One of the hallmarks of the E-2/C-2 is the (still) relatively low mishap rate.  Mishaps, and in particular, mishaps that result in the loss of some or all of the crew were relatively rare events.  In the early 1990’s though we had a spate of losses that spiked the rate.  In one relatively short period two aircraft were lost – Closeout 602 (VAW-126) and Bear Ace 603 (VAW-124).  Ten aircrew were lost and 8 children left fatherless.  One of the things the community did was to come together and establish an educational fund for those children.  Over the years, that was transformed into the VAW-VRC Memorial Fund.  The Memorial’s purpose is threefold:

  • To honor those men and any other member of the VAW/VRC community who dies while in a duty status,
  • To let the spouses and children know that we will never forget the sacrifice that these men made, and
  • To help provide for the children’s higher education as their parent would have wanted.

To date, well over $100,000 has been raised and a total of $31,200 has been given in merit scholarships to dependents. In addition, the first of the eight children now eligible for Memorial Scholarships has begun his college career with a pledge from the Memorial Board to provide up to 40% of the cost of a public university education.  To learn more – follow the permalink in the sidebar or here.

There are many worthy causes competing for your attention and assistance – we on the vast editorial staff here strongly endorse your support and consideration of this most worthy endeavor.  Our intention is to continue to spotlight the VAW-VRC Memorial Fund and Project VALOUR-IT as our preferred causes.  We thank you as does the VAW and VRC community for your thoughts, prayers and considerations during this difficult time.  The memorial service will be held this Thursday, August 23 @ 1300 in the Navy Base Chapel.

-SJS

11 Comments

  1. Thomas Williamson

    I was in VAW-124, and working the deck the night of the accident. I got to know alot of the guys (pilots, NFOs) as they were coming through VAW-120, where I was assigned before 124. Mark Forwalder and I were both going to be fathers for the first time during this cruise. It is a subject that he and I had talked about a few times before the mishap. Our sons were born the in the same week. I know that Mark was very much looking forward to being a father, and would have been a great one had his life not been cut short. I think of his son every time I look at mine, and wonder how he’s doing.

    It’s a great thing that you are doing with this memorial fund. I really hope that it benefits the kids of all of these heroes.

  2. Thomas Williamson

    I’m terribly sorry, It’s Rob Forwalder. I’m so embarassed. It’s been a number of years, and we also lost a good man from VRC-40 on that cruise by the name of AD1 Mark Wall. We never used each others first names much anyway, as I either called him Sir, or Mr. Forwalder, but after reading my post, I realized that it was Rob.

  3. Steve Watkins

    I was a Tactical Action officer on board the Theodore Roosevelt and was in the CDC when the crash occurred. Prior to my assignment aboard the TR, I was a flight instructor in VT-10. I flew with both Bob Forwalder and with Pat Ardaiz. Pat was one of my “on wing” studs…

    I remember that Bob’s wife was due with their first child only one or two weeks after this accident. It was so sad to know that Bob would never be able to hold his child and that the baby would never get to know his/her father. To this day, I wonder how things turned out.

    It has now been over 15 years. The were both great guys, and will be forever young…

