FINAL FLIGHT

a blog by Peter Stekel

FINAL FLIGHT is the story of four aviators lost in Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks on November 18, 1942

coming from Wilderness Press in 2010

Read more about FINAL FLIGHT here.

Order Final Flight from Amazon or Powell's World of Books in Oregon

April 2010


Last month I was interviewed by Dave Beck from Seattle's NPR affiliate, KUOW.org. Listen to the 8 minute 10 second MP3 broadcast HERE at KUOW.org or HERE at the Final Flight website.

The interview involves my description of finding the remains of Glenn Munn on Mendel Glacier in August of 2007 and how it has affected me.



The following photographs and documents were graciously loaned to me by Don Bechter, Bill Davis, and Leonard Spivey.

Bill Davis and Leonard Spivey were both friends of William Bechter. Don Bechter is William's younger brother.

* * *

Both Bill Davis and Leonard Spivey described William Bechter as a "clean-cut kid." Said Davis, "You knew you would never be in trouble if you were in the company of Bill Bechter." Like so many in training at the time, Bechter insisted on a combat assignment as soon as he finished training. "He graduated at the top of his navigation class and was offered an instructor job," Davis told me. "He declined."

Along with his fellow crew members, Bechter was shot down and killed in action [KIA] over Amiens-Glisy, France. This was Bechter's 9th mission. From the Scollon/Gill family website HERE, I learned that the crew included, "S/Sgt James B. Scollon, 1st Lt. Robert J, Holden, 2nd Lt Robert Gravelyn, 2nd Lt. William A. Bechter, 2nd Lt. James A. Phillips, S/Sgt William R. Coleman, S/Sgt William L. Craver, S/Sgt Raymond J. Pulliner, Sgt. Morris E. Pyron, and S/Sgt Kenneth L. Fossan.

 

Lt. William Bechter, shortly before his death, July 14, 1943.

 

Bill Davis and William Bechter met each other at the Santa Ana Army Air Base [SAAAB] in Southern California where they completed pre-flight training together.
 

Here is a photograph from that time. On William Bechter's left is Frank Tierney. Bill Davis in kneeling in front of Becther.

 

Bill Davis at Sutter's Fort in Sacramento, California, when he was stationed at Mather Field.

Bill Davis was shot down on his third mission. Of Bechter, Bill Davis told me, "Bill and I were going to try to meet in London in early July but he went down on July 14 and I went down on July 26. I have missed him."

HERE is a PDF copy of a letter sent from Bechter to Davis on July 8, 1943 where plans are being developed for the two friends to meet.

 

Leonard Spivey met William Bechter in February, 1943 when Bechter was assigned to the 535th Squadron of the 381st Bomb Group that was forming at the Pyote Army Air Base in Texas. Spivey was squadron navigator and training officer. In a recent email, Leonard told me, "Later in training in the US and duty in England we became friends."

All three boys trained at Mather Field and Bechter and Davis were there in November, 1942 with Lt. Gamber and his three cadets disappeared. Like the three cadets who were lost on the AT-7 on the 18th of that month, Bechter, Davis, and Spivey were studying navigation. 

Leonard told me, "I did not know of Bill Davis until the last few years after learning of his friendship with Bill Bechter from the latter's diary. Now Davis and I communicate on occasion via e-mail.  I consider him a new found friend."

* * *

I first came to know of Leonard Spivey from a San Francisco Chronicle article in the weeks after the Frozen Airman [Leo Mustonen] was discovered by two climbers in the Mendel Glacier in October, 2005. He had a copy of William Bechter's diary from his days in the Army Air Forces - covering the time from his pre-flight training in Santa Ana, California up to the day before he was KIA. With the permission of Don Bechter, Spivey provided the newspaper with several entries from his friend's journal including these two:

November 17, 1942. Tuesday.

It rained cats & dogs all day (You could see the "poodles" on the streets). Our flight was of course canceled.

November 18, 1942. Wednesday.

We flew part of an interception mission this morning but had to turn back short of the goal because we ran into a bad storm and low ceilings. The war was brought close to home tonight when one AT-7 in Bill Davis' class failed to return from this morning's hop.

Bechter's diary was later to prove an important resource for me during my research for Final Flight because of his entries discussing the weather during the time Lt. Gamber and Cadets Mortenson, Munn, and Mustonen disappeared. From Bechter's diary I was also able to learn how far along the missing crew were in their studies.

After a few phone conversations, I met Leonard Spivey at Mather Field [or what is left of it] on February 28, 2008. Mather Field was "in the sticks" in those days. Spivey told me, "It was rural. It was not built up like now, of course. We had to hitch hike or get some transportation and then it was like a big trip to go to Sacramento downtown." The draw was The Senator Hotel where the boys could get a good meal and then stay for dancing the night away.

The Hotel Senator at 1121 L Street, in the heart of Sacramento, across from the State Capitol building, is now a National Historic Landmark. First listed in 1979 it is now the Senator Hotel Office Building. See HERE. For my photos of the Senator Hotel, see my February, 2009 blog entry HERE.

The hotel, built in 1924, was long the happening place downtown due to its closeness to the State Capitol. It was always a great place for dances and could easily accommodate several hundred dancers. Modeled after the Farnese Palace in Italy, the building retains its original lighting and elegant Terrazzo marble floors and finishes. The nine-story U-shaped hotel fronts L Street with a row of arches that circle the block. Itís a grand old place, pinkish in color. Upstairs, above the hotelís gracious lobby, solid oak double doors line the hallways. The hotel atrium is surrounded by colonnades and has a checkerboard tile floor. On September 5, 1975, Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme, a 26 year-old devotee of Charles Manson, tried to assassinate President Gerald Ford outside the hotel but her Colt .45 semi-automatic misfired. She was unable to fire a second time before being wrestled to the ground].

 

After graduating from Mather, Leonard Spivey was eventually assigned to the 381st Bomber Squadron, 34th Bomb Group, navigating a B-17, and participated in the strategic bombing campaign over Europe with the 8th Army Air Force. He was shot down over Holland on August 19, 1943 on his 13th mission. In those days, crews had to fly 25 missions - later upped to 35.

He had to bail out of his stricken B-17 at 28,000 feet, without oxygen. "I dove out the nose hatch. I had my arms crossed in front of me because my chute was of the chest pack. And I had my hand on the ring. Which Iíd practiced doing before. And I dove out and I ended up waking up in the parachute."

   

Leonard Spivey in Albuquerque, New Mexico shortly before traveling overseas to England.

Spivey spent the remainder of the war at Stalag Luft III - the POW camp made famous in The Great Escape [book and movie].


2011

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2010

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2009

December November October September August July June May April March February January


 
2008

December November October September August July  June May April March February January    


2007

December November October September

   

write to: peter[at]FinalFlightTheBook.com