‘Imbued with meaning’: 75 years later, B-17 crash victims honored at Mount Tom ceremony

  • Mount Tom Memorial Committee Chairman Bob Cahillane of Northampton delivers opening remarks at the 75th Anniversary Ceremony of the B-17 crash at Mount Tom, Saturday, in Holyoke. FOR THE GAZETTE/Sabato Visconti

  • Ellen Stettner, Niece of Radioman 3rd Class Alfred Warm, who died in the B-17 crash 75 years ago, leads a crowd of Veterans, family members, and public officials like U.S. Congressman Richard Neal, in singing the National Anthem during the anniversary ceremony at the site of the crash in Mt. Tom, Saturday in Holyoke, MA. Sabato Visconti—Copyright.2021

  • Holyoke Mayor Terry Murphy speaks to the audience at the 75th Anniversary Ceremony of the B-17 crash in Mt. Tom, Saturday in Holyoke, MA. Sabato Visconti—Copyright.2021

  • A pair of F-15C Eagle aircraft from the 104th Fighter Wing at Barnes Air National Guard Base fly over the site of the B-17 crash Saturday during the 75th anniversary ceremony at Mount Tom in Holyoke. FOR THE GAZETTE/Sabato Visconti

  • Massachusetts State Representative Patricia Duffy delivers remarks at the 75th Anniversary Ceremony of the B-17 crash in Mt. Tom, Saturday in Holyoke, MA. Sabato Visconti—Copyright.2021

  • Holyoke Mayor Terry Murphy holds an umbrella for Al Stettner, nephew of Radioman 3rd Class Alfred Warm, at the 75th anniversary ceremony of the B-17 crash at Mount Tom, Saturday. FOR THE GAZETTE/Sabato Visconti

For the Gazette
Published: 7/11/2021 8:08:51 PM

HOLYOKE — The old reminder that “freedom isn’t free” gained fresh and achingly poignant relevance Saturday morning.

The occasion was the observance of the 75th anniversary of the B-17 crash on Mount Tom that took the lives of 25 servicemen returning home after World War II. Four of them were just 18, six were 19, five were 20. The eldest, Capt. Henry A. LeBrecht, was 43. They’d been away a long time.

“They were on their way home,” state Sen. John C. Velis, D-Westfield, said. “They were happy.”

On July 9, 1946, at 10:21 p.m., their Flying Fortress was making its approach to Westover Field in the rainy darkness when the plane — too low — struck treetops and hit a rocky outcrop 300 feet below the summit of Mount Tom. The men on board were killed on impact.

“They were so close,” said Al Stettner of Fairfax, Virginia.

Stettner is the nephew of Radioman 3rd Class Alfred L. Warm, one of 15 Coast Guardsmen killed that terrible night. Today he wears his uncle’s ring, which was recovered from the crash site. Stettner acted as master of ceremonies at Saturday’s hourlong observance at the B-17 stone memorial on Mount Tom.

Among the roughly 200 individuals gathered at the crash monument located up a steep slope were descendants of the dead: daughters who never met their fathers, nieces and nephews who never met their uncles, as well as grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Saturday’s gathering marked two anniversaries: 25 years since the dedication of the monument and the 75 years since the B-17 crash. But other milestones were identified by various speakers at the event, which also included a flyover of F-15C aircraft from the 104th Fighter Wing at Barnes Air National Guard Base.

State Rep. Patricia Duffy, D-Holyoke, said that because of the enduring reverence for those who died, the monument is “imbued with meaning that is bigger than all of us.”

U.S. Rep. Richard Neal congratulated the volunteer members of the Mount Tom Memorial Committee for their selfless determination to honor the dead, saying that they had “created a community.”

The Memorial Committee, formed in January of 1995, took shape under the direction of Northampton Veterans Agent Robert. P. Cahillane. For his part, Cahillane said Saturday, he had been urged by Norm Cote to replace an existing stone cairn with something more substantial. The committee arranged for a proper marble marker.

Committee members also undertook the ambitious task of tracking down the families of the men lost in 1946 so that they would be aware of the monument. Several of those at Saturday’s observance said they come to the monument on the mountain every year on the anniversary of the tragedy.

One of those is Stettner. He read down the list of the men who perished, providing the gathering with details about each of the 25. Stettner shared their nicknames and backstories. He told of those whose parents let them enlist at age 17, of the boys who leapt at the chance at 18, of the jobs they left in order to enlist, of the families they left, and of the sweethearts they left.

But it wasn’t all about loss.

Dorothy Warm Stettner, Radioman Alfred Warm’s sister, could not, at first, even look at Mount Tom, where her brother had died. But as it became clear that those who had made the ultimate sacrifice were being honored and would continue to be revered by a community that has kept their story alive, she made peace with the mountain.

“She lost a brother,” Al Stettner said, “and gained a family.”




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