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Airman is laid to rest 66 years after Alaska plane crash

Verne Budhan

By KRISTINE GOODRICH | The Free Press, Mankato, Minn. | Published: June 30, 2019

MANKATO, Minn. (Tribune News Service) — Airman 2nd Class Verne Budahn’s parents and most of his brothers never got to say a proper goodbye.

For decades his surviving relatives, many of whom he never got to meet, never thought they’d see Verne laid to rest either.

The day finally came Saturday, 66 years after the 19-year-old U.S. Air Force mechanic and 51 other servicemen were killed in a plane crash in the Alaska Mountains.

“We never thought this day would come,” said Joan Budahn, after her brother-in-law was buried with full military honors at the Arlington Public Cemetery.

Verne grew up in Arlington and three of his four brothers enlisted in the Air Force during or after the Korean War, according to family members.

Verne enlisted a few months after graduating from Arlington High School in 1951. Several of his former classmates (16 of 34 are still living) were among those who came out on a sweltering afternoon to pay their respects.

“We’ve gotten to live 67 years that he didn’t. Just think of what what he’s missed,” said classmate Marilyn Witty.

Verne was a shy but well-liked young man, they remembered.

“He was a quiet, well-mannered and hard-working kid,” classmate Myron Bertrang said. “He was just a good, good guy.”

After school, Verne and his brothers helped their parents, Vernon and Myrtle Budahn, in the family business. They ran an International Truck dealership in Arlington, said nephew Bruce Budahn. Vernon and Myrtle moved to New Ulm and opened a dealership there a few years after Verne went missing.

The cargo plane that was carrying Verne Budahn and 40 other passengers and 11 crew members from McChord Air Force Base in Washington to Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage. The C-124 Globemaster II went down in bad weather on Nov. 22, 1952, just 40 miles shy of its destination, according to Air Force news articles.

Recovery crews could not reach the remote crash site on Mount Gannett before it was enveloped by the Colony Glacier.

The plane’s wreckage and the remains of the 52 men and women lost were hidden in the ice and snow for 60 years. An Alaska National Guard helicopter crew spotted debris during a training flight over the melting glacier in 2012. The glacier had moved the wreckage over 10 miles.

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Every year since, during a narrow window in June when Alaska’s extreme weather allows, crews have worked to recover human remains and pieces of the plane. DNA samples from relatives are being used to identify the remains, said Ruben Garza from the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations Center.

Verne is the 42nd person to be identified and laid to rest. He was one of two Minnesota natives who have been recovered, according to Garza. More remains were found during this year’s recently completed recovery operation.

Verne was found last June, but DNA matching takes time, Garza said. Verne’s family learned earlier this year his remains appeared to be among those recovered.

Garza went to a Budahn family reunion last weekend to informed them in person that Verne was finally ready to come home.

“It was a somber moment,” Bruce said.

Air Force Staff Sgt. LJ Fielder accompanied Verne home from the Dover Air Force Base and led an honor guard that came to the burial from the Grand Forks Air Force Base. It was her first such assignment.

“It was quite an honor,” she said.

A few dozen of Verne’s family members were on-hand to see him laid to rest with honors. Some called the experience emotional, but comforting.

A flag and Verne’s recovered dog tags were presented to his only living brother, Alvin Budahn. Alvin has dementia, but family members said he seemed to recognize that his long lost brother was finally home.

©2019 The Free Press (Mankato, Minn.)
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Searchers on Alaska's Colony Glacier anchor themselves to the glacier wall before attempting to search for possible evidence of the 1952 Air Force C-124 crash in a crevasse, June 30, 2013.
CLIFFORD BAILEY/U.S. NAVY

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