Tag Archive for: Nebraska

Nebraska & Sasnashen

Armodoxy for Today: Nebraska & Sasnashen

“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. There I was singing these words, in the middle of Nebraska, of all places, 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).

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.

I had never heard of this shoot-down incident until then. I grew up during the Cold War fearing the worst, with duck-and-take-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 breakup 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 National 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).

Mr. Tart wrote to both the Eastern and Western Dioceses of the Armenian Church to for assistance in commemorating the 60th anniversary the shoot-down. Archbishop Hovnan Derderian assigned me to this event. As mentioned, the incident was news to me; however, not for long. After a few conversations with Mr. Tart, I was asked to offer the Keynote Address for the Commemoration at the Air Force base in Nebraska.

This invitation was a true honor for me on many levels. As a priest I was there to offer a prayer and a reflection. However, it was a personal experience 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 in 1991, 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 that evening.

Even more, 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. In 1958, leading to this incident, the US Air Force plane took off from a base 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 only the by-standers to this particular page in history; nevertheless, Armenian have a message to share that can lead to healing. And that was what I wanted to share with this group.

Join me tomorrow, on the Armodoxy for Today as we continue the story of the Shoot Down in Sasnashen on this short four part miniseries of daily messages.

Cover photo: Nebraska gathering on September 2, 2018 – 60th anniversary of Shoot Down for C-130 60528 at Sasnashen.

Protocols and Faith

Next Step #535: Protocols are used in institutions and in life, but why the resistance in church? Back from Nebraska and the 60th Anniversary of the C-130 Shoot Down. Fr. Vazken shares thoughts and comments with this dedicated group from the US Air Force. Singing the Requiem Hymn in memory of the 17 victims of 1958. A look at the handing off the flag at the grave of fallen service people. Sharing the Faith: Evangelism or Dialogue? Also, topics from the links below:
Saren Kouga, Arax
Last Week’s Next Step (on US Air Force Shoot Down)
Larry Tart’s Message to the 60th Anniversary gathering of the C-130 Shootdown
Piece of the Plane Presented to Fr. Vazken
Sasnashen and the US Air Force Aircraft Shoot Down
Leon Gabrielian Thriving Life Club Podcast
John Lennon Stamp Release
Celebrating with the True Cross of Christ (in New York)
Flag Presentation Protocol
Engineered by Ken Nalik
Produced by Suzie Shatarevyan for InHisShoes.org
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