Hundreds turn out to honor three lost Florida guardsmen |

Hundreds turn out to honor three lost Florida guardsmen


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) – With empty boots and helmets as sad symbols of fallen comrades, hundreds of mourners gathered at airfields to honor three Florida guardsmen killed in a plane crash.

Chief Warrant Officers Johnny Wayne Duce and Erik Paul Arson and Staff Sgt. Robert Franklin Ward Jr., were killed March 3 when their C-23 Sherpa cargo plane crashed in a field near Unadilla, Ga.. Also killed were 18 members of the Virginia National Guard, who were passengers on the plane.

About 400 people gathered in Lakeland and another 500 in Jacksonville to honor Duce, the pilot, and the two crewmen.

Gov. Jeb Bush, who attended the Jacksonville ceremony, compared their deaths to those who perished on the battlefield of Gettysburg during the Civil War.

”They leave a legacy for all of us to remember,” the governor said.

Maj. Gen. Ronald O. Harrison, adjunct general of the Florida National Guard, said sympathetic cards and telephone calls have poured in from across the nation for the families and fellow guardsmen.

”This tragedy has been felt around the world and each member of the United States’ armed forces understands the risks that accompany us when we serve our nation,” he said. ”We have suffered a great and tragic loss.”

At both ceremonies, he read a letter from President George W. Bush to men’s families.

In Lakeland, a display of Larson’s family pictures offered a brief glimpse into the life of the 34-year-old pilot as an infant through his 18 years of military service. Pictures showed him napping on the couch with family pets and horseback riding with wife.

Ward, 36, was a Gulf War veteran who joined the Lakeland-based 171st Aviation Unit last year.

Duce, 49, of Orange Park near Jacksonville, was a pilot with 30 years of National Guard service.

”They were ordinary, yet extraordinary human beings,” Harrison said.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around the Lake Tahoe Basin and beyond make the Tahoe Tribune's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.