Last revised: October 11, 2013

"A Memorial to Seven Men!"
(By Post-Standard Columnist Sean Kirst)

Larry Tart, who retired from the Air Force as a Senior Master Sergeant, describes the area at Skytop that once housed Airmen studying Eastern European languages. Seven died in a 1959 fire.

At Skytop today: Dedication of a Memorial to
Seven Airmen, lost in a fire.

Early in 2012, Larry Tart, a retiree in State College, Pa., began following some letters to the editor in The Post-Standard, letters that triggered several columns by Dick Case.

That correspondence focused on a quiet historical truth: On Jan. 6, 1959, a flash fire at Skytop, at Syracuse University, swept through a barracks where dozens of young members of the U.S. Air Force were sleeping. Seven died. More than 40 were injured. The horror was seared into the memory of everyone who was there.

The letters in 2012 were written by graying Airmen, who asked a question that Case also raised in his columns:

After more than 50 years, why was there was no memorial at SU to the seven who were lost?

The resolution, finally, arrives today.

A memorial will be dedicated at 3 p.m., near the site of the long-vanished barracks off Lambreth Lane at Skytop. Some relatives and friends of the victims are expected to attend, as are top SU officials, representatives of the Air Force and many involved with Tart's organization, the Prop Wash Gang, which includes hundreds of former Airmen who served in security services, the intelligence branch of the Air Force.




Between the 1950s and 1971, Tart said, many Airmen studied Eastern European languages at SU and lived at Skytop, as part of an Air Force contract with the university. It was during the peak of the Cold War with the Soviet Union, and Tart said the programs were run under a veil of secrecy - which explains why the Air Force did little for many years to memorialize those killed in the fire.

"It was kind of swept under the rug," Tart said.

But the Berlin Wall fell decades ago, and Tart said members of his organization felt a memorial in Syracuse was long overdue. The group originally came together around an effort to honor 17 Airmen who died in 1958 in Armenia, when their C-130 aircraft was down by Soviet fighters.

A similar effort, the group decided, was needed in Syracuse.

"After more than a half-century," Tart said Thursday, as he stood near the site of the old barracks at SU, "we wanted to pay tribute to the seven brothers who died here."

Many in the Prop Wash Gang studied at the SU, and Tart said most, in some way, were aware of the fire. Last year, after deciding to push ahead with a memorial, his organization contacted SU and received a warm reception from Chancellor Nancy Cantor and Air Force personnel in the area, Tart said.

The result, after much discussion and planning: The monument that gets unveiled today.

The public is welcome, and Tart said the hope is "that students who come here to study and learn" will walk past, pause to read the names ...

And remember.


Sean Kirst is a columnist with The Post-Standard. Email him at, visit his blog at, write to him in care of The Post-Standard, 220 S. Warren St., Syracuse 13202 or send him a message on Facebook or Twitter.


Last revised: October 11, 2013

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