AMARILLO, TX (KFDA) - A local man was involved in one of the largest peacetime losses of military lives in history. Four decades later, former Marine Lamar Thomas has made it his mission to keep the memory of those who died alive by remembering and honoring 'the forgotten 49.'
On January 17, 1977, 49 U.S. Sailors and Marines lost their lives in a naval accident just off the coast of Barcelona, Spain. A ferry was transporting 124 men back to the USS Guam and USS Trenton.
"As we left the harbor, we rounded a corner and a Spanish freighter hit us, broad-sided us, and the boat capsized," recounted Thomas. "I had two friends, one on either side of me, and when the boat flipped over both of those guys didn't make it."
There was a memorial service in Barcelona one year after the accident, but since then nothing -- no memorials and no real closure.
That's why this year Thomas made sure the 40th anniversary would be commemorated in the proper way where it all happened in Barcelona.
"As time went by, it seemed like fewer and fewer people knew about it or remembered it," said Thomas. "So we wanted to do something to honor those guys. We also wanted to do something to let the family members know their loved ones weren't forgotten."
It took 14 months of planning, but Thomas was able to make it happen.
More than 80 people made their way to Barcelona earlier this month to be a part of the memorial service. Those in attendance included survivors, family members of those who died, Spanish divers who helped in the rescue efforts and Spanish dignitaries just to name a few.
Thomas said he was astounded by the number of people who came and how much the ceremony meant to them. "To hear them come up to you and tell you how much this meant to them, how for all these years they've wanted someone to do something, they've wanted to do something like this, and they felt like their loved ones had been forgotten... People came up to us, telling us at long last they feel a sense of closure, a sense of peace because we were able to honor them."
Thomas is optimistic he can reach even more people, so he's already planning another memorial service in Barcelona for the 45th anniversary of the accident.