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Sailors Killed in Gulf Accident Memorialized at Home Base

September 21, 1991 GMT

ALAMEDA NAVAL AIR STATION, Calif. (AP) _ Six sailors killed when their minesweeping helicopter plunged into the Persian Gulf were remembered as loyal servicemen and good friends by their home base Saturday.

″Their contribution cannot be measured. Their devotion to duty cannot be weighed. The men of Hurricane 16 remind us that the price of freedom is and will always be high,″ said Cmdr. Bruce Russell, leader of Squadron HM-15, to which the six belonged.

Against a backdrop of a U.S. flag and a Navy helicopter similar to the one the six flew, nearly 700 sailors and their families gathered to remember the sailors killed in one of the worst U.S. military accidents in the Persian Gulf region since the war.

Minutes after taking off from an amphibious assault ship on Sept. 14, the MH-53 Sea Dragon helicopter crashed about 40 miles north of Bahrain.

The cause of the crash is under investigation.

Killed were Lt. Thomas Stewart Larson, 30, from Jamestown, N.Y., the pilot, and Lt. j.g. Craig Eugene Valentine, 26, from Ann Arbor, Mich., the co-pilot.

The four other crew members were Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Richard Butch, 25, Aurora, Colo.; Petty Officer 3rd Class George Scott Finneral, 21, Lowell, Mass.; Petty Officer 3rd Class William Aaron Holt, 27, Sand Springs, Okla., and Airman Jorge Luis Guerrero, 22, Chicago.

At the ceremony, pilot Larson was remembered as a man who loved to fly.

″I often wondered if he had any other clothing than flight gear,″ said Jeff Sherman.

Co-pilot Valentine’s friend Chris Faye said the two men shared a passion for baseball. Faye paraphrased a line from the movie ″Field of Dreams,″ saying, ″If you build it, he will come,″ and added, ″I know you’re somewhere in your field of dreams. Do me a favor and save a spot on third base.″

After the ceremony, widows Renee Larsen and Tracey Valentine walked out of the hanger holding hands and clutching flags given to them during the ceremony.

Squadron member Lt. Joe Colella said unit members have tried not to let the accident cloud morale.

″When it happens you keep the guys as busy as possible,″ Colella said. ″As pilots you’re taught to departmentalize everything. When you fly, you fly.″

The Sea Dragon helicopter is mainly used to tow mine-sweeping detectors, but it’s also used for transport.