Sasnashen

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INTRO TO THIS POST:

This is an archive for four articles which were written in 2018 and 2019 about Sasnashen, the C-130 60528 shoot down, and the challenges for the day. They were originally published on the Western Diocesan website and are presented here in chronological order.  – Fr. Vazken

    • 14 September 2018 – REFLECTIONS ON THE US AIR FORCE C-130 60528 SHOOT DOWN OVER SASNASHEN, ARMENIA
    • 25 July 2019 – DISCOVERING… SASNASHEN VILLAGE IN THE TOWN OF TALIN
    • 3 October 2019 – OPENING SASNASHEN YOUTH CENTER
    • 8 November 2019 – VETERANS DAY MESSAGE FROM SASNASHEN ARMENIA

REFLECTIONS ON THE US AIR FORCE C-130 60528 SHOOT DOWN OVER SASNASHEN, ARMENIA

Published – 14 September 2018

By Fr. Vazken Movsesian

(Photos courtesy of Pat Morrow)

Kahanayk yev joghovort” are the first words of the requiem service of the Armenian Church.  The words translate to “the priests and people” referring to a gathering of those who remember the dead in prayer. And there we were, the priest and people, in solemn remembrance of 17 men who perished 60 years ago to the day. I was singing the hymn but this gathering was not in any Armenian church. Far from one, we were standing in the middle of America in Bellevue, Nebraska, near the Offutt Air Force Base. The gathering? Sixty years ago, in the height of the Cold War, a United States Air Force C-130 was shot out of the sky by the Soviet Union.  The plane crashed in the village of Nerkin Sasnashen, Armenia (about 60km Northwest of Yerevan).

It was interesting that I sang the hymn in Armenian and no one in the audience understood the language, yet everyone knew very well what was happening. We were connecting as people. We were uniting the remote village of Sasnashen with Bellevue. Armenia was uniting with Nebraska and all of this to attest that a group of men were united with eternity.

Like many Armenians, or many people in general, I had not heard of this shoot-down incident. We grew up in the Cold War fearing the worst, with duck-and-cover drills executed in our school hallways on a regular basis. But who knew that the Cold War was being played out with a shoot-down in Armenia? We should have known for in fact, this major international incident was the most publicized confrontation between the Soviet Union and the U.S. military during the Cold War!

On September 2, 1958, four Soviet MiG-17 pilots attacked and shot down an unarmed US reconnaissance aircraft after its crew inadvertently flew into Soviet airspace over Armenia. Seventeen United States Air Force airmen were killed in the crash at Sasnashen. The incident was covered up until the break up of the Soviet Union –  and then some – when the remains of the C-130 60528 Crew were excavated from the crash site and interred on the 40th anniversary of the shoot-down, with a headstone identifying the members of the Crew* at Arlington Cemetery in Virginia.

Fortunately, the details of the incident, the cover-up, the years of denial, the reconciling with the facts up to the present day have been meticulously documented by Larry Tart and have been published in his book, “The Price of Vigilance: Attacks on American Surveillance Flights” (2001 with Robert Keefe). The book and detailed information can be found at Mr. Tart’s website, www.LarryTart.com. He has also prepared a short briefing video (which was shown at the Bellevue gathering) where the main details of the incident are outlined: https://youtu.be/RDqjaKCln_4

One of the eye-witnesses to the event was a young man, Martin Kakosian, a college student on a field trip in 1958. Kakosian, a skilled sculptor, later collaborated with the villagers to create a memorial — a khatchkar— honoring an unknown American crew that had died unceremoniously at the edge of their village. In late August 1993, Sasnashen village commemorated the 35th anniversary of the shoot-down during the unveiling of the khachkar.

Keynote

Mr. Tart, on behalf of the Prop Wash Gang, the organizers of this gathering, wrote to both the Eastern and Western Dioceses of the Armenian Church asking for a priest to offer the requiem prayer at this 60th anniversary. Archbishop Hovnan Derderian assigned me to this event. As mentioned, the incident was news to me; however, not for long. I was engaged in the story from my first reading of the account. After a few conversations with Mr. Tart, the PWG asked me to offer the Keynote Address for the Commemoration.

