Monument to be erected to Salem jet pilot – 60 years later
SALEM – On Oct. 20, Air Force Capt. Fred H. Stevens who grew up in Salem will be honored 60 years after his death.
He died while performing in an air show for the United States Air Force in Westfield, Mass., on Oct. 19, 1952, son Charles L. Stevens said. The ceremony will be in Westfield where a monument will be put up on East Mountain Country Club Golf Course.
“The property was just a field then,” Charlie Stevens said. “The son of the man who owned the property started looking for my dad’s family in 2009, and found me last May through an obituary for my dad’s sister in Boones Mill.”
The monument will be in the shape of the tail section of a F-86 Sabre jet like the plane his father was flying, said Stevens, who plans to go up to Westfield with his two brothers and sister. Stevens lives in Craigsville, W. Va., in the middle-eastern part of the state in Nicholas County and is a United Methodist pastor at St. Luke’s. He was raised in Richmond and has lived in West Virginia for more than 30 years.
In a phone interview with the Salem Times-Register on July 24, Stevens explained he was 4 years old at the time of the accident. He said he and his mother, Ruth, sister and little brother Mike were all at the airfield. “I don’t remember it. My sister Connie was only 6 months old and my little brother turned 3 the next day. My older brother, Fred, was home with the chicken pox.”
Since both men who died were decorated pilots, golf course owner Mark Perez thought it was a good thing to have a monument put up to Capt. Stevens and Robert Danell, the other pilot, Stevens said. “I think it is the 5th hole of the golf course” where much of the plane debris wound up. Stevens said one golf tournament has been held and a second will be in September to raise money for the monument. The goal was $10,000. According to a newsletter from the country club, the stone for the monument was ordered from India and was to be etched in Vermont before placement on the golf course.
Perez is not related to either one of the families, Stevens said. “I think it’s fantastic that he wants to do this.”
Capt. Stevens grew up on Market Street, Charlie Stevens said. “My mom, Ruth Marie Mitchell, grew up on Edgewood Hill in Roanoke County near Lakeside in Salem.”
His mother died in 1986 and both parents are buried in Sherwood Memorial Park in Salem, he said. They still have family in the area.
He said an article in the magazine “Aviation Classics,” out of the United Kingdom on the Barnes Incident, explains how it all transpired. The air field they pilots flew out of was Barnes Airport in Westfield.
His dad was a decorated World War II pilot who flew 99 missions in the Burma, India, theater. He flew a P-47 in the war. Danell was in the Korean War. Stevens said he has already met Mark Danell, the son of other pilot 1st. Lt. Robert Danell, who also plans to be at the dedication.