GREAT FALLS (AP) — More than 60 years after a P-40 fighter plane crashed deep in the Great Mountain Forest of Connecticut, plans are being made for a granite memorial in honor of the Montana native killed in the crash.
Great Falls native Lt. Daniel Henry Thorson was at the controls of the doomed flight on March 31, 1943, when he ran into a sleet storm and crashed.
At the time, no one knew much about the crash or who was killed. It was World War II, and secrecy prevailed.
But after digging out the details, a small group of northwest Connecticut residents are planning to hike into the crash site later next month and place a 3-foot-tall, 640-pound granite monument to honor Thorson.
Thorson's sister, Donna Wahlberg of Great Falls, has been invited to attend, and says she has been overwhelmed by the efforts more than 1,000 miles away to remember her older brother.
"They are very caring people," she said.
Thorson was an operations officer and instructor when his plane crashed on its way from Long Island to a new base.
He was born in Great Falls and raised in Hughesville and Great Falls and attended high school in Idaho. He was an outstanding athlete, a champion skier and a member of the Great Falls ski club.
Michael Godburn of Torrington, Conn., grew up about five miles from the site where the plane went down. He remembers his dad telling him about the mystery.
But the mystery was unraveled after a group of residents, a newspaper reporter and others searched archives to find out who was flying the plane that many had heard about.
And after finding out about the 24-year-old pilot, the community intends to honor the memory of the young man and his story.
"He was a kid. He was just 23 or 24. They were all kids," Godburn said. "It's just the right thing to do. Once we got his name, and we got his picture, he was someone we knew. The idea that he could be forgotten is atrocious to me."
Jody Bronson, a forester at the Great Mountain Forest, said the crash site is in a remote area, and some of the debris is still there. Scoping out a spot for the memorial at the site turned up part of the plane's dial panels.
The exact location of the crash and the memorial won't be made public.
"When you get to the site you feel like there is a ghost," Bronson said. "It's not a bad feeling, but it's sad."
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