B-52 crew members honored at memorial service
GRANTSVILLE — The family members of the Buzz One Four crew members involved in the 1964 B-52 bomber crash and residents gathered on Saturday to honor the memory of Maj. Robert E. Townley, Maj. Robert L. Payne, Tech Sgt. Melvin D. Wooten, gunner, who died in the crash, as well as the memory of Maj. Thomas W. McCormick and Capt. Parker C. Peedin, both of whom survived.
During the tragic event of Jan. 13, 1964, a community united to assist those in need, according to Lynn Patton.
“We gather today to remember a tragic incident that happened in these mountaintops that happened just a little over 50 years ago, but out of that time of tragedy also came a time of community,” said Patton. “A community came together to handle what must be done. A community that welcomed, comforted and assisted those who had arrived during the days immediately following this tragic event. We could expect no less from a community rich in military heritage. It’s always a way of life we have known.”
Family members of the crew were recognized with citations from the Maryland General Assembly and House of Delegates presented by Del. Wendell Beitzel during a 50th anniversary memorial service Saturday.
“I haven’t been to this memorial site in 30 years and I just want to thank you for what you are doing here,” said Michael McCormick, son of Maj. Thomas W. McCormick.
Other family members in attendance included Theresa Chapman, daughter of Maj. Payne; Don Townley, son of Maj. Townley and Deborah Wooten Gibson, daughter of Tech Sgt. Wooten, who was 11 days old when her father died. The family members passed through an arch of steel created by the Knights of St. Andrew to accept the citations on behalf of the crew members.
“I just want to thank all of you. We need more of you Western Marylanders all over the United States,” said Townley.
Maj. Gen. Melissa Rank, a former assistant Air Force general surgeon, who was a guest speaker at the service, thanked all the residents and EMS personnel who risked frostbite to assist those in need during the aftermath of the B-52 crash.
“Western Marylanders are hardy, compassionate, genuine Americans,” said Rank.
Robin Summerfield, a representative for U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, echoed Rank’s sentiments.
“I’m honored to be part of this commemoration today and I want to thank the families for being here today. It truly speaks well to the kind of community spirit that reflects well on Western Maryland, which still exists today,” said Summerfield, who presented a certificate to the Grantsville museum.
All of the Buzz One Four crew members possessed the core values of the Air Force — integrity, service before self and excellence in all they do, said guest speaker Lt. Col. James Brown, chief of safety of the 171st Air Refueling Wing of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard in Coraopolis.
At approximately 1:42 a.m. on Jan. 13, 1964, the aircraft, armed with two Mk53 thermonuclear devices, was flying at 30,000 feet when it encountered extreme air turbulence that induced a structural failure of the tail, rendering the aircraft uncontrollable, according to a map provided by the Grantsville museum during the service.
“I looked over the details of that crash and I couldn’t believe the chain of events that led to it,” said Brown.
The map contains GPS coordinates that show the actual locations of each of the memorials. The map shows where McCormick, the pilot of the plane, walked to safety at the Stone House Farm east of Grantsville. The map also has an indicator where co-pilot Peedin was found and where he and rescuers walked to safety. The B-52’s vertical stabilizer was located just off Pea Ridge Road and its location is also indicated on the map.
McCormick ordered the crew to evacuate the crippled bomber and Payne and Wooten successfully parachuted from the aircraft but later died from exposure before they could be located, according to the map. Townley was unable to exit the aircraft and died in the crash. McCormick and Peedin, both suffering from severe hypothermia, survived the crash and recovered.
A Fairchild C-123K Provider “Thunder Pig” flew overhead during a presentation of a citation made by Edward Chow Jr., Maryland secretary of Veterans Affairs. The citation was from Gov. Martin O’Malley and Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown.
Due to the efforts of Nancy Kurtz of Maryland Historical Trust, money was donated to restore the B-52 monument at the Little Crossings at River Road, according to Chow.
Dean Hillegas, who broadcasted during the event 50 years ago, served as the master of ceremonies for the service.