A Memorial Day salute – please join in

I usually write about private aviation but this starts out with an accident involving a military airplane – a long time ago…

Glacier in Alaska
A glacier in Alaska is slowly revealing the remains of a 1952 crash.

On November 22, 1952, a USAF C-124 crashed into Colony Glacier on Mount Garrett, 40 miles east of Anchorage, Alaska, where the airplane was supposed to land.

The weather was awful and a distress call was received by a Northwest Orient passenger flight. Reception was poor but it was reported that the C-124 pilot said as long as we have to land, we might as well land here. The crew was apparently running out of ideas.

Most of the wreckage slid down into a valley and was found a few days later. Ground parties reached the area but because of difficult conditions the recovery effort was terminated and families were notified they would have no remains to bury.

The wreckage was then covered by snow and ice and was not seen again for 60 years when, in June 2012, it was spotted by an Alaska Air Guard helicopter crew.

The last name on the alphabetized passenger manifest for the flight was A/2C Bernis F. White of Fordyce, Arkansas. Bernis was a high school classmate of mine in a class of about 40. A lot of us served in the military but to my knowledge Bernis was the only one killed while on active duty.

Bernis lived out in the country and electricity didn’t come to the area until he was in the 11th grade. He studied the subject and wired their house himself. His interest in technical training led him to enlist in the Air Force soon after school. Like so many kids from that time, military service was his best shot at advancement. He was probably headed to the Korean War zone when he was lost.

Memorial Day cemetery
They all deserve to be remembered.

On October 8, 2015 remains identified as Bernis were identified and burial with full military honors was offered. I made inquiries about what came next but came up with nothing.

The military records of over 16-million veterans, including those of us who served at that time, were destroyed in a huge 1973 fire in a records storage facility near St. Louis. Even if next-of-kin information had been available for Bernis, it would have been almost 63 years old.

This will be the first Memorial Day since Bernis was recovered and on May 30 I plan to don my old uniform and salute the flag in memory of A/2C Bernis F. White, USAF. I hope he got more complete honors, but I just want to make sure he gets a memorial salute from at least one old classmate.

If you know someone lost while serving our country and would like to memorialize them, please use the comments section of this post to do so.

35 Comments

  • Uncle Johnny died just after turning 55. A sergeant shepherding foot soldiers in Viet Nam, he was doused by Agent Orange ‘more times then he could count’. The government acknowledged that this caused his multiple cancers and ultimately his death by a modest settlement to his two sons.
    “He was never the same after the war,” so many people including his mother said. Failed marriages, alcoholism, and financial problems followed him like a platoon in the jungle rain. I remember buying him a tank of gas with money I earned as a busboy at the Ramada Inn. He didn’t talk about it much but the defining event of his young life was something he never recovered from. I loved him in part because he talked straight to me about girls, booze and drugs, treated me like I was not a kid, gave me respect I wasn’t sure I deserved.
    Some heroes come in packages that belie their sacrifices, mask the truth. No doubt there are a lot of Uncle Johnnys on that granite wall in Washington.
    RIP Sgt.John Fones, Atlanta Illinois.

    • Reminds me of a brief encounter a number of years ago. Caught on the streets of New York City during a summer thunderstorm, I ducked under a store’s awning to wait out the worst of the storm. I was soon joined by a homeless man with his bag of soda cans. After a particularly loud thunderclap, the man and I exchanged looks as if to say “Holy Cow!” A few moments later, he said to me, “This is how it rained in Vietnam.” I could only wonder what path had taken him from proud soldier to the homeless guy on the steet picking up cans.

      • Pat, I have a related story to tell. Living in San Francisco, there are plenty of homeless guys, panhandling with a friendly aggressiveness that can sometimes take your breath away. Recently, I was approached during a business conference in an outdoor setting, by an older man in fatigues. He claimed to be a veteran, couldn’t I help him out. I barked “name, rank, serial number!” at him, he gave me a funny look, and walked away. But there was another homeless guy, also in jungle fatigues, just within earshot. He strode up, a little nervously, and gave me his name, his Marine Rank, and his serial number, and e planned he’d been in Vietnam. As I emptied out my pockets of every last penny, I asked him if he needed work and if he had a safe place to stay. He said he’d been on the streets for some time, and I offered to get him a phone card so he could call his family. He said he was fine, that he was really just hungry. He left with all the cash I had on me – some $45 – and promised he’d only drink ‘a little bit’.

