Georgia National Guard stages 2 Memorial Day flyovers to remember the fallen

The Blackhawk helicopters took off from the Clay National Guard Center in Marietta around 10:30 a.m.

ATLANTA — The Georgia Army National Guard conducted a flyover across metro Atlanta and a second one over parts of the state this morning to honor the fallen, and those fighting this new war against coronavirus.

“We will pause for a few moments this day to recognize the sacrifice of our service members and our families,” said Maj. Gen. Tom Carden, Adjutant General of the Georgia Department of Defense. “It is part of our culture to remember and to honor, and it is going to take more than a global pandemic to change that part of us.”

Officials said they were originally asked to flyover Memorial Day ceremonies, but most had been canceled, so this was the next best thing.

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Four Blackhawk helicopters took off from the Clay National Guard Center in Marietta around 10:30 a.m.

A second flyover started at the Hunter Army Air Field and passed over Tybee Island and Bonaventure Cemetery before flying west over the Glennville Veterans Memorial Cemetery and Albany and returning to Savannah.

Channel 2′s Tyisha Fernandes was at Stone Mountain, where people gathered to watch.

People spread out in the parking lot with their phones out to catch a glimpse of the chopper’s both coming and going as they made a loop over the park.

Fernandes spoke to people who came out to Stone Mountain to see the helicopters go by because of the deep military roots in their families.

“We just wanted to see the helicopters and salute all our guys that are in the Army and all the different agencies,” Sheila Lovell said. “Just to thank them for taking care of our country and taking care of us.”

Blackhawk crew has personal connections:

Channel 2′s Mark Winne was in the air with the National Guard in a fifth chopper, a Lakota helicopter that was in a support role.

Brigadier General Randall Simmons, the commander of the Georgia National Guard’s COVID-19 task force, said the flight was to also honor his team and others fighting the coronavirus.

“On this very day, we have three infection control teams disinfecting longterm care facilities on this holiday, and they’re doing it with the memory of those who have fallen," Simmons said.

On the flight, Winne discovered that two of the Blackhawk crew members had a personal connection to one of the flyover locations, the Georgia National Cemetery in Canton.

Pilot Captain James Akin said he had a few friends buried there.

Some of the pilots flew over the gravesites of their friends Monday.

“One of them was killed while I was in Iraq on my last tour,” Akin said. “Normally, I’m on the ground at the cemetery. But to be able to see it from the sky and see how packed the cemetery is now is great to see."

Staff Sergeant Benjamin Sanders Hunter, the crew chief for the Lakota, also had a friend buried in the cemetery, First Sergeant John Blair, who was killed in Afghanistan.

“My wife and I make it a point without the children to come up here and pay our respects, and it means a lot,” Hunter said. “After this flight, I hope to make it up there today.”

Warrant Officer One Richard Nathaniel Wilson said Memorial Day is very important to him because he’s name after his grandfather, Richard Herbert Wilson, who died in Vietnam.

“That’s what made me join the Army, in his footsteps,” Wilson said.

Georgia National Guard Adjutant General Tom Carden said it was important to him to fly as a passenger on one of the chopper on Memorial Day. He said he couldn’t see the faces of the people who gathered on the ground, but he knows most of the faces on the Georgia Guard’s memorial wall for members who have died in the War on Terror.

“On our memorial wall, you’ll find 43 faces,” Carden said. “Twenty-six of those we lost during our deployment to Iraq in operation Iraqi freedom. I served with many of those soldiers at home and abroad and their memory is obviously in my mind and my heart.”

Carden said they put the 43rd face on the wall just this past week. Master Sergeant Mark Allen died in 2019 as a result of wounds suffered in Afghanistan in 2009.

Captain Edner Julien said he flew as a passenger with the National Guard as well because he is a key member of General Carden’s staff, but also has a deeply personal connection to Memorial Day.

" A couple of years ago, I lost one of my friends, Justin Sission. He paid the ultimate sacrifice," Julien said. “So to me, it was a little bit more emotional, especially wen we were flying over one of the cemeteries, to see all the people out there who took their time to come out and say thank you.”

The ?America Strong Flyover? began in Marietta and is going to Kennesaw, Canton, Jasper, Dalton, Rome, Cartersville and Hiram.