Servicemen killed in O.C. crash en route to Vietnam 50 years ago remembered

Fifty years ago, 84 U.S. servicemen boarded an Air Force jet near Irvine bound for war-torn Vietnam, prepared to defend their country.

But the men never received their marching orders.

Shortly after the C-135 aircraft took off at El Toro Marine Air Station on June 25, 1965, it slammed into nearby Loma Ridge. The downed jet erupted in flames, spewing bodies and parts of bodies over the grassy hilltop across a mile-wide radius. All 72 Marines aboard and the 12-man Air Force crew died in the crash. The cause of the accident was never determined.

Five decades later, the crash remains the deadliest air disaster in Orange County history. But the servicemen's sacrifice was not remembered on any monument. Their names are not etched on the Vietnam Memorial walls in Washington because they died in the U.S., before receiving their official orders, the organizers of a new tribute say.

So 15-year-old Jordan Fourcher created an interactive memorial kiosk at the Aviation and Heritage Museum at Orange County Great Park, formerly the El Toro Marine base, to honor the men who lost their lives in that fatal flight. The kiosk will feature a metal base, engraved with the names of the men, and a touch-screen interactive kiosk with biographical information about each of the men, he said.

Fourcher spent a year working on a lasting monument as part of his Eagle Scout project.

“I was going to do a metal plaque in a park,” said the Corona Del Mar resident. “But it turned into something so much more. Everything aligned and worked out perfectly.”

On Saturday, more than 50 family members of the deceased are expected to gather at the Great Park for the unveiling of the memorial inside the Great Park hangar. Irvine Mayor Steven Choi, Reps. Dana Rohrabacher and Mimi Walters are expected to attend the event, which will feature a Marine Corps color guard and a missing man flyover with World War II-era aircrafts, Pat Macha, one of the event’s organizer, said.   

"Jordan has done a wonderful job on this," Macha said. "It is just amazing."

For more California breaking news, follow @AngelJennings

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times