FORT WORTH -- The pilots arrived in Fort Worth in 1917, drawn by the warm Texas weather and wide-open spaces they needed to learn to fly airplanes during World War I.
Flying was still relatively new then and a dangerous venture. Of the 1,900 pilots from Britain, Canada and the United States who filled Tarrant County airfields, an estimated 120 died in training. Twelve are still buried here, at Greenwood Cemetery in Fort Worth.
On Monday, more than 200 people paid tribute to the airmen and aviation pioneers who lost their lives in flight-training accidents.
Others attended Memorial Day services at Bluebonnet Hills Memorial Park in Colleyville, Mount Olivet Cemetery and Laurel Land Memorial Park in Fort Worth and Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery in Dallas.
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At Greenwood Cemetery, the sun peeked out from a cloud-filled sky, and flags of the United States, Britain and Canada fluttered in the wind. Vintage planes flew overhead, and bagpipes played Amazing Grace as Canadian and British officers laid wreaths for the airmen who long ago learned to fly the Curtiss JN-4 "Jenny," which had a top speed of 75 mph.
"We are here to celebrate heroes," said Lt. Gen. J.M. Duval, deputy commander for the North American Aerospace Defense Command in Colorado.
The men, members of what was known as the Royal Flying Corps, shared "a love of flying and a common commitment to defeating the enemies," Duval said.
Friends of the Flying Corps, a small local group, paid to have the memorial placed at Greenwood in the late 1920s and host this service every other year.
Griffin Murphey, the group's leader, said that members believe the memorial is an important part of the city's and nation's history.
"Fort Worth was just a small cattle-drive town when all of these glamorous pilots moved here," Murphey said. "It was really the beginning of the city's role in aviation development."
It is not clear why these 12 men were buried here while most others were sent home, Murphey said.
As only two World War I veterans remain alive today, both of whom live in the United Kingdom, it becomes even more important to remember the sacrifices they made, said the Rev. Allan Hawkins of St. Mary the Virgin Church in Arlington.
"They joined the long parade into sunset," Hawkins said. "We are vowed to remember them."
Sarah Bahari, 817-390-7056