Ceremony marks 70th anniversary of fallen servicemen in Mount Tom plane crash

  • Jean Hobbie, left, and Bill Hobbie, right, help Jean's mother, Bernice Pesesky, center, walk up towards the Mount Tom B-17 memorial service for the 70th anniversary Saturday, July 9, 2016 in Holyoke. ANDREW J. WHITAKER

  • Honor Guard VFW 3295 salute the flag during the Mount Tom B-17 memorial service for the 70th anniversary Saturday, July 9, 2016 in Holyoke. —Andrew J. Whitaker/Gazette Staff

  • People gather during the Mount Tom B-17 memorial service for the 70th anniversary Saturday, July 9, 2016 in Holyoke. —Andrew J. Whitaker/Gazette Staff

  • Matthew Jakutowics, left, and Alan Thackeray, right, with the Honor Guard VFW 3295, hold the United States and Veterans of Foreign Wars flags during the Mount Tom B-17 memorial service for the 70th anniversary Saturday, July 9, 2016 in Holyoke. —Andrew J. Whitaker/Gazette Staff

  • Tina Hooton with Civil Air Patrol Quaboag Highlanders plays the bagpipes during the Mount Tom B-17 memorial service for the 70th anniversary Saturday, July 9, 2016 in Holyoke. —Andrew J. Whitaker/Gazette Staff

  • The crowd listens to master of ceremonies Al Stettner during the Mount Tom B-17 memorial service on the 70th anniversary of the crash, Saturday, in Holyoke. ANDREW J. WHITAKER

  • Jake Roberts, 18, warms up in the woods before the Mount Tom B-17 memorial service for the 70th anniversary Saturday, July 9, 2016 in Holyoke. Jake played “Taps” to end the service. —Andrew J. Whitaker/Gazette Staff

  • From left, Jack Monty, Tyler Alves, Graham Smith and Zack Turner with Civil Air Patrol wait for the start of the Mount Tom B-17 memorial service for the 70th anniversary Saturday, July 9, 2016 in Holyoke. —Andrew J. Whitaker/Gazette Staff

  • Beth Wilcox, the sister of George Fleming, one of the 25 men who died in a plane crash on Mount Tom in July 1946, places a wreath by the memorial during Saturday’s 70th anniversary service in Holyoke. ANDREW J. WHITAKER

  • Captain Timothy A. Tobiasz, USCG, Commander at USCG Station Cape Cod, speaks during the Mount Tom B-17 memorial service for the 70th anniversary Saturday, July 9, 2016 in Holyoke. —Andrew J. Whitaker/Gazette Staff

  • Paul Seifert stands with his children, Paul Seifert Jr., 12, and Ashley Seifert, 7, during Saturday’s service at the B-17 Memorial in Hoyoke. ANDREW J. WHITAKER

@StephMurr_Jour
Published: 7/9/2016 5:13:37 PM

HOLYOKE — More than a hundred people of all ages ventured up the Mount Tom range Saturday morning to commemorate the deaths of 25 young men who perished there in a tragic plane crash as they headed home from serving in World War II.

Families of the fallen servicemen, veterans, military personnel and community members gathered around the B-17 Memorial site after taking shuttle vans up the mountain. The memorial sits on a mountain ledge created by the plane’s impact when it crashed 70 years ago.

“These men made the ultimate sacrifice,” U.S. Coast Guard Commander Timothy Tobiasz told the crowd. “They didn’t set out to be heroes. These young men were simply doing their duty. They were coming home.”

Ill-fated flight

It was a dark, rainy night on July 9, 1946, nearly a year after the war’s end. A converted B-17 “Flying Fortress” bomber had left Greenland with 25 young men aboard. The plane carried 15 Coast Guardsmen, four U.S. Army Air Corps servicemen, an American Red Cross official, and a U.S. Public Health Corps doctor, who were on their way home from serving in Greenland.

The plane circled Mount Tom for two hours waiting to land at Westover Air Reserve Base in Chicopee. At approximately 10:20 p.m., the plane crashed into a rocky outcropping at about 900 feet on the southeast slope of the mountain.

Everyone on board was killed in the fiery explosion that followed. The flames were slowly extinguished by a heavy downpour that hampered the efforts of first responders who rushed to get up the mountain. It was clear the crash would leave no survivors, Richard A. Lee of the American Red Cross told the crowd.

“It was a cruel twist of fate so near to home,” Lee said.

Those who lost their lives that night were Wayne L. Austin, Howard E. Carson, Henry A. LeBrecht, Daniel R. Roe, Eulogio Sanches, Rex A. Tansey, Samuel A. Turrentine, Herman J. Valdrini, David F. Archilles, George R. Benfield, Gregory S. Davenport, George E. Fleming, Ernest Gillis, Wilford U. Johnson, Frank G. Meriam, Arthur C. Miller, George E. Orford, Russell S. Scott, Aronld J. Simons, Alfred L. Warm, Stanley P. Warshaw, Lee Winnard, Hugh J. Worth, Pasquale P. Coviello, and Arthur L. Bailey.

Anniversary ceremony

The 70th anniversary event was a “labor of love,” Mt. Tom Memorial Committee Chairman Robert P. Cahillane said Saturday morning. The crash is commemorated every year, but Cahillane said he and the committee decided to plan something larger for the 70th anniversary.

The memorial committee formed in 1995 to create the B-17 Memorial, designed by Jim Morrisey of Holyoke. The memorial was dedicated in 1996, the 50th anniversary of the crash.

As a veteran of the U.S. Navy, Cahillane said he felt a duty to pay respect to the men who died and include their families in the process.

“It’s important to represent all the families,” Cahillane said. “We just have to be there for them.”

Cahillane said fellow committee member Linda C. Abrams “has been a real jewel,” working tirelessly to find and contact all 25 families of the men who died.

“I knew it was important for these guys not to be forgotten,” Abrams said. “These guys were on their way home, and their homecoming ended here.”

Abrams read the names of the fallen servicemen during the ceremony and invited family members to step forward and be presented with a red rose in remembrance.

Al Stettner, the master of ceremonies at the event, was one of the family members Abrams reached out to years ago. The nephew of Alfred L. Warm, Stettner said the creation of the memorial 20 years ago turned Mount Tom from a place of tragedy into a place of peace, honor and remembrance for his family.

Others who spoke included Holyoke Mayor Alex B. Morse.

“This is a testament to the legacy of the men who lost their lives 70 years ago,” Morse said as two planes crossed the sky. “This is a proud part of the city’s history.”

The 1940s-era memorial fly-over planes were piloted by August Gorreck and Bill Kulle.

The Rev. Robert Gentile of Blessed Sacrament Church in Holyoke and the Rev. David Whitely of the Northampton VA Medical Center offered prayers at the ceremony.

Beth Wilcox, the sister of George E. Fleming, carried a wreath of flowers adorned with a red, white and blue ribbon to the stone memorial. Members of the Whately VFW fired commemorative shots in the air and trumpeter Jake Roberts played taps in memory of the servicemen.

Warm’s niece, cantor Ellen Stettner, sang a benediction to close the ceremony.




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