WWII plane crash victims to be honored with memorial

Billings veterans groups working to dedicate plaque
2006-05-18T23:00:00Z WWII plane crash victims to be honored with memorialMARY PICKETT Of The Gazette Staff The Billings Gazette
May 18, 2006 11:00 pm  • 

Drivers passing through the busy intersection at 13th Street West and Poly Drive probably don't know they are traveling near the site of Billings' worst aviation disaster.

This fall, if they stop and walk the few steps to the blue-painted concrete veterans' memorial, they will find a plaque dedicated to the 21 servicemen and two pilots killed and injured during the fiery crash more than 60 years ago.

A C-47 Army transport was coming in for a landing at the Billings airport during a snowstorm when it clipped a cottonwood tree along Poly Drive and went down in a cornfield.

Only four of those on board survived more than a few hours.

It was a particularly poignant tragedy because the servicemen had survived World War II battlefields in Europe and were heading for the West Coast for home or other assignments.

Although none was a Billings resident, members of American Legion Post 119 in the Heights thought that the men's sacrifice should be commemorated.

"They're veterans. What else can you say?" asked Post Commander Dick Grimm.

That they died in a stateside accident doesn't lessen their contribution.

"They were patriots who gave their all," said Dick Fletcher, vice commander.

Even though the crash took the lives of more people than any other plane crash before or since in Billings, many local residents are unfamiliar with it.

To remind others of what happened, Post 119 will dedicate a plaque with the men's names sometime around Sept. 11.

Because that date has become a day of remembrance, it's an appropriate time to recognize those who died in the 1945 crash, Grimm said.

The post may schedule the dedication for Sept. 9, a Saturday, because more people might be able to attend than on Sept. 11, a Monday.

The post became interested in the crash when Parmly Billings Library librarian Karen Stevens gave Fletcher newspaper articles about the accident.

The post has worked with the Billings Parks and Recreation Department to get permission to place the 24-inch-by-24-inch plaque on the lower half of the pyramid-shaped concrete monument topped by a soaring eagle sculpture at Veterans Park.

Not only will the plaque be located within a couple of blocks of the crash site, it's appropriate that it will be in Veterans Park.

Charles Dick, post chaplain and service officer, pointed to a Blue Star Memorial Highway sign erected to the side of the monument as a tribute to those who served in World War II.

Any local resident who was at the crash site in 1945 and their relatives are invited to attend the dedication this fall, Fletcher said.

For information, call Fletcher at 256-3621.

On the plaque

This is the text of American Legion Post 119's plaque:

"Dedicated to the memory of:

"The twenty-one World War II Army veterans and two flight crew killed or injured near here on December 8, 1945, when an Army C-47 transport plane crashed in a blinding snowstorm while going from Newark, N.J., to Seattle, WA. The veterans were from Washington and Oregon, and most were due for discharge in Seattle after seeing action in Europe."

The plaque then lists all on board: Maj. Ray Craft, S/Sgt. Thomas Thomsen, T/Sgt. Glenn Marr, Sgt. Don Haley, T/4 Virgil Kinne, T/4 Warren Parrish, T05 Raymond Emerson, Lt. Anthony Alansky, Pfc. Clayton Thompson, T/4 Fred Chapman, Pfc. Maceo Hobbs, Pfc. Walter Orchard, T/5 John Marshall, Pfc. Raymond Parkins, Sgt. Charles Ennen, Cpl. Lorrell Cassell, T/5 Ned Neasham, Pfc. David Gillett, T/4 Adolph Tokie, T/5 Emil Hasch, Cpl. Milford Barnes.

Pilot: George Miller.

Co-pilot: Vernon Pfannkuck.

"By the Billings United Veterans Council, American Legion Post 119, and the residents of Billings, MT."

Contact Mary Pickett at mpickett@billingsgazette.com or 657-1262.

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