“History is filled with heroes,” Cmdr. Chris Middleton told the crowd of mourners, “But we need not look to the past for greatness. It is in front of us today.”
Middleton, the Commanding Officer of Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 129, struck that theme several times in his remarks when he paid tribute to three officers who lost their lives during a routine training mission March 11.
Well over 1,200 family members, friends, guests from the local and base communities, and other dignitaries joined VAQ-129 at a memorial service held at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island March 19, for Lt. Cmdr. Alan A. Patterson, Lt. j.g. Valerie C. Delaney and Lt. j.g. William McIlvaine III. The three officers, all graduates of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., perished when their EA-6B Prowler crashed in a rural area in eastern Washington.
Patterson, the mission commander and Electronic Counter Measure Officer (ECMO) Instructor on the flight, graduated from the Naval Academy in 2000 and had a distinguished flying career, including deployments flying over Iraq and Afghanistan in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. Like all other Electronic Attack Wing pilot and ECMOs, Patterson began his flight training in VAQ-129, the Electronic Attack Wing community’s Fleet Replacement Training Squadron, and rejoined the squadron as the Operations Officer and instructor last December. Middleton said Patterson was well known across the electronic attack community for his talent, energy, trustworthiness and competence. “He was a great warrior and great friend,” Middleton said.
Delaney, who graduated from the Naval Academy in 2009, earned her Wings of Gold in February 2012 and was assigned to VAQ-129 as one of the Navy’s last entrants as an EA-6B Prowler pilot. Middleton said Delaney excelled in the squadron and was scheduled to qualify on USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) in May. She was well known for her integrity, strong faith, and unyielding compassion for others. What her fellow squadron mates will probably remember most was her enthusiasm. “She loved to fly,” Middleton said. “She was simply an inspiration to all that knew her.”
McIlvaine graduated from the Naval Academy in 2010 and was assigned to VAQ-129 in June 2012 following Naval Flight Officer Training. Middleton said McIlvaine was a great flight student and naval officer. He was also well known for his talents as a bagpiper, who played his bagpipes with the Naval Academy’s Pipes and Drums Corps, and at NAS Whidbey Island’s Marine Corps Ball last year. “I have found over the years that the young officers passing through VAQ-129 are endlessly talented,” Middleton said. “Willie had a spirit that carried his class and strengthened our squadron.”
In his ceremonial remarks, Middleton noted that everyone came together in sorrow for their deep loss, as well as in gratitude for the lives Patterson, Delaney and McIlvaine lived, who he considers among the best of America’s citizens. He also said the support and teamwork demonstrated throughout the base and local community was truly inspirational.
“Whidbey Island is a special place,” Middleton said. “We are a small, tight knit Navy family. We work hard, learn, train and deploy together. Our families raise their children together. Spouses and neighbors become family. Our towns adopt us and our children as family. Valerie, Willie and Alan were part of our family. We will honor them through our work, our flying and in future deployments. We will carry on because they would want us to.”