Denied federal help, families take action to memorialize Flight 293

Jun 1, 2022, 6:43 AM | Updated: 6:50 am
Greg Barrowman, right, is spearheading the effort to dedicate a memorial to Flight 293 at Tahoma Na...
Greg Barrowman, right, is spearheading the effort to dedicate a memorial to Flight 293 at Tahoma National Cemetery; his brother, Army Private Bruce Barrowman, was lost on the flight that left Tacoma on June 3, 1963. Aviation and military historian Shawn Murphy (left) is assisting; Jeremy Mead (center) is a cemetery employee. (Feliks Banel/KIRO Newsradio)
(Feliks Banel/KIRO Newsradio)

It was 59 years ago this week when an airliner took off from what’s now JBLM and headed north for Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska. En route, somewhere off the coast of Southeast Alaska, something went wrong. The four-engine propeller plane, operated by Northwest Airlines, disappeared and was never found.

Greg Barrowman lives on a small acreage not far from Tahoma National Cemetery. On a drizzly day earlier this spring, he met up with aviation and military history enthusiasts Lee Corbin and Shawn Murphy – along with a certain historian from KIRO Newsradio. The goal was to find out what might be possible in terms of creating a monument to pay tribute to the 101 souls lost aboard Flight 293 on June 1, 1963.

A monument would help with “the closure phase for a lot of people that we’ve contacted over the course of the years [who] would know that at least there’s a place that has been permitted to recognize each one of their family members,” Barrowman said. “I mean, I’ve been through Congress and others, [and] nobody bothered with it. [They told me] ‘Oh, no, you’d have to get Congressional approval to have this done.’ It’s like 15 years later, and here we stand.”

“I’m not complaining,” Barrowman said, addressing Corbin and Murphy as a grin started to form across his face, “I’m just saying it’s nice to meet you!”

The affable Barrowman has every right to complain. Flight 293 has never been formally commemorated by the federal government or by any branch of the military whose members were aboard. The flight was aboard a chartered commercial plane, being flown by civilian pilots, and carrying members of the military and their dependents. Thus, its loss is categorized differently than if it had been a military aircraft carrying only active-duty soldiers, sailors, airmen, or Marines.

Multiple efforts led by Barrowman to seek some kind of assistance with creating a federally-funded memorial, or launching a renewed search and/or effort to understand why the plane crashed have been repeatedly rejected.

KIRO Newsradio first interviewed Greg Barrowman about his connection to Flight 293 more than five years ago, and he has since become something of a leader of an informal group of people and organizations with an interest in finding and commemorating the missing plane. For Greg Barrowman, the loss of Flight 293 couldn’t be more personal.

“My brother Bruce, a private who just graduated or finished boot camp and was on first assignment, was on that flight with other military personnel from the different branches,” Barrowman said in a phone interview a few days ago. Greg Barrowman knows that his family – his parents and another brother are deceased, but he also has two sisters – is not alone in the profound loss they experienced when Bruce Barrowman disappeared along with the other passengers and crew of Flight 293.

“I’m sure that the rest of the family members and friends of those [aboard] were suffering just as we have and [were] grief-stricken for not only just that time frame in the beginning, but [it] has continued throughout our lives,” Barrowman said. “The important part is to try to find resolve, and if you can encourage others to find the way to some peace and contentment.”

“That would be where I found myself after nearly 60 years,” he said.

Which is at least partly why Lee Corbin and Shawn Murphy have joined with Barrowman and the other Flight 293 families to work toward dedicating a monument to the flight in time for the 60th anniversary.

“Those folks deserve not to be forgotten!!!” wrote Shawn Murphy in an email.

Corbin and Murphy, in addition to their interest in aviation and military history, are developing something of a track record in the Pacific Northwest creating monuments to lost flights. Last year, their work led to the dedication of a monument at Black Lake in the Cascade Foothills, honoring two pilots of a US Navy trainer aircraft missing from Sand Point Naval Air Station since the 1940s.

“If that aircraft had arrived safe and sound in Elmendorf, and those passengers and crew lived a full life, most of them would be eligible for a plot in a VA Cemetery and a military headstone as the country’s way of saying ‘thank you,’” wrote Lee Corbin in an email to KIRO Newsradio Tuesday. “Strange how, having died and disappeared while following orders, there is no ‘thank you’ unless a family member says it.”

As the family member saying it the loudest and most persistently, Greg Barrowman has served as something of a partner to KIRO Newsradio in reaching out and connecting with other families and friends of those lost on Flight 293. He’s also become the unofficial information hub for sharing the history of the flight, and for attempts to search for the wreckage and to create a memorial. He acknowledges that the experience of connecting with those families and friends has changed him somewhat.

“When you comfort others, you’re able to somehow find contentment and peace,” Barrowman said. “So I have found, since we’ve talked, that I have, if you want to call it ‘a calling,’ to stand in the gap for the other families of those lost in the flight.”

Standing in the gap, says Greg Barrowman, is “a very interesting concept. It’s biblical. It’s to fill the void in the wall where the enemy comes in, and the enemy in our case has been death and sorrow and sadness. And on the other hand, when you stand in the gap and offer hope for a time in eternity, it’s a life-changing event.”

Barrowman, with help from Lee Corbin and Shawn Murphy, is working on the design for a monument which will be placed along the “Memorial Walkway” at Tahoma. It will join a row of other uniform-sized and shaped stones – dedicated to the memory of other groups of service members – and will include information about the lost flight.

Plans are to dedicate the monument during a ceremony on June 3, 2023 – the 60th anniversary of the day Flight 293 went missing – and to invite as many friends and family members of those lost to attend, as well as to open the event to the broader community. And while elements of the dedication will indeed be somber, Greg Barrowman will also host a celebration afterwards at his nearby home.

“It will be an opportunity for those that come to the memorial and then the celebration afterwards to have an opportunity to blend our humanity together,” Barrowman said. “And then to find, I believe, not a magical solution, but one that’s healing.”

A monument will be an important step for Greg Barrowman and many of the other families and friends of Flight 293. Does this commemoration mean he’s ready to give up on searching for the lost DC-7?

“Absolutely not,” Barrowman said. “With the recent plane crashes and the reminder of what happens to a person’s psyche – they want to find out how and why, what’s the details, what could be done – it’s not a matter of recovering bodies or anything – it’s just that’s part of it.”

A search for the missing plane and for answers as to why it crashed “would be secondary, but it is right on the top two of the list,” he said.

To support the Flight 293 monument, Greg Barrowman has created a GoFundMe campaign to raise $10,000. Contributions may be made here.

You can hear Feliks every Wednesday and Friday morning on Seattle’s Morning News and read more from him here. If you have a story idea, please email Feliks here.

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Denied federal help, families take action to memorialize Flight 293