76 years ago on July 9th, 1946, a converted B-17 “Flying Fortress” plane returning home from WWII crashed into the southern slope of Mt. Tom. All on board were killed. 

The crash site went unmarked until 1994 when a monument was constructed to honor the men who were killed on that flight. Each year families and friends gather at the Mt. Tom B-17 Crash Memorial to pay homage to those who were lost. 

Producer Dave Fraser brings us the story. 

This story originally aired on July 9, 2021.

Read the full transcript:

Dave Fraser, Connecting Point: Every year in July, a group of people gather on Mount Tom to recognize the loss of 25 lives in a plane crash that happened 75 years ago.

Newsreel Footage: A converted Army B-17 flying south from Labrador and carrying twenty-five servicemen from overseas, crashes into Mount Tom near Holyoke, Massachusetts.

Dave Fraser: The plane was a B-17 Flying Fortress on final approach to Westover Field. It was carrying 15 Coast Guardsmen, four Army Air Corps servicemen, one Red Cross official, and one medical doctor when it slammed into the side of the mountain, killing all on board.

Robert Cahillane, Northampton Resident: Because of the War Years, a lot of the lights on the mountain and stuff have been turned off. So, they didn’t have a guide. Planes didn’t have the same equipment that they have today for radar and to be able to know where exactly where they were on a very, extremely dark night.

Dave Fraser: Cahillane was the Director of Veterans Affairs in the mid-90s for the city of Northampton when he was approached with the idea of constructing a monument on Mount Tom to recognize the men who had died in the plane crash.

Robert Cahillane: And so, we went ahead and got up here and looked over the site and talked about maybe putting a little marker of some type along the trail. And then, as I like to say, 17 of the best people kind of came out of the woodwork to ask, “Can we be part of it? We want to be a part of it.”

Dave Fraser: None of the men killed were local. They ranged in age from 18 to 43. Most were single and eager to return home from the war to parents, siblings, and friends.

Al Stettner, Relative of Alfred Warm: My uncle was on the plane that crashed here at the site in 1946. Alfred Leonard Warm. My name is Alfred Leonard Stettner, I was named after him. So, we’ve been coming here all these years to honor my uncle and the other twenty-five guys on the plane.

First year we were here actually was before the memorial was built and there was still wreckage on the ground. 1995, which was forty nine years after the accident.

Now coming here, it’s this change from being a place of tragedy to be a place really of beauty and love. The fact that the community has done this, the fact that people come out in droves every year for the ceremony.

Initially, it was just a few of us family members would come out and now it’s a whole community shows up. It’s a wonderful thing.

Dave Fraser: The memorial site consists of a gravel path lined with birch trees that leads to a circular rock ledge and enclosing a flat area in front of a monument. On the rock wall, adjacent to the monument, hikers have piled wreckage from the plane that is still being found in the surrounding woods.

For Ellen Stettner, this site is a place of great love. And although she never met her uncle who was killed here, her mother shared his story with her and her siblings.

Ellen Stettner, Relative of Alfred Warm: This place, and the people who created this memorial, transformed what was a devastating tragedy into a place of loving kindness and outreach and profound love. So, it meant everything in the world to her to be here.

And we came with her every year. We lost her in 2008, five weeks after my husband and I were married here on this place. And we will be coming here for the rest of our lives.

Dave Fraser: As the names of the twenty five were read aloud, a B-17 Bomber slowly made a pass over the gathering of people. Next July, this group will gather again on the mountainside in Holyoke to pay tribute to their loved ones who served their country, but whose lives were cut way too short.

Al Stettner: There’s two stories here. The one story is about the twenty-five guys who served their country and then on their way home had the accident and died on their way home. And the other story is, many years later, the local community coming together out of their altruism and volunteerism and building this memorial and honoring the twenty five guys who died.

It’s a beautiful story. It’s really what this country is all about,  honoring the veterans, honoring the families. People they didn’t know, the strangers who they didn’t know who they brought into this memorial. It’s a beautiful story.