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Final Flight: Discovering WWII airman's frozen wreakage

Peter with Munn wreckage
Peter Stekel
Author Peter Stekel stands among the WWII plane wreckage that still stands today on a California glacier. Stekel has written a book about his experiences with the "final flight" and discovering one of the cadet's frozen remains in 2007.

By Keri Brown

February 22, 2010 · WWII Airman Cadet Earnest Glenn Munn's body was discovered on a California glacier encased in ice two years ago by hiker Peter Stekel. Stekel has now written a book about his discovery and what really happened during that "final flight".

It's been nearly 70 years since a U.S. Army Air forces training flight crashed into a California glacier in Kings Canyon National Park


The crash killed all four crew members, including Cadet Earnest Glenn Munn of Pleasant Grove Ohio, just across the river from Wheeling.


In 2007, Peter Stekel was hiking near the crash site of the WWII aviators in the Sierra Nevada Mountains when something gleaming caught his eye. As he made his way to the reflecting object, he realized that it was coming from a ring, attached to the frozen finger of Cadet Earnest Glenn Munn. His book "Final Flight" takes readers through the journey of his discovery.


“It follows the story of the four boys, their biographies, how they enlisted in the Army and how they came together on that fateful day. It is told almost like a mystery book where the narrative of their story comes from my discovery of Glenn Munn and becoming involved in his story and trying to figure out what caused the crash that killed him and his fellow crew members,” said Stekel.


The body of Munn's fellow cadet Leo Mustonen was also discovered by hikers near the crash site in 2005. The remains of the Pilot William Gamber and John Melvin Mortensen still haven't been found.


Stekel said one of the mysteries in the book focuses on whether or not any of the airmen's remains were buried during a special military service in San Bruno, Calif., a few years after hikers discovered the wreckage.


“One of the essential mysteries of Final Flight revolves around whether or not anyone had ever been buried or remains had been recovered from the crash site. There are red Herrings and false leads, there are reports from the military that were inaccurate and in some cases due to negligence and in other cases I think inaccuracies were put into the report to spare the families the grief of knowing how exactly their sons came to be killed.”


A special funeral was held for Munn in his hometown of Pleasant Grove, Ohio in May of 2008. Munn's three sisters, all in their eighties are still living and doing well.


Shortly after the funeral, Munn's oldest sister Jean Pyle received a box from the military containing their brother's belongings, including Munn's aviator ring that helped lead to his discovery.


“His wallet and a little bit of money he had in his wallet, and some of his clothes that he had with him and a lot of letters that mother and I and the other girls had written Glenn, and those came back with that box and after that I don't know it has just kind of settled us all down and we know where he is now. I can sit in this chair and as I'm talking to you I can see his grave from the Holy Memorial Gardens right here,” said Pyle.


Stekel helps reconstruct how the crash happened by talking with experts in climatology and aviation, as well as family members of the airmen like Pyle. The book has about 50 black and white photos, many of them never seen before Stekel's discovery.


Pyle said she and her two sisters Sarah Zeyer and Louis Shriver are looking forward to reading the book to learn more about their brother's military service.


“We didn't know so much about where he was staying and what went on in his service to the country we didn't know any of that just that he was coming along fine. What happened when they fell and to the plane? All of that stuff is a question mark yet. We just don't know how that all stuff happened.”


During the course of writing the book, both of Stekel's parents and his father-in-law died. He said writing the book has helped him with his own personal discovery and understanding of WWII history.


“The four boys on the plane were of my parents generation and in studying their lives it helped me understand my own parents a little bit better because we never talked about their experiences during WWII and what it was like to live during that time so having the opportunity to find out something about the four guys was a very important experience for me,” said Stekel.


Stekel has made four trips since discovering Glenn Munn's body in 2007. One of those trips included taking some of Munn's nephews to view the crash site.


Stekel says plans to remain involved in the story. He intends on making periodic trips to the crash site until he's convinced that he will never be able to find the remains of either John Melvin Mortensen or William Gamber.


The book, "Final Flight" is being published by Wilderness Press and is expected to be released in August.

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