A Splendid Ceremony: Team Whiteman honors original Striker at Arlington

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Heather Salazar
  • 509th Bomb Wing

Seventy years after the disappearance of a C-124 Globlemaster II over the Atlantic Ocean, members of the 509th Bomb Wing honored, U.S. Lt. Col. James I. Hopkins, during a memorial ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.

On March 21, 1951, a C-124 Globemaster II commanded by Major Robert J. Bell, 2nd Strategic Support Squadron, departed Walker Air Force Base, New Mexico. Loaded with aircrews and equipment of the 509th Bomber Group, their final destination was RAF Lakenheath, England.

The aircraft never made it to England, and the 53 passengers on board were never seen again.

The 509th BW, opened the memorial ceremony with a flyover by a T-38 Talon, from Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri.

“It was an honor to be a part of the memorial service for Lt. Col. Hopkins,” said Col. Keith Butler, 509th Operations Group commander. “As our Airman’s Creed states, ‘I am faithful to a proud heritage,’ being a part of Whiteman Air Force Base is no different. We often say we stand on the shoulders of the great men and women who have paved the way for us. Without the contributions of Lt. Col. Hopkins, we would not be who we are, America’s premier bomb wing capable of executing our mission anytime, anywhere.”

Hopkins was a Maj. at the time of the atomic missions. During which he piloted the Big Stink, a B-29 Superfortress, the aircraft assigned to photograph the atomic bomb mission against Nagasaki.  

Following World War II, Hopkins stayed with the 509th BG at Walker AFB. Which is where some of his family’s favorite memories stemmed from.

“While we were stationed [there] after the war, my father deployed to England for three months,” said James K. Hopkins, Lt. Col. Hopkins’ son. “When he returned, my mother, sister and I went to greet him at the base. When dad landed his plane, the bomb bay doors opened and out dropped a brand new English bicycle. I’m pretty sure that wasn’t allowed, but I loved it anyway.”

Hopkins was later promoted to Chief of Personnel for U.S. Air Force Strategic Air Command at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska.  Eventually, ending up temporarily assigned to the SAC staff at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana.  

It was during this assignment that Hopkins boarded a plane that would become part of the largest air and sea search up to that time.

After picking up members of the 509th Bomber Group at Walker AFB, the C-124 stopped at Barksdale AFB and picked up Cullen and his staff, including Hopkins.

According to the Bureau of Aircraft Accident Archives, approximately 800 miles southwest of Ireland the C-124 gave out a Mayday call, reporting a fire in the cargo crates. The 509th BG element stationed in England launched a B-29 to search for survivors. While the survivors were reportedly located, the B-29 was unequipped to aid in the rescue. By the time the first rescue craft reached the area 19 hours later, no one could be found.

A headstone was placed for Hopkins in his hometown of Palestine, Texas, in 1951.  Last year, Hopkins started the 18-month process to have his father honored at Arlington.

“A few years ago I learned about the mystery surrounding the C-124 crash that claimed my father and 52 other men,” said Hopkins. “He is now the fifth person from the crash to have a headstone at Arlington. Having my father honored at Arlington means that he won’t be forgotten.”

On Sept. 30, four members assigned to the 509th BW had the honor to witness the ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, recognizing Hopkins sacrifice and commemorating his contributions to the 509th BW.

“It was a splendid ceremony, my family and I really appreciated all of the effort that everyone put into it. My father loved flying, serving his country, and he had loved being in the 509th Bomber Group,” said Hopkins. “The 509th Bomb Wing’s participation cements my connection with the past and I am grateful my father’s story is being told.”