Local politicians, town officials, veterans, and other community members gathered at the intersection of Weymouth, Pine, and Sycamore street to dedicate a memorial to Lt. Walter R. Heins. This plaque, placed on November 11, 2017, commemorates the navy pilot’s courageous actions just fifty years ago.
On October 4, 1967, Lt. Heins left the South Weymouth Naval Air Station on a routine training flight. Just a few minutes in, he noticed that the plane had started to malfunction. Heins guided his plane into the town forest in order to avoid not only the John F. Kennedy Elementary School but also the surrounding residences. He refrained from ejecting himself until he had cleared the nearby neighborhoods, despite the fact that this would cost him his own life. Through these actions, Lt. Heins saved the lives of hundreds, leaving a legacy that the town will never forget.
The ceremony began with remarks from Police Chief William Smith, who was very young when these events occurred. He recounted coming home on the school bus, only to see the aircraft’s canopy lying in the middle of the street. Of course, he didn’t know what it was at first. It wasn’t until he spoke to his parents that he would learn about Lt. Heins tremendous sacrifice. Concluding his speech, Chief Smith said, “That was a day I will never forget.”
Senator John Keenan began his own remarks by saying that he was honored to represent the legislature at the ceremony. He continued to say that “everyone is born into life with promise.” At just thirty-one years old, Heins had an entire life ahead of him, the potential to do amazing things. In sacrificing his own life, he saved the lives of those around him. He gave future generations the opportunity to fulfill their own promise.
Sara Stinson, chairman of the Holbrook Historical Society, shared her own thoughts about the life of Lt. Heins. She said, “Lt. Walter R. Heins did not set out to be a hero in Holbrook.”
He had probably never been to Holbrook, or even heard of it, before that fateful day in 1967. Heins grew up in Burlington, Vermont and attended high school in Keene, New Hampshire. As Stinson said, this was “a town he did not know, and we did not know him.”
Described in his high school yearbook as “daring” and persistent, Lt. Heins lived up to his reputation. Shortly after his death, Heins was posthumously awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his heroism. Five decades later, the Town of Holbrook has dedicated a memorial in his honor. Stinson hopes that, with this memorial, “future generations will never forget that Lt. Heins was a hero, in the truest sense of the word.”