This invitation was a true honor for me on many levels. As a priest I was there to offer the prayer and even to reflect, but it was a personal experience at the time of my father’s death over 25 years ago that connected me directly to the story that was unfolding before me. My father was a veteran of the Korean War. I remember vividly to this day the overwhelming emotions that surged in me when at his funeral military personnel presented the flag of the United States to my mother, and said, “On behalf of the President of the United States, the United States Army and a grateful Nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your husband’s honorable and faithful service.” I remember being moved to tears when realizing that great men are defined by the sacrifice they make. People in service to others truly define greatness. In the church we speak of martyrdom as an expression of sacrifice. As a priest I share the Gospel of Christ, and His words, “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (Jn 15:13) While Jesus refers to his own death in this passage, he also gives an opportunity for us to understand our service and sacrifice to others. It was the expression of that devotion and sacrifice that was moving the direction of the message I wanted to share.

Furthermore, as an Armenian, I wanted to also emphasize the diverse set of circumstance which have contributed to Armenian history and to the events of the shoot down. As history will attest, Armenia and Armenians are often caught in the middle of battles not by our choosing. The US Air Force plane took off from bases in Eastern Turkey, that is, occupied Armenia. The plane was shot down over Armenia, occupied by the Soviets. (And yes, the plane was shot down by a Mig-17, named after Migoyan.) In every way Armenians are the by-standers to this particular history; nevertheless, Armenian have a message to share that can lead to healing.

The day arrived and we met with people from throughout the United States. They had all come to commemorate, to remember, to re-connect with a story and with others who shared the same values and understanding of the sacrifice made by these 17 men.

The acting President of the Prop Wash Gang, Chief Lonnie Henderson, emceed the program. He had set up a “Missing Man Table” at the center of the banquet hall. The table was set on a white tablecloth, containing 17 red roses in vases and a place setting for one – one representing them all. A shaker of salt next to the setting was a bitter reminder of what had transpired. There, the names of the 17 men were written along with the poem “We See the Eagles Fly.”

Tom Giroir, offered the invocation and introduced me as an Armenian priest. In referencing to my background he pointed to our ministry of “In His Shoes,” that is, those who have suffered evil have a unique responsibility to take action against injustice to others. It was on this premise that I shared my thoughts for the evening with the group.

With a quick look at history, I spoke of the rich story of the Armenian people and the land. I spoke of the Armenian Genocide as an event but also as a spring-board to addressing the despicable reality of Genocide that continues to take place in our world. Most especially, I shared with the group the need to stay ever-vigilant in their resolve to remember the sacrifices of their fallen brothers. Vigilance and remembrance must have manifestations today in our actions to combat evil on all fronts.

After I offered the ancient requiem prayer of the Armenian Church and remembered all 17 of the fallen servicemen by name, Chief Lonnie honored me in a manner I will forever remember. On behalf of the Prop Wash Gang he presented a shadow box with an actual piece of the downed-plane. Here I would have a tangible reminder of the sacrifice made by these men and the ever-essential necessity to stay vigilant against injustice. He also gifted me Larry Tart’s book, “The Price of Vigilance” signed by the author. These are the treasures, coupled with the stories I heard, that I return to the Diocese to share with Armenian men and women of all ages.

I confessed that in all my travels to Armenia I have never been to Sasnashen. Now, I don’t think I can go back to Armenian without visiting Sasnashen. I hope to do so in October of this year. There, I promised the group, I will take the spirit and the energy that was brewing in this room on September 2, 2018. It was a powerful and moving spirit.

Finally, with the recitation of the poem, “We See the Eagles” the Commemoration on the 60th Anniversary of the Shoot Down came to an end.

A plaque with the names of the 17 men and this poem was presented to me.

This evening we connected on a human level. We were there to honor sacrifice – the expression of love by these 17 men. We connected Bellevue Nebraska mystically to Sasnashen, Armenia.  This evening we understood that the most fundamental of all human expressions – to extend ourselves to others, to love and share is essential. It is the legacy that has been left to us by the 17 men who were shot down giving themselves for something greater than themselves, for our country and ultimately for humanity. And we accept the challenge to perpetuate and share this legacy beyond this evening.

