ext. 8462.
    Attached Files

  • #2
    67 Crash

    I was Georges section leader in 261 when the crash happened. There is not a day goes by that he doesn't come up in my memories as well as cpl Bell who also perished. George was one of my BEST Crewchiefs and his loss then as well as today still haunts me. Semper Fi George. You will never die in my heart...


    • #3
      My prayers go out to the families and friends of our brothers who perished in this accident. I was stationed at New River on that day. Although I was not on duty at the time of the accident, it was an event that I will remember for the rest of my life. May these Marines rest in peace with the Lord. Semper Fi Pat V

      Pat Vaughan - Mar 30, 2008