Editor’s Note: We really miss Cabbie. Our family here at FighterSweep is diminished without him. His words were always inspiring and helpful, and his generosity made him stand out. As you may recall, Major Taj Sareen died tragically when his F/A-18C Hornet crashed not long after departing RAF Lakenheath in the U.K. back in October. Witnesses on the ground described a last act of heroism where the F/A-18 maneuvered to avoid hitting buildings on the ground before it crashed.
Heroism aside, love was the largest driving force behind everything Taj did–for his brothers-in-arms, his friends, his family, and even aspiring Marine aviators. But most of all, what made our friend glow was his devotion to his daughter. Thanks to the Liberty Wing, Jade received her father’s last gift.
The tragedy that occurred on Oct. 21, 2015, will forever linger in the hearts of the Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 232 and Royal Air Force Lakenheath communities.
On that day, U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Taj Sareen, an F/A-18C pilot, died when his jet crashed shortly after takeoff from RAF Lakenheath.
Sareen and his squadron had stopped at Lakenheath for a few days, as they made their way back to home station following a six-month deployment.
Though not a Liberty Airman, Sareen is still considered as such by the Lakenheath community. His visit here was short, but his charisma and character had an indelible impact on everyone he met. Owners of the Turkish bazaar located in the RAF Lakenheath Base Exchange, Romeo Ovelek, and Umut Nafile, automatically recognized Sareen when notified of his death by Senior Master Sgt. Nicholas Sinnott, 48th Aerospace Medicine Squadron bioenvironmental engineering flight superintendent.
“When we found out what happened, I texted Nick and told him about our interaction with him [Sareen],” Nafile said.
During his short stay at Lakenheath, Sareen purchased a puzzle box from Ovelek and had it engraved for his daughter Jade, who was just a year old at the time.
“We knew that the box had to have been lost with the plane, so we worked with Nick and made it our mission to get his daughter a new puzzle box,” Nafile said.
The new box, made and delivered from Turkey by Nafile’s father, wasn’t a cheap venture, but they felt the gift was one that Sareen’s daughter deserved.
“Three things factored in,” Sinnott said. “Love, generosity, and just doing the right thing for the American hero that Maj. Sareen was to the Marines and Air Force, alike.”
While the owners of the bazaar worked to get a new box ready, Sinnot worked out a plan to have the box delivered to Jade.
“The story that they told me gave me absolute goosebumps,” Sinnott said. “Romeo remembered how he [Sareen] and his fellow Marines seemed high-spirited and very friendly, and from their experiences with him it just seemed right to not only honor his family with a new box, but his memory.”
U.S. Marine Corps leadership assigned to the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, headquartered at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif., visited RAF Lakenheath in early December 2015 to personally acknowledge Liberty Wing Airmen who participated in the crash recovery and response efforts.
When the Marine leaders visited 48th Medical Group personnel at the hospital on base, Sinnott was able to share his story with them and begin the process of getting the gift to its owner.
“Maj. Sareen was a fantastic pilot, and a loving father who spoke with his daughter daily on deployment,” said U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Allen Szczepek, VMFA-232 executive officer. “His remarkable personality left an impression on the Turkish puzzle box maker, enough for them to do this grand gesture thanking Sareen’s family for his service and sacrifice.”
Sinnott, along with a few Airmen invested in the story, worked hand-in-hand with Sareen’s home squadron to make the transition of the gift as smooth as possible. The box Jade received was similar to the one purchased by her father, but it held much more. With help from the Marines, the box held Sareen’s dog tags, a locket containing his photograph and the added engraving, “Daddy loves you always.”
The original article can be viewed here.
(Featured photo courtesy of The Daily Mail U.K.)