WE SEE THE EAGLES FLY
We see the eagles fly…
lookin’ north
toward the Caucasus Mountains
‘bout nine in the morning
Warm September day
Clear
No clouds
We see the eagles fly…
…effortlessly
riding the currents
Soaring above all
Majestic
Supreme
We see the eagles fly…
…and those eagles
look a lot like
~The Prop Wash Gang, September 2, 1997

The 17 services men of US Air Force C-130 60528 who were shot down on September 2, 1958 in Sasnashen, Armenia were A2C Joel H. Fields, A2C Gerald H. Medeiros, A2C James E. Ferguson, Jr., A2C Gerald C. Maggiacomo, Capt Paul E. Duncan, SSgt Laroy Price, 1Lt John E. Simpson, TSgt Arthur L. Mello, A2C Robert H. Moore, Capt Edward J. Jeruss, MSgt George P. Petrochilos, A2C Clement O. Mankins, 1Lt Ricardo M. Villarreal, A1C Robert J. Oshinskie, Capt Rudy J. Swiestra, A2C Harold T. Kamps, A2C Archie T. Bourg, Jr.


DISCOVERING… SASNASHEN VILLAGE IN THE TOWN OF TALIN, ARMENIA A PLACE FOR KIDS TO FEEL WELCOME, SHARE AND EXPLORE OPTIONS TO MAXIMIZE THEIR POTENTIAL

Published – 25 July 2019

By Fr. Vazken Movsesian

Main Photo Caption: At the Crash site monument: Fr. Vazken, Anna Galachyan (assisting Fr. Vazken), Yeretsgin Hripsime & Fr. Tade with one of their daughter’s Tatev.

Last summer, our Diocesan Primate Archbishop Hovnan Derderian assigned me to an event at the Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. I was to deliver the keynote address at a gathering commemorating the 60th Anniversary of the shoot-down of US Air Force C-130 #60528. The hosts and organizers of the event were members of the Prop Wash Gang. Before going any further… let’s get the obvious questions out of the way: Why a priest of the Armenian Church? … at a US Air Force base? …to hundreds of servicemen and their families? So first, let’s back up 60 years…

In 1958 – during the height of the Cold War – a United States Air Force C-130 flying a reconnaissance mission on the Turkish/Armenian border was shot down by the Soviets. The plane crashed in the village of Sasnashen, Armenia and lost its entire crew of 17 servicemen. The Soviets did not admit to the severity of the tragedy until after the fall of the USSR and by 1992 – some 34 years after the incident – the remains of all 17 men were returned to the United States for proper recognition and committal. Since that time commemorations have been taken place, including the placing of a khatchkar (cross stone) and a monument at the crash site with visits by U.S. military and government officials.

Now… on the evening of September 2, 2018, exactly 60 years to the date of the crash I stood before the servicemen and their families. I explained that in 1958 Armenia was completely occupied, that is, the place where the C-130 took-off (Van) was in Armenia occupied by the Turks and that where the plane crashed was occupied by the Soviets. After speaking about Armenian history and our faith as Christian, there in Nebraska, I offered the requiem hymn and prayer of the Armenian Church for the souls of the 17 victims of the shoot-down.

The group honored me by giving me a framed piece of the tail of the fallen plane. Then, spontaneously they took up a collection and asked that I use the money to benefit the children of Sasnashen. Here, I had to confess that I did not know where Sasnashen was but I also promised that from this point on I would not travel to Armenia without visiting the village which had brought us and tied us together 60 years after the tragedy.

On October 25, 2018, I made it to the village of Sasnanshen – about 65km out of Yerevan toward the Northwest border of Armenia. The closest town is Talin (about 10 kms away) with a population of about 4,000. Through our Armenian Church I connected with Fr. Tadé Tamazyan, the priest of the Talin and a number of villages that surround the Town, one of those villages being Sasnashen (population 750). My deacon Hrayr Nalbandian, drove us up to there and together with the priest we climbed a rocky road to the crash-site where a monument stands in this remote and obscure corner of the world. It is a tall standing memorial with a plaque written in both Armenian and English:

September 2, 1958

We must never forget that freedom is never really free. It is the most costly thing in the world.
Freedom is never paid in a lump sum. Installments come due in every generation.
All any of us can do is offer the generations that follow a chance for freedom.

