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WEEKEND REWIND: Emotions take off when flight from Chattanooga honoring slain servicemen touches down in Port Angeles

PORT ANGELES — A Chattanooga, Tenn., man who flew to Port Angeles on Sunday in memory of the five servicemen killed in Chattanooga last year was overcome with emotion when his plane touched down at William R. Fairchild International Airport.

“I couldn’t help but think of what happened a year ago in Chattanooga and what the people here in Port Angeles did for our community,” said Chattanooga radio and television personality James Howard, who started the one year anniversary memorial flight to Port Angeles from Chattanooga on Saturday.

“All those emotions came all at once getting out of the plane,” Howard said.

The sound of bagpipes filled the air as Howard, his two daughters Gracie and Lucy and co-pilot Taylor Newman exited the plane.

Howard’s mission in taking on the flight was to deliver a banner thanking the people of Port Angeles for the city’s support after the shooting last year.

“I’m so happy that my girls are with me and can see what this is about — that it’s not about us,” he said.

“It’s about thanking people — strangers — that we’ve never met before for what one or two people did for thousands in our community.”

As Howard stopped to refuel every couple of hours on his trip from Chattanooga, he made a point to always tell someone of his mission.

In the window of his Cessna 172 were the names of the five servicemen killed last year.

Four Marines and a Navy logistics specialist were killed. They were Gunnery Sgt. Thomas Sullivan, Staff Sgt. David Wyatt, Lance Cpl. Skip “Squire” Wells, Sgt. Carson Holmquist and U.S. Navy Petty Officer Randall Smith.

Howard nicknamed the plane “The Spirit of the Fallen Five” in honor of them.

Shortly after the attack in Chattanooga, Revitalize Port Angeles founder Leslie Robertson spearheaded an effort to collect signatures and messages of sympathy on banners and traveled to Chattanooga to present them to the Tennessee city.

Robertson and others, who had led a spirited effort to beat Chattanooga in Outside’s “Best Town Ever” online contest in May, turned to the mission to bring peace and sympathy to the larger city.

“Seeing what it meant to that community to do that, and now having that same gesture returned to us makes it that much more meaningful — especially in light of what’s been in the news lately and some of the ugliness that’s been happing,” Robertson said. “This is just such an example of how good people are and how we lift each other up.”

Though Howard hosted Robertson on his radio show in Chattanooga and the two had talked in the days leading up to this trip, Sunday was the first time the two had met.

Robertson presented Howard with a gift basket full of gifts provided by Port Angeles residents.

When Howard excited his plane, Port Angeles Mayor Patrick Downie was there to greet him.

“I’m honored to be a part of this,” Downie said. “The whole community came together to recognize the need for our community to bring as much solace, friendship and support as we could from Port Angeles to Chattanooga.

“This has been a reaffirmation of that bond.”

Though Port Angeles and Chattanooga are not officially sister cities, it is evident there is an unlikely bond between the two cities, he said.

After his mission in Port Angeles is complete, Howard hopes to set his second speed record through the National Aeronautic Association on his return flight. Howard plans to fly Tuesday as nonstop as possible — only stopping to get fuel — and expects the trip to take about 15 hours.

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Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at jmajor@peninsuladailynews.com.

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