Remembering Senior Airman Benjamin D. White: 10 years later

Published 2:59 pm Monday, June 15, 2020

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“That others may live” was the motto Senior Airman Benjamin D. White, of Erwin, worked by in the Air Force Pararescue unit in Afghanistan.
June 9 marked 10 years since White gave the ultimate sacrifice, his life in the line of duty. To commemorate his angel-anniversary, his mother, Brenda Shelton, Gold Star Mother, and Rolling Thunder®, Inc., Tennessee Chapter 4 member held a memorial service and 71-mile motorcycle ride in his honor on June 13.
White was a four year veteran of the Air Force, had been deployed to Afghanistan six weeks before his death. He served as a medic with the 48th Rescue Squadron, which is tasked with flying into combat zones to pick up and treat the wounded.
On the day of his death, Air Force Combat Search and Rescue aircrafts, call signs Pedro 66 and Pedro 67, departed from Camp Bastion, in southern Afghanistan – this was their third alert of the day.
Their mission was to extract an injured British Marine. When they arrived on the scene, Pedro 66 and 67 immediately began to take enemy fire which resulted in Pedro 66 receiving damage to the tail rotor.
They attempted to fly away from attacking enemy forces to ensure no more Marines would be injured. After clearing the landing zone and surrounding civilian houses, Pedro 66 became uncontrollable and crashed.
White was killed, along with Air Force Staff Sgt. Michael P. Flores, Air Force 1st Lt. Joel C. Gentz and Air Force Staff Sgt. David C. Smith. White was 24-years-old.
According to Shelton, she joined Rolling Thunder for their support in bringing her son home.
Rolling Thunder is a nonprofit organization that aims to publicize the POW-MIA issue: to educate the public that many American Prisoners of War were left behind after all previous wars and to help correct the past and to protect future veterans from being left behind should they become Prisoners of War-Missing In Action.
Their mission statement also says they are committed to helping American Veterans from all wars.
“Rolling Thunder was a big part of the escort that escorted the family and Ben’s hearse back from Tri-cities airport in 2010,” she said. “Because of their support and the mission they represent, I joined a few years later.”
With her affiliation to the organization, Shelton is considered a Gold Star Mother.
“When a family loses a family member while on active duty in the military they become known as a Gold Star Family,” she explained. “American Gold Star Mothers formed as an organization in 1928 to support mothers who had lost their sons in WWI.”
Shelton said that the ride and memorial have been happening since 2014, getting rained out last year. Luckily this year, the sun was shining.
“The ride Saturday went very well,” she said. “We had the largest turnout of people and bikes we’ve ever had. We came to the American Legion post afterward for refreshments. I’ve heard numerous positive responses from those attending the ride and celebration of Ben’s life, service, and sacrifice.”
Shelton described her son as loving to give to others.
“He was just this person that believed in giving to others,” she said. “He went to Afghanistan, which is another way of giving yourself, he joined the military, and gave up himself, he gave the ultimate sacrifice.”
The ride began by departing from the American Legion traveling on 19E, turning left at Hampton onto HWY 67, taking 67 to Mountain City, turning left onto 421 through Mountain City, turning left back onto 67 and returning to the American Legion for refreshments.
The memorial service and ride is always the weekend before or after the anniversary of White’s death.
“He believed in what he was doing,” Shelton said. “It was his mission.”

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