On April 8, 1951, a C-47 transport plane crashed near Charleston’s Kanawha Airport, which is now Yeager Airport, killing 21 members of the Air National Guard. They were on their way to Charleston for the funeral of fellow Guardsmen Major Woodford Sutherland. Sutherland had been killed in a freak training accident in Florida in which his parked P-51D Mustang was hit by another plane.
At the time of the tragedy, the West Virginia Air National Guard was only four years old. It was organized in the aftermath of World War II by Lieutenant Colonel James K. McLaughlin as the 167th Fighter Squadron, stationed out of Charleston. During the war, McLaughlin had led the largest Allied daytime bombing raid over Germany.
The 167th’s first planes were P-47D Thunderbolt fighters, which were soon replaced with the famous P-51D Mustangs. In 1955, the 167th was relocated to Martinsburg after part of the squadron had been separated out to form the 130th Troop Carrier Squadron, which remained in Charleston.
To this day, West Virginia Air National Guardsmen wear a patch with 21 stars in memory of the 1951 crash victims.