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Memorial Day

Family, friends to gather to remember Kathryn’s story

Golf tournament, high tea celebrate Fayetteville pilot lost in crash of Black Hawk


It was five years ago when two Black Hawk helicopter crews were conducting a night training exercise between Kaena Point and Oahu’s Dillingham Airfield northwest of Honolulu and communications were lost.

Five soldiers were on board the Black Hawk when it crashed off the coast of Hawaii on that fateful day, Aug. 15, 2017.

Among them was 26-year-old 1st Lt. Kathryn Bailey, a helicopter pilot who was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 25th Aviation Regiment, 25th Combat Aviation Brigade, 25th Infantry Division.

Bailey was from Fayetteville.

The soldiers were not in a war zone when they died. The routine training mission was designed to prepare them for any situation in which the U.S. military might need their help.

On Oct. 1, the fifth annual Kathryn’s High Tee and Golf Tournament will pay tribute to the lost soldiers at Gates Four Golf and Country Club in Fayetteville.

Activities will include the golf tournament, live music and a high tea for those who don’t play golf.

In Great Britain, high tea is traditionally a working-class meal served on a high table at the end of the workday, or shortly after 5 p.m.

Tickets for the tea and golf tournament will go on sale Aug. 1 on the Kathryn’s High Tee website, Kathryn's High Tee (kathrynshightee.com).

The night before, on Sept. 30, a kickoff happy hour will be held at District House of Taps, 1240 Fort Bragg Road. That will begin at 5 p.m. and run through closing.

“It’s a come-and-go thing,” said Kathryn Bailey’s older sister, Jessica Lallier of Fayetteville.

Last year, the tournament and high tea drew a crowd of 130, she said.

This time around, she’s hoping that as many as 180 people turn out to remember her sister.

Kathryn’s story

“I kind of started this as a way for me to grieve – my way of channeling my energy,” said Lallier, a 33-year-old event planner. “It’s more than about, yes, making money and donating it back. It’s more about people hearing her story. That’s always struck home with me.

“People keep hearing Kathryn’s story,” she said. “For me, it’s about getting new people to come out there. If more people come out, it’s a way to carry on to make money for the scholarship in her name.”

All proceeds, Lallier said, go to a scholarship fund in Bailey’s name with the Army Aviation Association of America. 

“The more money we put into that allocates more scholarships,” she said.

Five years ago, the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System declared that Bailey, Staff Sgt. Abigail Milam and Staff Sgt. Michael Nelson died in the helicopter crash off Hawaii. Their DNA was matched in an analysis of organic matter recovered from the debris.

The whereabouts of the other two crew members – Chief Warrant Officer 3 Brian Woeber and Chief Warrant Officer 3 Stephen Cantrell – remain unknown.

“We got closure sooner,” she said of her family.

Lallier said her family received a briefing on what caused the helicopter to go down. She doesn’t like to talk about it.

A training pilot was among those on board the aircraft.

Bailey entered active-duty military service in August 2015 as an aviation officer.

Two years later, she was dead.

"I remember not believing it," Lallier said. "But I also had in my mind there was no way they wouldn't be able to find them."

She got a call from her father while she was at work at Cape Fear Valley Medical Center, where she was an occupational therapist at the time.

"He said, 'Your sister's helicopter is missing.' I didn't think it was in the realm of possibility for me."

The night before the helicopter crash, Lallier and her sister had talked.

Lallier said they talked every day.

Kathryn was her best friend.

"It was two weeks before my wedding," Lallier said. "She was supposed to be flying back here because I was getting married. And she was going to be my maid of honor. I remember because we were texting. I was in a dance lesson with my fiancé.

“She had put a deposit down on a dog. She said, 'Now I can do it.' It shows you how unique and silly she was. She said she was going to name him Kingston James."

The next morning, the day she went missing, Bailey sent Lallier photos of herself in flight.

"She would do that a lot," she said.

Military life

Bailey was born on Fort Bragg and attended St. Patrick Catholic School before graduating from Terry Sanford High School in 2009. She earned an undergraduate degree in museum studies in 2013 from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Lallier said her sister had strong roots in the Fayetteville community. The two of them attended UNC-Chapel Hill at the same time.

“She was very eclectic. She studied art and museum studies – very into that type of style,” Lallier said. “She loved to travel. She had more stamps on her passport than a normal person her age. She had been everywhere. She studied in England twice and studied there for her master's in museum studies.

“While over there, she kind of did a 180 and decided that was not for her and she was going to join the Army,” she said. “It was completely opposite of what she had studied for all her life. She wanted to travel and see cool places she had never seen yet.”

Like many who call Fayetteville home, the family has a strong military background. Bailey's father, Thomas Bailey, was a Black Hawk pilot as well. Her mother, Virginia Koch, also served in the military.

Having spent much of her life on Fort Bragg, Bailey knew what the military life entailed.

She decided she wanted to pursue that, too.

“She said she liked the idea of the Army because it was regimented, and she liked that,” Lallier recalled. “She liked knowing what was coming. That’s kind of how she got to that point. She was the kind of person who could talk to anyone. Everybody has a story about her and how friendly she was.”

Her father told ABC News in a 2018 interview that Bailey was an Army brat. "She was a very inquisitive girl, a very smart girl and very stubborn, but loyal," he said in the interview.

Lallier said her younger sister was a good pianist who played most of her life. She painted and was involved in both politics and the church. Bailey would visit animal shelters because she loved dogs.

“We do the high tea because my sister received her master's in London and loved all things English," she said. "Ladies come out in the best fascinators. We have champagne and tea, a silent auction and other various activities. At the same time, the golf tournament is happening.”

Lallier doesn't know exactly why her sister was drawn to the English way of life, but she had fallen in love with it during her studies abroad. She always thought she was going to marry Prince Harry, her sister said, and she really loved the Harry Potter books.

When the tea and golf tournament have ended on Oct. 1, participants will likely mingle under the pavilion for live music, dinner, lawn games and more.

“It’s a sad thing for us,” she said, “but she was from the Fayetteville community.”

And her hometown will remember her story.

Michael Futch covers Fayetteville and education for CityView TODAY. He can be reached at mfutch@cityviewnc.com. Have a news tip? Email news@CityViewTODAY.com.

Army, Fort Bragg, military, Memorial Day, Fayetteville, Kathryn Bailey