San Francisco Chronicle

Army flier lost 65 years found and IDd

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

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Names of 4 lost fliers are on headstone of the group grav... Army Aviation Cadet Ernest Munn is shown in a photo taken...

Nearly seven decades after Army Aviation Cadet Ernest "Glenn" Munn vanished during a routine training flight somewhere over California, remains of the World War II-era airman have been found and identified.

Munn was one of four men who took off in a twin-engine AT-7 Navigator aircraft from Mather Field near Sacramento on Nov. 18, 1942.

A 23-year-old Ohio farm boy, Munn wrote home on Nov. 5 that he missed his family and a good winter snowstorm. But he was also happily dazzled by the fast life of the military, he said in the letter to his mother, Sadie.

He had just seen Bob Hope, who gave a live show at Mather. And he took his girl to a dinner dance at the Hotel Senator in Sacramento.

He said he found flying tough; there was so much to learn. "But after more study and practical flying experience, it seems to present itself little by little," he wrote. "I have been beginning to like it a lot better."

In his letter, Munn told his mother about an aborted journey to Salt Lake City:

"We ran into a storm and came back. They don't like to flight over those very high mountains when it is stormy, because they are afraid of downdrafts forcing the plane into a side of a mountain.

"Not that I was scared," he wrote. "But I was glad when they decided that we had better go back."

So glad that he added "Ha! Ha!" as if he had cheated death and knew it.

Almost two weeks after writing the letter, Munn and fellow cadets Leo Mustonen and John Mortenson climbed aboard the AT-7 piloted by Army Air Forces 2nd Lt. William Gamber. They had enough fuel for a five-hour flight, but they never returned.

It wasn't until 1947, when hikers found the wreck of the plane and some human remains on Darwin Glacier, in Kings Canyon National Park, that any clue emerged about their fate.

In September 1948, Brig. Gen. Garrison Davidson, chief of staff at the Presidio of San Francisco, wrote Sadie Munn and said he regretted "individual identifications are physically impossible, due to the manner in which the crewmen lost their lives. Therefore, a group burial must be made."

A single grave at the Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno is marked with the names of the four crewmen.

And that was that until October 2005, when hikers in Kings Canyon found a frozen body. Over the years, the Army had become far better at identifying remains, and was able to determine through DNA evidence that it was Mustonen.

Last August, other hikers found another body near where Mustonen's was found. Army scientists sent those remains - along with an old wallet containing faded photographs and a 1923 buffalo nickel - to the Joint POW-MIA Accounting Command in Hawaii. There, at the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory, scientists confirmed that the remains were Munn's.

"It's sort of a closure," said Munn's sister, 88-year-old Jeanne Pyle of Saint Clairsville, Ohio, not far from where Munn and his three sisters grew up. "I can still see my mother. She would just set and cry and cry and cry."

Aviation Cadet Munn will be buried in his home town of Pleasant Grove, Ohio, on May 17. He will be given a full military funeral.

E-mail Nanette Asimov at

This article appeared on page B - 2 of the San Francisco Chronicle


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