|Memorial for SAR victims|
A memorial was dedicated near the Marine Search and Rescue helicopter crash site of last August, when three Marines and a sailor lost their lives. Video by Jared Dort/The Sun
|Remembering Maj. Freitas|
Jennifer Freitas shares her memories of the day her husband, Maj. Caesar Y. Freitas, was killed last August when his Marine Search and Rescue helicopter crashed on a training mission. Video by Jared Dort/The Sun
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Stone dedicated to Search and Rescue members who died in helicopter crash
Family members, friends, fellow Marines and sailors attended a special stone dedication ceremony Monday afternoon in honor of the four service members who lost their lives in a Search and Rescue (SAR) helicopter crash last year.
The only survivor of that crash, Lance Cpl. Brian D. Stahlhut, who was the crew chief on that flight, spoke during the ceremony, praising the men he used to take to the skies with.
"I couldn't have gone down with a better crew. Each member has taught me something, mentoring me in some way."
Stahlhut, who has fully recovered from the injuries he sustained in the crash, told those in attendance that he has been restored to active duty and plans to continue serving on SAR flights.
"I have been back in a helicopter a handful of times now and I will soon be back in the air as a crewman," Stahlhut said, adding his motivation to continue was the four wives and eight children of his fellow crew members.
On Aug. 17, an SAR helicopter from Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron crashed approximately 20 miles north of Yuma near the Colorado River during a routine training mission.
Killed in the crash were Maj. Cesar Y. Freitas, 35, and Capt. Bradley E. Walters, 33, both H and HS SAR pilots; Sgt. Charles L. Osgood, 27, H and HS SAR crew chief; and Petty Officer 2nd Class Brendon W. Sandburg, 25, Branch Medical Clinic Navy hospital corpsman.
Freitas' widow, Jennifer, who has since moved back to Colorado, said during Monday's ceremony, "I come here today not to mourn what I have lost, but to celebrate what I have been given."
As part of the ceremony, a 2-by-3-foot piece of stone was unveiled. On the slab was a full-color drawing of an SAR helicopter, the call signs of each of the crew members, the date of the crash and the words, "Rescue One, four outbound souls."
Petty Officer 2nd Class Mike Skelton, of the U.S. Navy, was among the many SAR squad members who took the wings off their uniforms and placed them on top of the stone.
"All the work we put into getting these wings, and the sacrifices we make, gives them a special meaning to us," Skelton said. "Now it is up to us continue our jobs with the same pride, dedication and effort as they did to honor them and their memory."
Each of the four wives was given a stone plaque that included her husband's photo and a single red rose, which they each placed at the site.
The stone was erected about a quarter-mile from the helicopter crash site at the entrance to a box canyon.
Freitas said she has spent the past 10-1/2 months coming to terms with the loss of her husband of nearly nine years.
"There are good days and some bad days. Then there are the completely devastating ones where your worst nightmare has come true," she said. "One minute it feels like he is off on another deployment and will be home soon. Other days I just don't want to get up."
Freitas, who has three children with her husband - one of whom was born after his death - said she spoke with him about 15 minutes before he took off on what would have been his last flight 219 days ago.
She said she will always remember her husband as "larger than life with a huge smile. He was all about life and never wasted a moment of it."
The aircraft, one of four SAR helicopters assigned to MCAS, was last heard from late on a Thursday afternoon, and the wreckage was discovered early Friday. The helicopter was flying alone on a routine training mission.
The bright-red SAR Hueys fly daily in support of military operations and respond to civilian rescues within 100 miles of Yuma, according to base officials.
James Gilbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6854.