  4. Paul Gallagher -the Seadog

    I was the Maintenance Officer of the VAW 124 Bear Aces in 1993. Turbo Tom Parker was the Skipper, Billy Wo Wolters was the XO. He was off the ship the night of the mishap at some operational meetings ashore.
    The circumstances of this mishap formed in my mind at the time, the intractable opinion that nobody except aviators should ever command aviators. The following facts (to the best of my recollection) are germane:
    The Bear Aces were embarked in USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT. As we departed the U.S. we were right in the path of what would become known as the storm of the century. As a result, the airwing was not able to accomplish our refresher CQ. The decision was made to push to the Med because we needed to relieve the JFK on time to insure they did not exceed the 6 month deployment rule. The translant was slow due to extremely rough seas, so we were never able to accomplish any flying enroute, and we were late getting to the Med. There was a great deal of pressure to get us into the Adriatic because of the Bosnia Herzegovina tensions, and the JFK had to get out to make the 6 month timeframe. Once inchopped to the Med we were ordered to steam directly into the Adriatic to replace them without having yet CQ’d. Our CAG Willie Moore and the CARGRU Jay Johnson were known to have strenuously objected, but higher authority only relented to the extent that they allowed us ½ day of flight ops to allow the pilots who would fly our missions the next night one day trap.
    That was the circumstance leading up to the mishap. That first night we were scheduled to fly in support of some airdrops of food to starving Bosnians for our first real mission of the deployment, but the night we were to commence the weather was terrible. Once again, we were aware our leadership had requested that we not fly due to our lack of NATOPs qualifications, and the fact that the weather was forecast to be below minimums. Despite the persistent objections of our aviation leadership; at the EUCOM level it was directed we fly the missions – a decision probably made by an Army infantry officer. Bear Ace 603 took off and was in the goo immediately off the deck. As I understood it from others who flew that night they probably never broke out. A couple of airwing pilots who were airborne that night estimated it went above 25,000 ft.
    During the recovery Bear Ace 603 made a good approach, but was waved off fairly late for reasons I don’t recall however, it was NOT for technique. They did a shallow climb, reached about 700 feet, nosed over and flew into the sea. The last broadcast from the aircraft while in their fatal descent was a calm acknowledgement of the climb and turn downwind directions from CATCC.
    The XO of the Tomcat squadron was head of the mishap board. Their conclusion was that the mishap pilots must have been suffering from debilitating vertigo. There simply was no other explanation.
    The crew of Bear Ace 603 was John “Frenchy” Messier, Pilot, Billy Ray Dyer, copilot, Jon “Rooster” Rystrom was the CICO, Pat “Aardvark” Ardaiz was the ACO, and Bob “McFly” Forwalder was the RO. For many years, a day would not go by in which I wouldn’t think of them, now after even more years I’d have to say a couple of days doesn’t go by… you never shake that sadness when something like that happens to the guys in your outfit, I know for the Bear Aces that were there, we never will.

  5. Paul Gallagher -the Seadog

    I was the Maintenance Officer of the VAW 124 Bear Aces in 1993. Turbo Tom Parker was the Skipper, Billy Wo Wolters was the XO. He was off the ship the night of the mishap at some operational meetings ashore.
    The circumstances of this mishap formed in my mind at the time, the intractable opinion that nobody except aviators should ever command aviators. The following facts (to the best of my recollection) are germane:
    The Bear Aces were embarked in USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT. As we departed the U.S. we were right in the path of what would become known as the storm of the century. As a result, the airwing was not able to accomplish our refresher CQ. The decision was made to push to the Med because we needed to relieve the JFK on time to insure they did not exceed the 6 month deployment rule. The translant was slow due to extremely rough seas, so we were never able to accomplish any flying enroute, and we were late getting to the Med. There was a great deal of pressure to get us into the Adriatic because of the Bosnia Herzegovina tensions, and the JFK had to get out to make the 6 month timeframe. Once inchopped to the Med we were ordered to steam directly into the Adriatic to replace them without having yet CQ’d. Our CAG Willie Moore and the CARGRU Jay Johnson were known to have strenuously objected, but higher authority only relented to the extent that they allowed us ½ day of flight ops to allow the pilots who would fly our missions the next night one day trap.
    That was the circumstance leading up to the mishap. We were scheduled to fly in support of some airdrops of food to starving Bosnians for our first real mission of the deployment, but the night we were to commence the weather was terrible. Once again, we were aware our leadership had requested that we not fly due to our lack of NATOPs qualifications, and the fact that the weather was forecast to be below minimums. Despite the persistent objections of our aviation leadership; at the EUCOM level it was directed we fly the missions – a decision probably made by an Army infantry officer. Bear Ace 603 took off and was in the goo immediately off the deck. As I understood it from others who flew they probably never broke out. A couple of airwing pilots who flew that night estimated it went above 25,000 ft.
    During the recovery Bear Ace 603 made a good approach, but was waved off fairly late for reasons I don’t recall, however, it was NOT for technique. They did a shallow climb, reached about 700 feet, nosed over and flew into the sea. The last broadcast from the aircraft while in the descent was a calm acknowledgement of the climb and turn downwind directions from CATCC.
    The XO of the Tomcat squadron was head of the mishap board. Their conclusion was that the mishap pilot must have been suffering from debilitating vertigo. There simply was no other explanation.
    The crew of Bear Ace 603 was John “Frenchy” Messier, Pilot, Billy Ray Dyer, copilot, Jon “Rooster” Rystrom was the CICO, Pat “Aardvark” Ardaiz was the ACO, and Bob “McFly” Forwalder was the RO. For many years, a day would not go by in which I wouldn’t think of them, now after even more years I’d have to say a couple of days doesn’t go by… you never shake that sadness when something like that happens to the guys in your outfit, I know for the Bear Aces that were there, we never will.

