This is a tale of two similar Nevada towns steeped in military history and nurtured in humanity.
Both central Nevada cities witnessed the major importance of their respective military installation during the past three decades since Desert Storm, a campaign to liberate the Kuwaitis from the Iraqi army that invaded the small Middle East county in august 1990.
Since Sept. 11, 2001, both communities have seen their importance grow with the war on terrorism, and both have shared in the joy and the tragedy of conflict.
The triumphs and hardship of being rural cities, though, has made each community stronger with its people and in the manner residents conduct themselves during times of need.
Five Navy helicopter pilots temporary assigned to Naval Air Station Fallon lost their lives in a 2007 training mission during nighttime operations, thus accounting for one of the worst accidents in the history of the Navy’s premier base for training pilots and their crews. Now, Hawthorne faces the sorrow of lost lives from Monday night’s mortar explosion that killed seven marines and injured just as many.
Adversity, though, produces heroism and compassion. Heroism comes in the form of those first-responders who traveled to the training site south of Hawthorne trying to save lives. Heroism came in the form of CareFlight pilots maneuvering their helicopters over unfamiliar terrain during the night.
Compassion, the one human characteristic that puts differences aside, responded with tears and words of comfort.
Fallon and Hawthorne share many similarities in dealing with adversity, more so in recent years.
When NAS Fallon’s executive officer, Lt. Cmdr. Luther Hook and his three daughters died in a small airplane accident near the Fallon airport almost four years ago, the community wept, but both the civilian and military communities held hands with another, creating an inseparable bond in the face of tragedy.
Likewise, when a big rig rolled into an Amtrak passenger train in June 2011, killing six people and injuring scores more, the Fallon community rallied to provide comfort and assistance to several hundred passengers transported to one of the elementary schools.
Now, before a national audience, Hawthorne’s spotlight shines brightly again on its citizens. In coping with this latest tragedy, they will prevail like they have so many times before.
Hawthorne is special to those who call it home and to those who have a bond with the small town of 3,200 souls. During the early 1990s of Desert Shield and then Desert Storm, I served as a captain on the staff of a Nevada Army National Guard battalion, which had its headquarters on the depot’s grounds. All guardsmen assigned to Hawthorne strongly appreciated the support from its residents, many of whom are military veterans.
Likewise, after one of Hawthorne’s own, Spc. Tim Hall, suffered life-threatening injuries from a mortar round in Afghanistan almost three years ago, the community rallied behind Tim and his parents. When Tim returned home in December of the same year after undergoing rehabilitation at the Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, D.C., I covered his homecoming for both the LVN and The Associated Press. Hundreds of Hawthorne residents braved a chilly winter wind at the airport to welcome home the young soldier, who lost both his legs. Many more lined the streets as Mineral County Sheriff’s deputies escorted Tim and his family to their home than had been retrofitted by volunteers to allow the young soldier easier access with his wheelchair.
Now, Hawthorne’s residents quickly moved to action this week by holding fundraisers and donating money to the families of those young marines who died on a remote corner of the sprawling depot. Although most residents never knew these Marines by name or recognition, they, nevertheless, feel the pain as if each young man had been a lifetime resident of this community.
These unselfish actions — whether shown by Fallon or Hawthorne residents — always renew my faith in mankind’s compassion to one another ... and for many people including me, that is why we prefer to live in a smaller community where the bonds are tighter during both those times of triumph and especially during the sorrow of tragedy when angels wipe away their tears.
Steve Ranson, editor of the Lahontan Valley News, retired from the Nevada Army National Guard in 2009.