Vincent Gratch’s Speech:

Good morning ARIA family.

I think I can speak for all families that lost a loved one on ARIA 328, when I express my gratitude to the Town of Walkersville, the AGAR 23 Memorial Team, and especially Bob Beach, whose vision, determination, and love of the ARIA family has made this day, this weekend, and most importantly, this memorial and dedication, possible.

We gather this morning not to mourn anew those we lost, rather, to celebrate their lives and reflect on the contributions they made to their family, their mission, and their country.

Most of us here were impacted 37 years ago and I’m sure reflect often on our relationships with those we lost. I was young in 1981; number 9 of 11 children, but because my brother Charlie was an incredible family man, a devoted airman, and a special friend to those he served with, I’ve been blessed with memories that last a lifetime. I’ve shared them often over the years; with my children, friends, even acquaintances. It should not be surprising to any of us that when someone learns of ARIA, what it was and did, and the closeness of those that served in the Wing, interest is piqued. It truly was and remains, a family.

Learning about the exotic and remote places around the world the Wing visited, the exciting missions, the fun the airmen had, the stories of occasional questionable behavior on some of those trips, receiving my brother’s postcards from countries afar, the unique gifts he sent us, remembering his love for his job and those he served with, recalling the long rides for short weekend trips he would take to see us, and the Sunday afternoon phone calls where he insisted on speaking with each of his brothers and sisters – these all provide my family with a treasure of memories that simply do not fade. And it is our faith in God that he had a plan for Charlie – and all those lost – that has helped sustain us these many years.

Of course, each of you has special memories about the person you lost; things that provide you with smiles, laughter, comfort, and pride. Like mine, your lives too were enriched because of who they were, what they did, the love they had for you, but most importantly, because they are children of God. I hope you to continue to share your memories with your families and friends, be ever proud of the service ARIA airmen – both past and alive – gave to our country, and be ever appreciative and supportive of our military men and women who sacrifice so much every day.

Life can be fragile, as we know too well, and we don’t determine our time in this life, for God is in control. While his hand dealt us a major loss some years ago, he would not let us be defeated and has remained by our side. How else can we explain this gathering today?

Over the last day or two we’ve shared stories, experiences, and yes, shed a few tears. But tears are okay, for let us rejoice in the goodness of people… so, so many decent people that still, so many years later, remember and care enough about our fallen brothers and sisters, the surviving families, and those in this community, to build this, this beautiful monument that will stand forever in honor of those brave souls of ARIA 328.