  6. Thomas Williamson

    Mr. Gallagher, I’m happy to see that you are doing well. The reason 603 was waved off was a fouled deck due to an arresting gear cable problem. The aircraft that landed while 603 was on approach knocked loose one of the arresting gear cable support springs (not sure of the technical name) that holds the cable over the deck. Anyway, the aircraft was waved off.

    I remember watching the tail position light as 603 climbed out of the wave-off. Just a few moments later, collision alarms and man overboard sounded.

    I remember watching the recovery operations the next day, and thinking that I couldn’t feel much worse about the mishap than I did right then, but I was wrong. All of the pieces of the aircraft that were recovered were staged in the forward portion of hangar bay 1, right next to the ladder I used to get to the avionics shop every day.

    That experience, probably more than anything else, was the reason I decided not to continue my Navy career.

  7. Bobby Ricketts

    Thomas, I worked with AD1 Wall in VRC-40. I was an airframer, but I went on detachments and flights with Mark many times. He bought my breakfast (at 0200) one morning in Jacksonville, FL because I spent all of my money. He was really a great guy.

  8. Dennis Pendergist

    Patrick Ardaiz was a great friend of mine. We met in flight school in 1987 and stayed friends after that. Pat was in my wedding in Charleston in 1989. We stayed in his apartment when I got orders to Va Bch and he was deployed. I got the news when I was in Jump School at Benning. I flew home immediately. Patrick was a great friend who died way too young as they all did. He is still missed and his picture still sits in a frame in my house. Our mutual friends Stu and Mel and my wife Terry miss him as well. The kids know him as Godfather Pat because they know he watches over us all. He and the other men are true American Naval heroes.

  9. Katie Forwalder Reilly

    It’s been 19 years to the day since I learned of the “mishap” that took the lives of five great men, one being my husband, Bob Forwalder. Still remember that day like it was yesterday. Just thought I’d let you all know that Bob’s son, Sean Robert, born 2 weeks after his dad died, is doing very well. Sean is a wonderful young man and is very much like his dad in many ways. He has chosen to follow in Bob’s footsteps and is currently a plebe at the Naval Academy. I’m very proud of him and know that Bobby is too.

    • Joe Fortunato

      Katie, I was shown this website and saw your name here. I was so thrilled to learn that Sean is doing so well, and knowing he is following in Bob’s footsteps at the Academy really brought a tear of joy to my eye. I miss Bob and think of him often. I’d love to reconnect and catch up. If you get this, please feel free to contact me. I won’t publish my email here for privacy reasons, but you can find me on Facebook, or look me up in Queen Creek, AZ. I hope you’re doing well these days!

  10. Katie:

    Thank you for stopping by and updating us on Sean. God bless you both as he sets out on his career.
    w/r, SJS

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