Standing in a room full of familiar faces had to be surreal for Melinda Patton.
It was just over 20 years ago she had to deal with the knowledge her husband M/Cpl. Darrell Cronin wouldn’t be coming home to her or their young children: Christopher, 8, and Tanisha, 3.
“Two decades have passed and some days it feels just like yesterday,’’ Patton said to those gathered for a dedication to her late husband. Cronin’s brother, Keith, was also at the podium, but Patton did all the talking, something she wasn’t sure she was going to be able to do 12 hours earlier.
“Darrell would be so proud and happy today,’’ she said, her voice full of emotion.
“I reached up and turned the radio on and it was our wedding song. If that isn’t fate, or irony or what, I don’t know. I just feel like Darrell is watching out for me.’’
— Melinda Patton
When Patton decided to start planning the trip, at the urging of Wayne Miller, who organized the event — as he has done for so many additional military memorials in the community — a wealth of strange correlations started to unfold.
It began with her flight.
Once she had booked it and was given a confirmation number, she realized it was the last three digits of her late husband’s social insurance number.
She arrived in Newfoundland on Tuesday, Nov. 6 ‚ a significant date in her life as it was on that date in 1987, she first met Cronin. Nov. 7, 1987 also stands out in her memory as that was the day she called her parents and told them she had met the man she was going to marry the day before.
After she landed in St. John’s, picked up her rental car, adjusted the seat, the mirrors and other things, she was almost ready to go.
“I reached up and turned the radio on and it was our wedding song,’’ Patton said.
“If that isn’t fate, or irony or what, I don’t know. I just feel like Darrell is watching out for me,’’ she added.
Darrell, a master corporal and search and rescue technician with 413 Search and Rescue Squadron out of Greenwood, N.S., was killed on the job at the age of 32. The helicopter that he was riding in crashed killing all six on board on Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula while it was returning from a SAR mission.
Family and friends gathered at Admiral’s Academy in Kelligrews for the ceremony to honour the late search and rescue technician.
They first attended the school’s Remembrance Day ceremony featuring a host of songs, a shadow play done to Taylor Swift’s song “Safe and Sound,” procession of the cross and a special address by guest speaker Maj. Kyle Strong of the 1st Battalion Royal Newfoundland Regiment.
Following the ceremony, friends and family, in addition to student representatives, gathered in the learning centre for the dedication hosted by Woodrow French.
“A learning centre is a special place, the heartbeat of our schools,” Tony Stack, CEO/director of education, Newfoundland and Labrador English School District said. “To have a native son of Kelligrews, to use his name and dedicate this room to him, is an honour,’’ he added.
Stack said service comes in a variety of forms and Cronin’s service exemplified that.
“This is a day of celebration and because of that, the heartbeat of the community will be forever honoured to have Darrell’s name on it,” he said.
The CH-113 helicopter with the Labrador Tusker 27 crew from 14 Wing Greenwood was en route from that base when it went down.
Members of the crew included Cronin, Capt. Peter Musselman, 33, of Edmonton, Capt. Darrin Vandenbilche, 33, of Invermere, B.C., M/Cpl. David Gaetz, 37, of Halifax, M/Cpl. Glen Sinclair, 36, of Rastatt, Germany, and Sgt. Jean Roy, 34, of Montréal.
“It means a lot to be here today,” Lt.-Col. Jenn Weissenborn, commander, 9 Wing Gander said.
“Although I never served with M/Cpl. Cronin, I did know several of those lost that day,” she said.
Weissenborn said the community keeping Cronin’s memory alive is heartening, noting the other five men who died in the crash didn’t have the community support and ongoing tributes that Kelligrews has for Cronin.
“What you do here is not done elsewhere and that is special,” she said.
She also mentioned a first aid competition that carries Cronin’s name held each year in Gander.
Patton said it was unfortunate her children were unable to attend the ceremony, but because of their busy lives and what they are doing to secure their own future, they felt it best to concentrate on their respective educations.
Chris, 28, is pursuing an Advanced Care Paramedicine Course at Holland College in Summerside, P.E.I.
Tanisha, 23, lives in Edmonton and works as an on-ice Edmonton Oilers Crush girl on game nights in addition to a host of other jobs and academic pursuits. She works as a full-time teacher’s aide for the Sturgeon County school board in Alberta, coaches the boys’ volleyball team, works part-time as a server at a popular restaurant in downtown Edmonton in addition to her on-ice duties with Oilers Entertainment group.