There, under the open skies and the silence of the village we offered a prayer for the 17 fallen servicemen as well as a prayer for peace.

In Sasnashen, beyond the economic challenges of village life, there are few, if any, opportunities for young people to advance in education, or even to explore and exploit their potential. There are government schools but after school-hours and on weekends the children end up on the rural roads without supervision and/or guidance. Father Tadé has access to the schools and offers weekly classes to children in the village schools and is known and recognized youth. We decided to use the Prop Wash Gang funds to further opportunities for youth in the Sasnashen village by creating a Center for after school-hours, where young people can feel welcome, share and explore options to maximize their potential in life.

With the encouragement and blessing of Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, the Primate of the Western Diocese we quickly began work on organizing this program called “Sasnashen Youth Center.”  The Catholicos of All Armenians, HH Kareken II gave a small house directly across the street from the Talin church with the understanding that it would be used as a gathering place for youth. The collected funds were used to bring the house up to standards for a meeting place. We repaired the plumbing, installed a kitchenette, lavatory and new windows.  We have been monitoring the renovation process via pictures and videos sent to us by Fr. Tadé.

On July 18, 2019 I personally made a trip to the area to monitor progress and meet with Fr. Tadé and others to discuss the program. I also met with the head of the Aragatsotn Diocesan, Bishop Mkrtich Proshyan to assure a proper working relationship between all of our parties. He officially pronounced the name of this project as Sasnashen Youth Center and we are scheduled to open on September 29, 2019. It will be dedicated in the name of the servicemen who perished in the village in 1958. A framed piece of the plane will be presented to the Center at that time.

This is a place where young people can first and foremost feel welcome, safe and loved. It is a gathering place to study, to learn, or merely congregate after school.  We furnished the room and provided computers with internet connections so that we can visit remotely. Fr. Tadé plans to bring speakers and mentors with specialties to direct and share time with the kids.

If successful, this can be a pilot project which can be replicated in villages for a low cost and can take advantage of local resources – personnel and physical spaces – which are often overlooked. In this case, those resources were found in the apartment/house which was vacant and unused because of its condition and a priest who has unique access and connection to the young people.

Opportunities to help others are God given. Our Church is the vehicle by which we do our work. I thank Archbishop Hovnan for giving me this opportunity to engage with brothers and sisters in Christ in the village of Sasnashen. From the grave tragedy of the 1958 shoot-down a new beginning and opportunity for education is extended to the children of that village. Before leaving the village we had an opportunity to pray together at the church in Talin. There, we also offered prayers for the repose of the souls of the servicemen as well as Deacon Hrayr Nalbandian, who shared in our first connection with the community.


OPENING OF SASNASHEN YOUTH CENTER

Published – 3 October 2019

(Photo Caption: from Left to Right) Yn. Talin and Fr. Haroutiun Tachejian, Yn. Susan and Fr. Vazken Movsesian, Fr. Tadé and Yn. Hripsimé Takhmazian in front of the plaque with the names of the fallen service man and a framed piece of the plane which was shot down on September 2, 1958.

By Fr. Vazken Movsesian

On September 29, 2019, with the blessings of His Eminence Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, we ventured off to the town of Talin for the opening of the Sasnashen Youth Center. This was the culmination of a year’s worth of planning and organization across the globe, with limited resources, difficult communications and the challenges of a cold winter that put our work on hold for several months. Nevertheless, the power of prayer, the joy of helping children and our commitment to the project made it a labor of love that was celebrated by a community in this remote part of Armenia.

