Columbus, Ohio | Feb 24, 2008 | Text-only version
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Mike Harden commentary: Dedicated stranger gets Ohio man home
Sunday,  February 24, 2008 3:26 AM
ST. CLAIRSVILLE, Ohio -- When Glenn Munn hugged his mother, Sadie, goodbye in January 1942, he asked her not to cut her strawberry-blond hair until his return.

When she died three weeks after her 102nd birthday in 2000, still working at least two crossword puzzles a day while waiting for her firstborn's return, her once-blond mane had been turned by six-score years into a gray mourning train.

Her son, an airman lost when his military plane crashed in California's Sierra Nevada more than 65 years ago, had been the object of more than one fruitless search over the decades.

In August, trudging up the rocky moraine of the high sierra's Mendel Glacier, Seattle writer Peter Stekel was struck by an arresting sight.

"When I first saw him," Stekel said, "I thought I was looking at a 4- or 5-foot tree killed by the frost. But there isn't anything growing up there; not a whisper of grass. But, at 13,000 feet, your brain doesn't work as good as it does at sea level. It couldn't have been a tree.

"There was a large rock in front of him, and he was leaning over almost as if resting his head against it. His left arm was crossed in front of him. His right arm was posed upward as though a man swimming the butterfly, but the arm was missing below the elbow.

"You're finally coming home," Stekel murmured.

The body was brought down for identification, though Stekel knew it had to be one of a quartet of airmen lost when an AT-7 Navigator plowed into the mountain in the autumn of 1942.

Stekel had become captivated by the lost crew of that long-ago training mission in 2005, after the glaciered mountain where he would find Munn yielded the first body from the wreck.

It was then that Stekel began work on a book titled Final Flight, a chronicle whose last chapter won't be written until the last two members of the crew are found.

A few days before Valentine's Day in a small brick house outside St. Clairsville, the telephone of 87-year-old Jeanne Pyle rang.

Pyle, Munn's sister, on Wednesday remembered the caller's words. "They said the body we discovered belongs to Ernest Glenn Munn.

"My first child, Patricia, was 9 months old when Glenn left. He loved her so much. She's 66 now."

Looking from her porch through veils of driven snow at an elegant pine in the cemetery across the road, Pyle pinpointed the family plot. "I don't know yet when the burial will be, but it's close."

Glenn will be buried beside his father, Joe, who was running a small confectionery and gas station in Pleasant Grove when his son left for the military.

"He had a girlfriend," Pyle said of her brother. "Years after he was lost, we learned she had married someone else.

"My mom was strong. She was so saddened by his death, but she kept that sadness to herself. She'd say, 'I'm sure the good Lord will find him.' "

Stekel, a fellow whom Glenn Munn's kin must think a handmaiden of the Almighty, said of the two crewmen yet missing: "I plan on going back up there. I can't stop until I know for sure I won't be able to find any more of the crew."

Retired columnist Mike Harden writes a Sunday Metro column.

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