  • I recall the C-124 accident in Alaska. I was serving in the USAF, stationed at Elmendorf AFB outside Anchorage. It was widely rumored that the plane carried millions in Chinese gold, meant as pay earned by Chinese fishermen at and around Seattle and San Francisco.

  • Mr. Collins, please don’t give up on finding those records. After two attempts at finding more information about my late father’s military service during WWII, I finally received nearly a book of files regarding his full military service in the air force. They are doing a yeoman’s job of rebuilding many of those lost files at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis. Just remember, it takes time, (in my case, it was over three months for the last set of records.)

  • My good friend, LCDR David “Spade” Cooley was on exchange pilot duty with the USAF and was in the second of the three F-111’s that went down mysteriously in Southeast Asia. Spade was returning to Thailand from a mission over North Vietnam and the wreckage was never recovered. In 1962 we flew all over the western Pacific together in the RA-3B and I fondly recall our experiences together…both in flight and on the beach.

    Thank you for reminding us what Memorial Day is really about.

  • My uncle Leroy served in the U.S. Navy, 1935-1965, rising from lowliest seaman to Master Chief Petty Officer in gunnery. He died two years ago, at his granddaughter’s home, at the age of 93. Only in his later years could I get him to talk about his experiences in WWII and the Korean War, and then he spoke mainly about ships and equipment. When I bought my first Japanese-brand car, he sniffed and said, “I could never buy one of those” (he was a Cadillac man!). I asked why, and he replied, “Because they killed too many of my friends.” He remained unforgiving of the German and Japanese leaders and officers who began the killing. Uncle is always in my thoughts on Memorial Day, as are the high school and college classmates who lost their lives in Viet Nam.

  • Fortunately all of my immediate family members survived their military service in World War Two, Viet Nam, and most recently in Afghanistan. I had an uncle who was a civilian in the Philippines, who joined the Filipino resistance movement and was eventually killed by the Japanese.

    In any case, even though my family members survived they might well not have, serving on Navy ships and marines in battles in the South Pacific, and one who served in Europe during WWII.

    In any case we all owe a great debt to all who served and all who died or came home less than whole so that we might be free.

  • Each Memorial Day I remember a friend killed in Vietnam and each Memorial Day I remind people that Memorial Day is only about those who died in a war. Americans should remember that Memorial Day is only about American war dead, those Americans who were killed in a war. Memorial Day is not about all veterans. Memorial Day is not about a wounded Navy SEAL or a U.S. Army postal clerk who served their country and went on to live out their lives. Memorial Day is not about all military personnel buried in a Veterans Cemetery. Memorial Day is only about those who died in conflict. Memorial Day is not about one’s wounded 85 year old father who served in the Korean War and recently passed away. Memorial Day is about his buddies who died in the Korean War. I make this comment because you will often hear a conjoining of all veterans on Memorial Day, that is, speakers and so forth who will ask listeners to honor all veterans on this Memorial Day. It happens every year and more frequently over the past decades. Years ago my uncle George, a catholic chaplain during the battle of Okinawa (17,000 American dead in 90 days), asked me what Memorial Day was about. I said it was about him and other veterans. He corrected me and explained the history of Memorial Day and its consecration to war dead. All veterans are honored on Veterans Day, November 11. Memorial Day is not Veterans Day II.

    • Oh sir, I disagree. My brother severed in the 101st airborne in Vietnam. He saw a lot of combat and was forced to kill many of our enemy. Each time he had to pull that trigger he died a little. He was decorated and wounded twice. Sir, because he didn’t stop breathing for years after the war does not mean that he did not experience death. Many of the enemy, and a little of his own each time he had to take someone’s life. May God bless Wayne R. Loar and The United States of America.

    • JS – yes it is true that Memorial Day was established by Congress to honor the war dead … but it is a very narrow view like yours that would forbid the honoring of those who served alongside those who died, and were willing to die, and by luck of fate weren’t called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice. The survivors of war don’t come back the same … for every KIA there are 10 or 20 or 50 who are wounded, some horribly and maimed for life, who lost their friends in horrible ways they can never forget.

      And of course, by your narrow definition, those military members who die during training or during exercises, during or in between wars – a not insigificant number, particularly for flight crews and airborne troops – would be denied honors on Memorial Day. In fact your view would deny honors to all who died in the Cold War, which was never a declared war, including Korea and Viet Nam – neither of which were ever declared as wars by Congress. Ditto with the marines killed at Khobar Towers in a terror bombing, or the sailors on the USS Cole, also terror bombed. Or the mass shooting victims at Fort Hood. That would hardly be the moral or fitting thing to do.

      There is never a bad time to honor all those who died, all those who suffered, and all those who were willing to do the same, because most Americans never put themselves in harm’s way for the benefit of our nation. We cannot have too many honors for such as they.

    • The definition I found for Memorial Day says it is to honor all Americans who died while in military service.

    • Totally excellent point JS. I would like that many, many more people would recognize that fact. Thanks for bringing it up.

  • Richard, thank you for your remembersnce of those who gave their lives in service of their country. A number of my military comrades will never return. We have paid an incredibly high price in human life for our military forays; I pray we can end the loss of life for our future adventures. John

  • A guy I was in high school with, Jewell Grantham was on that C-124 also. I was just telling someone about that a couple of days ago and here I read about it. Sad.

  • Uncle Allan Kratz killed in Germany WWII. He wrote home of being scared but in good company with his mates.

  • My Redlands High School teammate Steve Huffstutler was killed in a helicopter crash in Pleiku, South Vietnam May 18, 1969. I was in Air Force pilot training at the time and I remember when I found out. I was just getting up the learning curve and he was already lost. He was a genuinely good guy. I think of him every year.

  • Aside from my deceased father and brother, both vets, I always remember Air Force Academy classmate and good friend Ron Bond, forever age 24. Ron’s F-4 vanished over Laos on September 30, 1971 and has never been found. The aircraft call sign was STORMY 3 which I proudly display daily as my Colorado license plate number. Unfortunately I have a choice of many call signs of lost aircraft carrying friends in that war. OWL 2, TAN 3 and QUILT 3 are some that come to mind. The latter two were B-52s which were shot down over Hanoi during the Christmas raids in 1972.

  • My mom’s two brothers were killed in WWII. In both cases, it was a sad tragedy of War. Her first brother was killed during Operation Husky, July 11, 1943 and was killed by friendly fire during a night parachute drop. He was in the 82nd Airborne 504 Parachute Infantry Regiment. Her other brother died on his first mission as Co-pilot of a B24 Liberator over Blechhammer, (Germany controlled) Poland, December 26, 1944. . He was with the 485th Bomb Group 828th Squadron. Thank you to these two young men who never had the opportunity to enjoy a full life of love and family. We keep you alive in our family.

  • Guy A. Byrd
    Rank and Organization: Platoon Sergeant E-7, Company C, 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division

    Date and Place: 5 April 1967, Republic of Vietnam

    Reason: For extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations involving conflict with an armed hostile force in the Republic of Vietnam: Platoon Sergeant Byrd distinguished himself by exceptionally valorous actions on 5 April 1967 while leading his unit in a search and destroy mission near Song Mao. As soon as Sergeant Byrd’s Company was infiltrated by helicopter, it received intense hostile fire and was unable to advance against the strongly fortified North Vietnamese positions. After the landing of a reinforcing platoon and an aerial bombardment of the enemy positions, his company began to advance on line, meeting stubborn resistance from insurgent machine gunners. Sergeant Byrd led his platoon in an aggressive assault against the numerically superior North Vietnamese force, but his men were again pinned down by intense hostile fire. At this point, Sergeant crawled to within 20 meters of a fortified position that was protecting an enemy machine gun. When he was close enough to the emplacement, he pulled the pin a a hand grenade and raised up to throw it. He was immediately hit in the chest by machine gun fire. Sergeant Byrd was unable to throw the grenade, but realized that it explosion could kill several comrades near him. Sacrificing his own life to save his fellow soldiers, he fell on top of the grenade and absorbed the force of the explosion. Platoon Sergeant Byrd’s extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty, at the cost of his life, were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit and the United States Army.

  • My uncle, Major Garth E. Doyle, served in the Army Air Corp during WW II. He worked with testing of the B-24, then flew a B-29 to fly over “the Hump” to India to participate in the bombing of Japan. After the war, he returned to Biggs Army Airfield in El Paso, TX. On December 18th, 1948, he was flying a B-25 from El Paso to Florida, taking servicemen for Christmas holiday. With no radio call, the plane apparently exploded over the Texas, Louisiana border. Remains of the flight were found over several square miles. A service was held in Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis, MO.

    I would like to honor these men who served in the Army Air Corp during and after WW II.

  • My uncle Charlie(who I was named after) is forever entombed in his sub that went down in the South China Sea, April 1945. Joined the navy with his oldest brother, my dad. Charlie was 17 when he joined and died at 21 after 4 years of service to his country. My dad always held up hope for many years that he may have survived and gotten to shore. I have his many letters to the Navy and other maritime traffic using that area on any sightings, etc. Long after my dad passed away Charlie’s sub was found and positively identified in the South China Sea. All hands were lost by a Japanese destroyer.
    To him and his comrades and to all who gave all we salute you and Thank You for our freedom.
    Charlie B

  • Remembering my uncle, Lieutenant James Curtis (Jake) Parker, who was lost during a dive-bomb attack against a Japanese aircraft carrier in the Pacific Theater during WW2. He was my first aviation hero, and likely my father’s as well. Dad was many years younger that Jake, and told me many stories about him that made him seem 10 feet tall. Wish I could have known him…

  • It seems like yesterday. We lost many good friends,brothers and buddy’s . Thoughts always get stronger on this day. They never get out of our minds.
    Thanks for the lasting frendships. It is very sad but maybe it makes us stronger .
    Thanks Mike Woodside, Dale Ekoff, Terry Merkie, Dave Watkins, and many others that have paid the price. You have not been forgotten.
    Dean

  • Mr. Richard Collins
    Sir, you are a giant among us airmen. Thank you for skill as a wordsmith (among your many other skills). Today I honor my father, Col. Samuel A. Myers.
    He was held back as an instructor and spent the entire war in Texas as an advance multi-engine instructor on the B-25. After the war, he joined the Texas Air National Guard at Biggs AFB in El Paso where he continued to train pilots now for the Korean War. Later, he flew B-47s and then B-52s during the Cold War. Later still, he bombed North Viet Nam in that war. He retired in 1970. He passed away Dec. 10th 1997 and and is buried with honors in San Antonio.

    I miss him still.

    Rex Myers

  • Richard,
    Thank you for your remembrance of our fallen heroes! Far too many among our population fail to understand what Memorial Day is.

    I would like to remember my father, LTC Joseph M Laney USMC. Veteran of WWII,(volunteered at age 17) Korea and Vietnam.

    As a forward artillery observer in Korea and a battalion commander in Vietnam, my father survived many close combat encounters.

    Ironically, it was his peace time service that would cause his death. He was involved in DESERT ROCK V nuclear testing in Nevada during his post Korea War service. Leukemia would take him thirty years later after being overexposed to radiation.

    He was my inspiration to fly. He encouraged me to chase my dream of being a pilot. Unfortunately, he would not live to see me earn my wings.

    Yet, every time I am at the controls slipping through sky, I think of him.

    I humbly thank all who sacrificed.

    Jim Laney

  • George W. Owens, navigator on a B17 with the 306th BG “First Over Germany”. His Fort was jumped by a FW190 over the North Sea coming back from a scrubed mission. Lost at sea but my daughter and I put flowers on his grave today.

  • I am one of the lucky ones who never had to go to war or lost any relatives in any campaign. I spent Memorial Day Sunday listening to the ghosts at Westover Airfield, Utah

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