New River Aviation Memorial dedicated
July 1, 2006

It will be difficult for motorists entering New River Air Station to ignore the bronze Marines standing on a pedestal inside the main gate.

A granite sign declares the site as "The New River Aviation Memorial," a tribute to the pilots, crews and embarked personnel of New River who lost - and will lose - their lives in defense of the country.

The memorial, 10 years in the making, opened Friday with a ceremony in celebration of not only the service and sacrifice of the fallen heroes, but of the families that fought to morph the dream of a permanent monument into a reality.

Stephanie Zdanavage, the president of the New River Aviation Memorial Foundation, took up the cause after her husband, 1st. Lt. Joe Fandrey, died during a May 1996 helicopter collision above the air station. Fourteen were killed that day. She joined with Susan Watkins, whose husband, Capt. Scott Rice, lost his life in the same crash. Fandrey and Rice were co-pilots in an AH-1W Cobra helicopter.

On Friday, Zdanavage said she is relieved the $280,000 memorial is finally complete after a decade of raising money.

"I'm very glad it's over," she said. "It was 10 years of patience, endurance and dedication."

That dedication resulted in a memorial that is centered on statues of two Marines, one standing and one kneeling. The standing Marine represents all the pilots and air crew who lost their lives flying New River-based aircraft. The crouching figure represents those Marines, sailors or anyone else who died while riding an aircraft.

The statues sit on a 10-sided granite pedestal surrounded by a stone walkway with benches and a path that leads out to the road.

The monument carries no names. The reason, according to Zdanavage, is because the memorial is meant to honor those who will lose their life in the future as well. A journal is being assembled that will contain the names. It will be housed in the air station chapel.

The statue was unveiled before a number of families of those who have died. Gen. Robert Magnus, the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, said the memorial does honor to the service of all Marines.

"This is not intended to be a sad event," he said. "This is a celebration. (The fallen) would think of this not just as a celebration of their lives, but of meaning. The meaning of what they did and why they did it. They had a purpose which was larger than themselves. The calling was a higher calling.

"But this higher calling has a price," he added. "This memorial is to honor the price and, more importantly, the meaning of the price."

Col. Stephen Forand, the air station commander, said he is honored to lead the air station during the opening of the memorial. He says its location at the entrance will be an inspiration to Marines as they drive onto the station in the morning.

"Even if they just glance at it for a moment, that one moment will make them pause and think," he said.

Forand said he is impressed by the devotion of the memorial foundation.

"They did not let up," he said. "They were the driving force. They have as much determination as anyone I have ever known. Out of their loss, they put this together."

Despite the loss and the challenge of raising money, Zdanavage said giving up was never an option.

"I didn't have a choice to quit," she said.