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Airman's final journey home from 1952 crash ends

ELWOOD, Ind. — Tears rolled unchecked down Paul Martin’s lined face as he clutched the hand of a woman who handed him a handwritten note.

The woman, a member of the Air Force, wrote the note during the graveside services for Paul’s older brother Howard E. Martin. She told Paul it was an honor to attend the burial.

On Saturday, Martin was buried with full military honors in Elwood. Hundreds of people attended the services and many came out of their homes to line the streets for the funeral procession.

Howard was a 21-year-old airman who died in a transport plane that crashed into the side of Alaska’s Mount Gannett on Nov. 22, 1952. The 9,500-foot-high mountain is about 50 miles east of Anchorage.

All 52 people aboard the military airplane died that night.

With searchers unable to access the wreckage due to its remote location, glacial ice and snow buried the site for more than 60 years. During that time, the glacier migrated 12 miles from the crash site to Inner Lake George, carrying the entombed men with it.

In 2012, recovery operations to return the deceased airmen to their families were initiated. On April 18, 2014, exactly 83 years from the date of his birth, Martin’s remains were identified.

Paul Martin, 81, of Frankton, recounted the long wait for the return of his brother’s body to the woman and said it was a relief for the family to finally have him home.

All six of Howard’s siblings were able to attend the services, although his brother Ray, who has health problems, was wheelchair-bound after a recent stay in the hospital.

“My mother wanted him to be here with her when he came home,” Paul told the woman.

Lester and Mona “Ruth” Martin waited decades for their son, Howard, to return. The couple died before their son was brought home.

“I sensed that the father never had closure,” said Mike Williams, who is married to Martin’s sister, Fran.  “He always talked about his son showing up at the front door of the house.

“It seemed to weigh on the father,” he added.

Saturday, Howard Martin’s remains found a permanent resting place next to his mother and father’s graves in Elwood City Cemetery. Lester Martin died in 1972; his wife passed in 1999.

“Mom and Dad both kept thinking that one of these days they’ll find him and bring him home, so she bought three cemetery plots rather than two,” Paul said.

Rusti Koons, Howard’s niece, said she was touched by the community’s attendance of her uncle’s funeral.

“It was very overwhelming,” she said after services. “I have never seen such support. There were even people on the street paying their respects.”

Jane Buttry, 76, of Elwood, was one of many people who stood along the funeral procession route as Howard’s body was transported to the cemetery. She was holding an American flag.

“It’s been a long, long time,” she said of Howard’s return.

“It is very nice for the family to have closure and for them to locate these airmen,” Buttry said. “It means a lot when you get the family member back.”

Only 17 of the 52 men lost in the airplane crash have been identified.

“Hopefully one day they can locate some more of them,” Buttry said.

Kay Marling of Anderson was almost 16 years old when her brother Howard died.

“I am happy we have closure,” she said. “That means everything.”

She said she was also shocked by the outpouring of support for her family.

“We are so thankful, but really surprised,” she said.

Associate Editor Scott L. Miley contributed to this story.

 

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