Day of flames, shock, sorrow

It was a day of flames, shock and sorrow unlike any Wichita or Kansas had ever seen. And on this 50th anniversary of the crash of the KC-135 at 20th and Piatt, the community should resolve never to allow the catastrophe and the lives it took and forever changed to be forgotten.

Many can recall where they were and what they were doing when the jet that had taken off from McConnell Air Force Base carrying 31,000 gallons of fuel suffered a mechanical failure, crashed nose down and turned those blocks of the predominantly African-American neighborhood into an inferno. Due to the tireless efforts of so many, Piatt Memorial Park now stands in silent tribute to the 23 residents and seven crew members who perished in the tanker crash.

Its granite monument, with the names of the victims and the verses from Ecclesiastes about there being “a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together,” has helped transform the site since 2007 into a place for reflection and a source of comfort for the many who lost relatives, friends and neighbors in the accident. The park will be the setting for a memorial service at 3 p.m. Friday.

As Mayor Carl Brewer said Tuesday in a proclamation noting the anniversary, the tragedy “tore apart families yet united an entire city.” On this and every Jan. 16 may Wichita pause to recall not only the horror and loss experienced on that cold Saturday morning in its history, but also the heroism, strength and unity.

For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman