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Site of 1946 fatal crash still draws families to Mount Tom

  • A memorial stone lists the names of the servicemen killed in a B-17 plane accident on Mt. Tom in 1949. The stone is made out of the same material as the Vietnam Wall in Washington, D.C. Beside the wall on a rock sits a pile of scrap metal and pieces of the plane people have found.<br/>AYRIKA WHITNEY

    A memorial stone lists the names of the servicemen killed in a B-17 plane accident on Mt. Tom in 1949. The stone is made out of the same material as the Vietnam Wall in Washington, D.C. Beside the wall on a rock sits a pile of scrap metal and pieces of the plane people have found.
    AYRIKA WHITNEY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Ellen Stettner sings a song in memory of 25 servicemen who lost their lives in a B-17 plane accident on Mt. Tom in 1946 at a memorial near the site. She is the niece of Alfred Warm, a victim of the accident. Her family and members of the committee who helped construct the site gathered there on July 6, 2013, 17 years after the dedication of the memorial.<br/>AYRIKA WHITNEY

    Ellen Stettner sings a song in memory of 25 servicemen who lost their lives in a B-17 plane accident on Mt. Tom in 1946 at a memorial near the site. She is the niece of Alfred Warm, a victim of the accident. Her family and members of the committee who helped construct the site gathered there on July 6, 2013, 17 years after the dedication of the memorial.
    AYRIKA WHITNEY Purchase photo reprints »

  • From left, granddaughter of Linda Abrams Cassidy Carlotto, Linda Abrams, and Robert Schwobe look at pieces of a B-17 that crashed on Mt. Tom in 1946, killing 25 servicemen. People find pieces of the plane and put them at the memorial site. Abrams and Schwobe were both part of the committee who helped organize the construction of the memorial.<br/>AYRIKA WHITNEY

    From left, granddaughter of Linda Abrams Cassidy Carlotto, Linda Abrams, and Robert Schwobe look at pieces of a B-17 that crashed on Mt. Tom in 1946, killing 25 servicemen. People find pieces of the plane and put them at the memorial site. Abrams and Schwobe were both part of the committee who helped organize the construction of the memorial.
    AYRIKA WHITNEY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Jack Stuttner (left) and Robert Schwobe look at photographs of the servicemen killed in a B-17 plane accident on Mt. Tom in 1946. Stuttner's brother-in-law, Alfred Warm, was killed in the accident, and Schwobe was a part of the committee that organized the construction of a memorial near the crash site.<br/>AYRIKA WHITNEY

    Jack Stuttner (left) and Robert Schwobe look at photographs of the servicemen killed in a B-17 plane accident on Mt. Tom in 1946. Stuttner's brother-in-law, Alfred Warm, was killed in the accident, and Schwobe was a part of the committee that organized the construction of a memorial near the crash site.
    AYRIKA WHITNEY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Linda Abrams places a hand on the memorial stone on Mt. Tom in Holyoke for 25 servicemen who died in a B-17 plane crash in 1946. She worked for the military and helped locate the families for the dedication of the memorial in 1996. Members of the committee  who constructed the memorial and family of Alfred Warm, victim of the accident, gathered at the memorial on July 6, 2013, 17 years after the memorial's dedication.<br/>AYRIKA WHITNEY

    Linda Abrams places a hand on the memorial stone on Mt. Tom in Holyoke for 25 servicemen who died in a B-17 plane crash in 1946. She worked for the military and helped locate the families for the dedication of the memorial in 1996. Members of the committee who constructed the memorial and family of Alfred Warm, victim of the accident, gathered at the memorial on July 6, 2013, 17 years after the memorial's dedication.
    AYRIKA WHITNEY Purchase photo reprints »

  • A memorial stone lists the names of the servicemen killed in a B-17 plane accident on Mt. Tom in 1949. The stone is made out of the same material as the Vietnam Wall in Washington, D.C. Beside the wall on a rock sits a pile of scrap metal and pieces of the plane people have found.<br/>AYRIKA WHITNEY
  • Ellen Stettner sings a song in memory of 25 servicemen who lost their lives in a B-17 plane accident on Mt. Tom in 1946 at a memorial near the site. She is the niece of Alfred Warm, a victim of the accident. Her family and members of the committee who helped construct the site gathered there on July 6, 2013, 17 years after the dedication of the memorial.<br/>AYRIKA WHITNEY
  • From left, granddaughter of Linda Abrams Cassidy Carlotto, Linda Abrams, and Robert Schwobe look at pieces of a B-17 that crashed on Mt. Tom in 1946, killing 25 servicemen. People find pieces of the plane and put them at the memorial site. Abrams and Schwobe were both part of the committee who helped organize the construction of the memorial.<br/>AYRIKA WHITNEY
  • Jack Stuttner (left) and Robert Schwobe look at photographs of the servicemen killed in a B-17 plane accident on Mt. Tom in 1946. Stuttner's brother-in-law, Alfred Warm, was killed in the accident, and Schwobe was a part of the committee that organized the construction of a memorial near the crash site.<br/>AYRIKA WHITNEY
  • Linda Abrams places a hand on the memorial stone on Mt. Tom in Holyoke for 25 servicemen who died in a B-17 plane crash in 1946. She worked for the military and helped locate the families for the dedication of the memorial in 1996. Members of the committee  who constructed the memorial and family of Alfred Warm, victim of the accident, gathered at the memorial on July 6, 2013, 17 years after the memorial's dedication.<br/>AYRIKA WHITNEY

On Saturday morning, several family members and supporters gathered at a granite memorial stone bearing the names of all passengers on the flight.

Their story began on the rainy evening of July 9, 1946, when a B-17 flying out of Goose Bay, Labrador, circled Holyoke for almost two hours awaiting clearance to land. Known as the “Flying Fortress,” the bomber had been converted to a passenger plane and carried 25 servicemen on their way home to the States.

At 10:20 p.m., within sight of their destination, Flight Officer Herman J. Valdrini Jr. made his final approach to the airfield, but hindered by poor visibility, the pilot failed to see the rugged mountain peak on the southern face of Mount Tom. The plane slammed into the hillside, exploding on impact and clearing a swath over 400 feet into the trees.

The burn marks are visible to this day, but the most prominent evidence of the accident is a granite memorial bearing the names of the crash victims. Erected in 1996, the memorial is hallowed ground to relatives of the men who died, and serves as a solemn reminder to the many hikers who pass through the area.

The crash site had gone unmarked until 1994 when Holyoke resident Norman Cote noticed a small cairn of stones with a memorial note enclosed in a baggie.

Cote was so moved he decided to gather support to create a more appropriate permanent memorial.

“Norm spearheaded this whole thing,” Robert Schwobe of South Hadley said.

“After I heard what he was doing, I contacted him and helped him pinpoint the exact spot of the crash,” said Schwobe, who had researched the area and the crash.

Soon, Robert Cahillane, then director of Veterans Services in Northampton, was on board as well.

“At first I thought it was just going to be a small plaque or a marker, but as the meetings went on, the project got bigger,” Cahillane said.

Linda Abrams of Longmeadow, who had worked for the government locating relatives of missing persons, also heard of the memorial project and volunteered to help find the crash victims’ relatives.

The B-17 memorial project committee eventually enlisted more than 15 people to establish the memorial site.

“None of us were connected to any of these men. But we had a strong commitment to the project because it happened in our neck of the woods, and it was just the right thing to do,” Abrams said.

Strong bond

The bond between the committee members and the Stettner family became tight.

“We became attached at the hip,” Abrams said.

Over 600 people attended the first dedication of the memorial in July 1996. About 20 showed up on Saturday.

“This memorial was so important to my mother, (the late Dorothy Warm Stettner), that words can’t even describe what it meant to her,” Ellen Stettner of Florida said Saturday. “We have been coming up every year since the memorial was dedicated.”

Stettner and her husband, Ron Kane, felt such an affinity for the site that they were married there five years ago.

On Saturday, Kane praised Abrams for painstakingly locating the victims’ relatives.

“This was a monumental task,” Kane said. “Linda did an unbelievable amount of work, researching and contacting families. We would never have all come together if it wasn’t for her.”

Jack Stettner, 90, recalled how shaken he was when he heard about the accident that claimed his relative.

“I was in Manhattan when I heard the news of the crash and I just cried out ‘My God, how could this happen?’” he said. “You worry during the war, but the war was over a year ago, and they were on their way home.”

To honor the 25 men who died, 25 birch trees have been planted around the scene of the crash.

“Three are planted together right at the entrance of the path leading to the monument,” said Al Stettner, who is Alfred Warm’s nephew and namesake. “They are for the three men who could not be identified after the crash.”

A 26th tree was recently planted in honor of the late Dorothy Warm Stettner.

In honor of his uncle, Al Stettner wears the gold ring that was found in the wreckage the day after the crash.

Debris still found

It is still common for hikers to find debris from the crash in the area. Most place the shards and mangled bits and pieces next to the memorial stone, where a pile of metal scraps can be found.

“You know, this memorial has been here for 17 years, and unlike some old, abandoned buildings in the area, there has never been any vandalism,” Cahillane said.

For the past five years, Violet Annamanthado of Holyoke and her partner, Brian Farrell, also of Holyoke, have taken it upon themselves to maintain the site free of charge.

“We just didn’t think the place looked as nice as it should,” Farrell said. “We didn’t plan to stay with it as long as we have, but here we are.”

The couple visits the memorial once or twice a week to tend the site.

Hiker George Pelc, 50, of South Hadley, watched the service from a distance.

“I have been coming up here since before it was fixed up. I try to imagine what it must have been like for the men on the plane,” Pelc said. “I think the older I get the more I can really understand what a tragedy this was.”

The transport carried members of the U.S. Army Air Corps, the U.S. Coast Guard and two civilians. Of the 25 men who died, most had not seen their 21st birthdays. Three were over 30 and 10 were married, eight of whom had children. The memorial committee was able to locate 11 of the 13 children.

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