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Fundraising for South Portland air crash memorial faces June deadline

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Fundraising for South Portland air crash memorial faces June deadline

SOUTH PORTLAND — The dream of a memorial to commemorate one of the state's worst aviation disasters is nearing fruition. 

But an additional $2,200 must be raised by June for the memorial to be installed and dedicated on July 11, the 66th anniversary of the Long Creek crash that claimed the lives of 19 people, including a well-known South Portland pilot returning home from World War II. 

Resident John Kierstead, a historian leading the effort, said fundraisers are closing in on their $11,500 goal.

Work has already begun on the five-foot memorial, which will contain two embedded granite images on a large stone, with one inset facing a granite bench. One plaque will display the names of those who perished in the accident, while the other will depict a WWII pilot, holding a boy and girl by the hand, walking away into a cloud.

The image is being carved on granite being donated by Wells-based Millennium Granite, which donated granite mined from the same quarry used to build the Lincoln Memorial and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Washington, D.C.

Kierstead said he hopes the dedication ceremony will include Gov. John Baldacci, U.S. Reps. Chellie Pingree and Mike Michaud, and U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, along with city councilors.

"We want to (dedicate) it on the day, date and time," Kierstead said. "It happened at 4:45 p.m. on July 11, 1944."

The dedication ceremony may also include WWII re-enactors, Kierstead said.

Kierstead's passion to memorialize the 1944 incident compelled him to lobby city leaders for a piece of land. The city agreed to put the memorial at the entrance of Redbank Village, just across Westbrook Street from the original crash site.

Many of the crash victims were women and children who lived in the Redbank neighborhood.

Another was U.S. Army Lt. Phillip "Phee" Russell, who was the pilot and only person aboard the military plane, an A-26 Invader. Russell, a well-known South Portland athlete, was on his way home to visit his family during World War II.

At a recent City Council meeting, Kierstead and some friends debuted an original song about the crash. Kierstead, who has had health problems recently, said he hopes to be able to perform the song at the dedication ceremony.

Fundraising efforts were bolstered by an anonymous $5,000 donation made through the Scarborough Rotary Club, he said.

Otherwise, fundraising has been stymied by a lack of corporate sponsors and by others who have promised to contribute, but have not followed through, he said.

As for what might happen if the fundraising goal isn't be reached by June, Kierstead said "I'm hoping that's a bridge I won't have to cross. If that doesn't go in it's going to be extremely sad.

"I'm trying to impress on people this is something that's way overdue," he said. "Trying to raise money in an economic disaster like we're in right now is not easy. But if everyone in the city gave a dollar, we'd be fine."

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net