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62 years after Alaska plane crash, some families get closure

Her dad died in 1952, before she was born. Her mom 'never, ever talked about him.' Now, his body is found
Uncle lost in 1952 Alaska plane crash 'was a ghost in my house,' but soon he'll be laid to rest
Now that bodies of 17 military members lost in 1952 plane crash are identified, their families can get closure

On Nov. 22, 1952, a cargo plane carrying Air Force Staff Sgt. James H. Ray and 51 other members of the U.S. military crashed into a mountain in Alaska. The wreckage fell onto a glacier below and vanished under layers of snow, ice and rocks.

Three months later, his daughter Jamie was born. 

Now, after more than 60 years, she and other families will be able to lay some of the crash victims to rest.

Jamie Ray Swift grew up knowing little about the father she was named after but never met. “My mother never, ever talked about him,” she told the Los Angeles Times. “I don’t know if it was too painful.”

But recently he has become a big topic: Ice on Colony Glacier, about 40 miles east of Anchorage, has been melting, and two years ago a helicopter crew spotted some wreckage from the plane, a Douglas C-124 Globemaster that had been flying from McChord Air Force Base in Washington to Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska. So far, the military has recovered and identified remains of 17 of the men who were aboard, her father among them.

“I guess since all this happened, [relatives have] been more open to talking about him,” the Pensacola, Fla., resident said. “They were saying how wonderful he was.”

In less than two weeks, Swift said, she will go to the lab in Hawaii where the military identified her father’s remains and escort them back to the mainland for burial. “It feels like an honor and it’s something I want to do, but … I’ve become more emotional, the closer it gets to going,” she said. “I know I’m going to blubber like a whale when I get there.”

She said she is especially happy that he will be in the cemetery in Worthington, Pa., where his family is buried. His name is on his wife’s headstone in the Mobile, Ala., cemetery adjoining the Air Force base where he was stationed when the couple met, she said, “but I just believe he would want to be with his family…. He’s going to be up there where he belonged.”

Swift isn’t the only one looking forward to a sense of closure.

Air Force Airman 2nd Class Thomas S. Lyons “was a ghost in my house when I was growing up,” his nephew Thomas Evans told The Times in an email. “Because there was no recovery of the crew, he never had a proper funeral. His mother sent countless letters to the Air Force asking when he would be returned to her. His parents drove to Alaska after they retired to see where he was lost.”

Evans, who was named after his uncle, said Lyons was a talented artist who grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., and was 19 years old at the time of the plane crash. Lyons’ sister Geraldine -- Evans’ mother -- was 14, he said.

The process of recovering Lyons’ remains “has in a sense brought him back to life,” said Evans, a resident of Washington, D.C. “He was previously a ghost and now dozens of Air Force personnel are engaged in identifying him and explaining it all to my family.”

The family has also gotten back a physical piece of Lyons’ life: “They gave my mother her brother’s wallet that has been frozen in ice for 60 years.”

Evans said he plans to fly to Hawaii next month and escort Lyons’ remains to Florida, where his mother lives. Like the other casualties, Lyons is to be buried with full military honors.

For more news, follow @raablauren on Twitter.

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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