On a foggy, cold evening in Corpus Christi, Texas one year ago tonight at 8:15PM, Lt. Joshua W. Gross, my brother-in-law, gave his 30-year life for our great country. Beloved Josh, my head is bowed in prayer and remembrance for you today.
Whenever my eyes rest upon an American flag, the meaning is so much more for me, and it always will be.
Two other sailors were also lost in that crash, and my heart bleeds along with their families’ hearts.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Alexander LeMarr, 25, of Colorado.
Petty Officer 2nd Class David Davison, 22, of Oklahoma.
From my friends here in Corpus Christi, I know that they learned of this tragedy by simply watching television. They knew that Josh was gone about 12 hours before I did. My Navy Lieutenant husband learned of the crash from Department of Defense reports and from an article on CNN. He called me at 11:17AM on January 17, 2008 to tell me that he believed Josh was dead, and he pointed me to the CNN article, which I pulled up in a co-worker’s office. After reading it, I collapsed in tears on the floor. Josh’s cell phone went straight to voicemail. Emails to him went unanswered.
Josh was dead.
In this age of the 24-hour news cycle and real time technology, I know nearly all of the details of the crash that claimed him from this earthly world.
At about 6:30 p.m., the helicopter left Naval Air Station, Corpus Christi, and no other MH-53E helicopters were flying that night.
Five minutes after take off, the crew radioed in a change of route to McCampbell Airport due to weather.
At 8 p.m., a controller received an “ops norm” from the crew, which did not report their position. The controller assumed that the helicopter was still at McCampbell Airfield.
At 8:05 p.m., the crew made their first call to Corpus Christi approach. Hearing no urgency, the controller told the crew to “stand by” and continued to direct IFR traffic.
A minute later, the approach controller re-established contact, offering assistance. The crew reported their position as being on the “one nine zero” 16 miles from Corpus Christi International Airport. FAA radar data placed the helicopter 7 nautical miles south of Corpus Christi International Airport, near the KEDT antenna tower.
At 8:06 p.m., the approach controller assigned a discrete IFR code and requested confirmation. Five seconds later, the crew replied, reporting that their altitude was 1,000 feet.
This was the helicopter’s last radio call.
After the helicopter crashed into the tower, the TV station went off the air at about 8:15 p.m. A dense fog advisory was issued later at 8:58 p.m., according to previous reports.
I have never watched the videos of the crash site that night, and the picture is enough to make my blood run cold and for tears to stream unrelenting down my face.
Josh’s body was broken and bleeding in that fire.
Even with all the details of this crash, most of which I never wanted to know, I have no comfort or solace. I do not need to blame anything. I do not need a reason.
I need to be able to see Josh’s face again, hear his voice, hold his body, and tell him how much I love him. And I will never have that, despite my need which tears at my soul.
In the aftermath of the crash, I experienced the kindness of strangers and felt the hatred of bigotry and fear far more than I had ever dared to contemplate.
I recently met the pilot who survived that crash. I fall to my knees in humble gratefulness that his lovely wife, handsome son, and beautiful new baby girl do not know the pain of this kind of loss. Unknown to both of them, his wife was pregnant with their precious daughter at the time of the crash. She will know her father. Born of tragedy, an ethereal blessing in life. Thanks be to God.
And though I will never be with Josh in this world again, I have hugged the pilot, his wife and son, and held his baby girl so close in thanks and blessing for his continued life, knowing that his pain is overwhelming as well.
My experience of losing a loved one in service to his country is unlike anything else I have been through, and though Josh’s blood is not on the hands of our current President, I think everyday about our military sons and daughters who have been placed in harm’s way. Like Josh, they go willingly and faithfully to serve us, so that we don’t have to, and regardless of our opinions strongly held by the freedom given to us as Americans, all of their lives are precious and never lost in vain.
I pray for all of our military, especially those serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom for their safe return. I pray for the other Gold Star Families who have known the pain of loss that I know and carry.
For Josh, all that you were and all that you are, my brother, whom I miss so much…
Fair winds and following seas, beloved…