I have been writing and speaking about the remarkable chain of events that brought about this project. Quickly, the story begins at the height of the Cold War, mid 20th century and picks up when this Armenian priests makes a connection at the US Air Force base in Nebraska with members of the Prop Wash Gang. We shared the story of the US Air Force C-130 60528 shoot down, when in 1958, seventeen servicemen perished as their plane came down in Sasnashen, Armenia. For a refresher on the details, check out my blog from last year.   https://armodoxy.blogspot.com/2018/09/reflections-on-sasnashen-shoot-down.html

Then came a proposal by the members of the Prop Wash Gang: Here’s an amount of money we have collected. Can you see to it that the kids in Sasnashen are helped in some way? I have to admit, when they asked me I had no idea where in Armenia to find Sasnashen. In fact, so obscure is this village of 700+ inhabitants that I could not find anyone, especially taxi drivers in Yerevan, who knew where to locate it either. Finally, thanks to Google maps and my deacon, Hrayr Nalbandian, we made it there. Sasnashen is about 10km outside of the town of Talin, which is about an hour’s drive out of Yerevan. Calling on an Armenian priest,* Fr. Tadé Takhmazian, who serves the population of Sasnashen and nine-other villages, I began to learn about the needs of the community, people and especially the youth. We decided to work on creating a youth center – a safe place for young people to feel belonging, learn, grow and mature in faith as productive members of the community.

*I cold-called Fr. Tadé from a number given to me by one of my clergy brothers who had met him only months early. Note: I don’t believe in coincidences or in chance. I believe in blessings, which I have defined as luck, without the element of chance. Fr. Tadé is a blessing.

We found a house in Talin owned by the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin. The house was in need of major repair, but at least it was a space which would serve our purposes. Between Fr. Tadé, myself and a handful of local volunteers we cleaned, renovated, painted and bought furniture to make this house conducive for our youth-center purposes. In July, I went and oversaw the final touches.  At the time I presented an update: http://www.wdacna.com/news/1632/Discovering…-Sasnashen-Village-in-the-Town-of-Talin,-Armenia-A-place-for-kids-to-feel-welcome,-share-and-explore-options-to-maximize-their-potential

And now… September 29, we held the opening of the Sasnashen Youth Center in Talin.

Along with a contingent from our Bible Study group in Glendale we made the journey, 12 time-zones away, to celebrate this new project. We joined the St. James pilgrimage organized by Fr. Haroutioun Tachejian, visiting many of the historic and spiritually significant sites in Armenia. Together, with the St. James group, about 25 of us from America attended this opening.

I was honored to celebrate the Divine Liturgy that morning at the Holy Asdvadzadzin church in Talin. It was the feast day of the Cross of Varak and so I offered an ookhdi badarak and so directed my sermon to the needs of the community and the crosses we all carry.

Following the service in church, Fr. Tadé led us to the newly renovated house and we officially dedicated and opened it as the Sasnashen Youth Center with a ribbon cutting ceremony.  I offered the warmest greetings of His Eminence Archbishop Hovnan Derderian who has set the vision for our involvement in Armenia at this level. In turn Fr. Tadé thanked the local primate, His Grace Bishop Mkrtich Broshyan, for granting this opportunity for expansion.

For this occasion the Prop Wash Gang sent a shadow box which contains a piece of the wreckage of the C-130 that was shot-down by the Soviet Union. As part of the dedication, the shadow box and a plaque listing the names of the 17 servicemen who were killed on September 2, 1958 now adorns the wall of the Center as a permanent reminder of the tragedy.

We were honored to have with us Maksena Haroutiunyan, widow of the late internationally renown sculptor Martin Kakosian. As an 18 year-old young man, Martin Kakosian was an eye-witness to the shoot down. He was instrumental in the dedication of the original khatchkar which stood as a marker for the tragedy until later, when he designed and constructed the current monument which stands on a hill near the crash site in Sasnashen. Mrs. Haroutiunyan shared a stirring account of what had transpired, recollections that her husband had shared with her, and spoke of the need to never forget the tragedy that befell the servicemen on 1958. She brought pictures and was available to the attendees to discuss the circumstances of the shoot-down.

The one man who initially connected me with the shoot-down of the C-130 60528, the Prop Wash Gang and ultimately with Sasnashen is Larry Tart, author of “The Price of Vigilance” (2001) and “Freedom through Vigilance” (2010).  I’ve never met him in person yet feel a kindred spirit in him. He signs his emails to me “In Brotherhood” and on this day that fraternal bond became very real and concrete. During the opening ceremony I know he was with us. I took advantage of the attentiveness of the group and gave some background to the people on the importance of Mr. Tart’s personal vigilance in this story.

