You won’t find their faces on the pages of history books: The 21 men who lost their lives in a horrific plane crash near Estevan on Sept. 15, 1946. But soon, their faces will be carved into history as Estevan’s heroes.
The ‘Forever in the Clouds’ monument is meant to pay tribute to the lives lost in the plane crash.
The victims, 20 pilots and one crewman, survived the Second World War and returned home only to fly directly into tragedy. About one year after the war ended, the crew was ferrying war planes between Estevan and Minot, North Dakota. On Sunday, Sept. 15, 1946, they were returning to Estevan when their plane crashed near the former Estevan airport.
“Something went awry and the plane crashed, killing all 21 of our airmen,” Forever in the Clouds co-organizer Marie Donais Calder said.
More than half a century later, Donais Calder, along with two others, decided to start the project to build a monument for the men, to commemorate the lives lost and ensure they won’t fade out of history.
Co-organizer Lester Hinzman said these men have long been forgotten, and it’s time to honour their memory. He added the project hits close to his heart.
“I grew up with a veteran, a returned soldier. (And) I found out about these 21 airmen that died, and these men were never mentioned in school, we didn’t know anything about it,” Hinzman said.
The monument is being carved by sculptor Darren Jones, who also did the Soldiers Tree monument that stands outside the Estevan Court House, to honour veterans.
“It makes me feel very satisfied that I have actually been able to give something back to other people, especially the families of these airmen… It’s been lost to history,” Jones said.
He carved 17 faces and the plane portion of the monument in about 23 days.
However, Jones still has his work cut out for him. The photos of 17 men were provided to the group by the military. After extensive searching, they were able to find photos of two more men; Leonard Edgar Turtle and William Weicker, whose faces were added to the monument this week.
The faces of two men, pilot Clifford Somerville-Coppin of Kamsack, Sask., and mechanic Vitantos Kirko of Toronto, are still missing.
“It will not be complete without them, how can we leave them unrecognized,” Donais Calder said. “We just can’t do that, we have to find them.”
Once photos of the last two men are found, they will be added to the monument. The next task will be finding a permanent site for the monument, and the 21 young men will truly be ‘Forever in the Clouds’.