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96 Years Later, ROMA Families Still Mourn
By Nancy E. Sheppard

ROMA imageOn February 21, 1922, the U.S. Army dirigible, ROMA, based out of Langley Field, crashed at the Army Quartermaster Depot in Norfolk, Virginia, killing 34 of the 45 officers, crew, and civilian on board. It was the single deadliest disaster of a U.S. hydrogen airship. Because it was an embarrassment to the War Department and various other government agencies, the disaster and the deaths were swept under the carpet and carefully forgotten until my book, The Airship ROMA Disaster in Hampton Roads was published by The History Press in 2016.

In the two years since its publication, the long-term reality of the disaster has truly hit home. Following the disaster, hundreds of lives were forever changed for generations. The families still grieve for their loved ones, all of whom were never the honor and recognition they deserved for giving their lives in the line of duty. Particularly, the grandchildren of ROMA victim, Lt. Ambrose V. Clinton. Prior to embarking upon this research journey together, they knew very little about their grandfather and have never seen the artifacts that once belonged to him. These artifacts are cared for in the archives of the Hampton History Museum, including the identification bracelet Lt. Clinton was wearing when he died in that fiery conflagration in 1922.

After petitioning the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, we received approval last year, and we will be dedicating a Historic Highway Marker this November to memorialize the tragedy nearly a century ago. It will be the first publicly accessible recognition of this catastrophic event. Many ROMA family members and other lighter-than-air historians and enthusiasts will travel to Hampton Roads from all over the country to attend the ceremony and other events to commemorate ROMA’s men. For Clinton family, they will receive a sense of peace and closure, as Hampton History Museum has generously agreed to allow them access to their archives to visit with their grandfather’s belongings.

After 96 long years of being a forgotten part of aviation history, ROMA’s courageous crew will have the public recognition they have deserved for so long, but never received. But for their families, this sign will mean something more. They will finally have a long overdue sense of closure they have needed since their loved ones perished on that cold day so many years ago.

If you would like more information regarding the upcoming ROMA memorial events and to learn more about this disaster, follow me on Facebook at @NancyESheppardAuthor


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