With much excitement and joy we dedicated the house to the education and elucidation of the village children and youth. Fr. Tadé has a magnetic personality and has won the hearts of the children in the villages. Every week he visits the students in Sasnashen and nine other villages in the area. He shared his vision with us; the Center will be a place where children can learn, play, explore their options, and most importantly share and talk with other young people and mentors. We donated and installed computers in the Center to make e-chats possible between the kids there and young people in America. Fr. Tadé is in the process of organizing a line-up of mentors, educators, leaders, workers, businessmen and priests to come to the Center on a regular basis to work with the youth. His enthusiasm was contagious and inspired some of the guests to donate toward the goals of the Center.

Following the opening ceremony, the group travelled the 10km ride to Sasnashen, where we visited the crash-site and the monument. There, we offered a requiem prayer to the 17 servicemen and also remembered Martin Kakosian and Deacon Hrayr Nalbandian in our prayers. May God rest their souls.

We arranged with one of the with one of the local village families to host a lunch/celebration. Inside their house we truly celebrated with food, wine, song and dance. Today, from the midst of tragedy, a new chapter was being opened in the life of the village and in the life of young people wanting an opportunity for a better life. Many of the villagers suffer immense economic hardships. Education and building up self-worth are the cornerstones of this project.

The opening ceremony, with transportation and meal was sponsored by the In His Shoes ministry. If you would like to aid the young people of Sasnashen through the Center, you may make a one-time donation or sign up for a monthly pledge by visiting our website and pressing on the “Donate Button.” Funds earmarked for the Sasnashen Youth Center will be transferred entirely to the Center.

To learn more and to follow along on all of our outreach programs, sign up for the In His Shoes newsletter, and/or follow us on Instagram and Facebook for pictures and comments about the opening. The Center will soon launch its own FB page and can be followed there as well.

I take this opportunity to thank all those who made this day a reality: Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, Primate of the Western Diocese, Larry Tart and the Prop Wash Gang of the US AirForce, Fr. Tadé & Yn. Hripsimé Takhmazian of Talin, members of our Bible Study group in Glendale and the In His Shoes Mission, with the Next Step listeners – for their donations and most importantly for their prayers. God bless you all. We look forward to the good works and achievements of the youth, with growth in a spirit of love.


VETERANS DAY MESSAGE FROM SASNASHEN ARMENIA

Published – 8 November 2019

Last month a small group of us returned from Armenia where we opened the Sasnashen Youth Center in the city of Talin. The story behind the project was truly a fascinating one and at our Archbishop’s request I will share it with everyone at a gathering next Tuesday, November 12 at the Western Diocese. Appropriately, on this Veterans Day Weekend, the story is a reminder of sacrifice, love and forging forward in the quest for peace.

The “Sasnashen Story” begins during the Cold War, when a US Air Force C-130 plane was shot down by the Soviets. The plane crashed in the village of Sasnashen and 60 years later the impact of that event is still being felt. Last year, on the 60th anniversary of the shoot-down our Primate sent me to a memorial gathering in Nebraska at Offutt Air Force Base. At this gathering of veterans and their families I was asked to share some thoughts about the shoot-down from the perspective of an Armenian priest. It was an opportunity to connect dots between America and Armenia, between sacrifice and freedom, between the Christian understanding of good overcoming evil and light illuminating the darkness. We offered a prayer for the victims of the shoot-down, all 17 servicemen who fell that day in 1958 in Sasnashen.

The trip to Nebraska and our meeting at the Air Force Base became the catalyst from which we went on to Sasnashen, met with the village people and the front-line workers with the youth of the area. Subsequently, I made a couple of trips culminating in the opening of the Sasnashen Youth Center in Talin, funded through a small grant from the Prop Wash Gang. The Center is a safe place for young people to congregate, learn and grow. Most importantly, it is a place where the importance of vigilance against evil is emphasized through the center itself and its programs.

Join us on Tuesday, November 12, as I share the stories of our visits along with pictures and video footage. Join us as we thank our veterans with this special gesture of remembrance for their service and sacrifice, which has had repercussions in this corner of Armenia.

-Fr. Vazken

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