Monday, June 30, 2014

The Memorial Lights returns to the Air Medical Memorial in Littleton, CO

Last week marked 370 days since the original quiet debut of The Memorial Lights, to an impressive crowd of three people, my friends and co-creators Alex, Temple and myself. The Memorial Lights then went on to make their AMTC debut then a few months later in Virginia Beach with a much larger and receptive showing.  The Memorial Lights has always been a labor of love for me, and something I want to give back the air medical community. I would be lying if I said I was not nervous about returning to Littleton, CO, managing the unique challenges of the venue...and wondering exactly what the turnout was going to be.

To my surprise, Steve Sweeney, Co-founder and Board Chair of the Air Medical Memorial, called me Thursday morning of the event, letting me know that AirLife Denver was going to fly one of their aircraft in for The Memorial Lights. I was pleasantly surprised, as I started to realize that what has been a pipe dream so long for me was starting to grow wings. In addition it was so fulfilling to see that other key members of the air medical community were also working behind the scenes to promote The Memorial Lights success. A big huge “Thanks” Tammy!

Once I arrived in Denver, Temple and I made our way to a cafĂ©, where some of the survivor’s families were meeting for a casual dinner. The place was packed, and it was nice to see some familiar faces. However, when I sat down at the bar by myself to enjoy a cold beer, I suddenly was accompanied by an amazing woman, who had lost her husband 17 months ago. She explained to me, how important the The Memorial Lights installation and their quiet nature was to her and how the ceremony gave her such peace. This completely warmed my heart. I think I am making a difference.

Shortly after dinner, Temple and I arrived to the Air Medical Memorial site, to be greeted by the Littleton Fire Department, who was there to monitor the landing zone for AirLife.  Once the helicopter landed, I headed with the cardboard box of Lights, set up a table with some volunteers, and then explained to the Volunteers what to do. "Take a few lights, read the names and spread them out in groups of one, two, three or four. As you read the names, please take note of who they are. Each tea light represents an honoree and their service. And if you feel so compelled to place them in their correct groups please do, as the Lights are all mixed together." A few family members also assisted us, and as would be the case, they always seemed to find their loved ones immediately despite the mixture. It was uncanny and humbling in the same breath.

In total there was about 75 people there, paying respects to loved ones and colleagues. The captain of the fire department, kindly offered the use of his 100ft ladder truck for me to get an overhead image. I took him up on his offer, and a few minutes later a large truck rolled in, set up, and I climbed it as it took me above and I quickly capture imagery of the layout and the fruits of our labor.

Once it got dark enough, I set up my tripod and captured what I believe is a key color image of The Memorial Lights installation, with two important family members in the foreground surrounded by lights; in the background I also captured the three-person flight crew, holding three tea lights, which represented their three crew AirLife lost a few years ago. Only the sounds of the nearby freeway were heard, everyone just walked around in silence. Again humbling and so resounding are the first words that come to mind.

I am very thankful for the growing encouragement and continued support from the US air medical community in their endorsement of my professional photography, my artwork and this installation.  And many, many thanks again to Temple, Alex (from afar) and Steve Sweeney, as well as his corps of volunteers as this project would have never taken flight without you. 

Many thoughts still swirl around my head, as I try to understand how The Memorial Lights can help to educate and inform as well as honor the fallen. How can I further spread this concept of reflective beauty and solemn nature to the entire air medical community? How can I, the photographer and the artist, honor the air medical community’s fallen heroes, while trying to eliminate it from happening again? All questions impossible to answer, but I will continue to do my part in trying.

The Memorial Lights project will make its next appearance this September at AMTC Nashville with the heartfelt assistance of AAMS and the city of Nashville. Each time is bigger and better than the last and I look forward to its debut. Come September there may even be some surprises involved!?!?

Until next time……..

Mark Mennie