Topics - C-54 Skymaster Crash, Kwajalein - September 19, 1950

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Most recent update to this page: October 08, 2021


C-54 Skymaster Crash, September 19, 1950

C-54 Skymaster memorial
(Click picture for a larger view)

According to KWE member Art Lajeunesse of Latham, New York, this four-engine aircraft crashed into 1200 fathoms of water and exploded shortly after taking off from Kwajalein to Japan on September 19, 1950, killing all 26 Naval personnel on board.  Take off at night with no moon may have been a contributing factor in this incident.  The Navy VR-21 plane had refueled three times since takeoff from the USA.  Just after take off from Kwajalein island, some 2,100 nautical miles southwest of Honolulu, the aircraft crashed and exploded upon impact.  Of the 26 persons onboard, twenty-two bodies were lost at sea and only a few personal possessions were found.  Among the dead were eleven Navy Nurse Corps officers.  The accident marked the largest reported loss of military nurses in history, and was one of the greatest tragedies ever to befall the Navy Medical Department.

To add information to this page contact: Lynnita Brown, 111 E. Houghton St., Tuscola, IL 61953;ph. 217-253-4620 (home) or 217-253-5171 (her store); or e-mail

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Plane ___ Vanderford departed Barber's Point on routine flight to Tokyo with scheduled stops at Johnston, Kwajalein, and Guam.  The flight from Barber's Point to Johnston & from Johnston to Kwajalein was uneventful.  Arriving at Kwajalein at 1016313.  No discrepancies were reported by plane CDR.  After routine servicing the A/E was scheduled to depart from Kwajalein for Guam with relief crew.  The plane CDR of which was LCDR S. L. White.  When the a/e departed the terminal White was in left hand pilot seat.  The positions of the remainder of his crew are unknown.

The a/e made normal takeoff with no apparent failures after takeoff.  Approximately one minute after take off the a/e crashed.  The a/e exploded on impact and burned for approximately ten minutes then sank in about 1200 fathoms of water.  The location of the crash was approximately five miles of upwind and of takeoff w/w OYO.  The ___ Kwajalein tower operator reported the first transmission read from a/e before the crash was the shift from Kwajalein tower frequency.

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In Remembrance of Them

The fatalities were as follows:

  • White, Lt. Com. Samuel Lee - Pilot
    Lt. Commander White was a highly decorated veteran of World War II.  In the Korean War, he was assigned to Air Transport Squadron 21, Barbers Point, Hawaii.  Lieutenant Commander White was awarded the Purple Heart, the Combat Action Ribbon, the Korean Service Medal, the United Nations Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Korean Presidential Unit Citation and the Republic of Korea War Service Medal.  The son of Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Oliver White, his address was listed as Sylacauga, Alabama.  He was born January 14, 1920 and was a combat veteran of nine major battles in World War II.



  • Spangle, Lt. JG William Granger, II - Co-pilot
    SNA Class of 1945, Lieutenant Spangle was a veteran of World War II.  He was the husband of Nancy Katherine Spangle of Williamsport, Pennsylvania and son of Mr. and Mrs. Lyell Shearer Spangle, also of Williamsport.  In Korea, he was a member of Air Transport Squadron 21, Barbers Point, Hawaii.  Lt. JG Spangle was awarded the Combat Action Ribbon, the Korean Service Medal, the United Nations Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Republic of Korea War Service Medal, the American Campaign Medal, the Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal, the World War II Victory Medal and the Navy Occupation Service Medal with Asia Clasp.

    Message from Lieutenant Spangle's son:
    "It is a wonderful thing you have done. I am William G. Spangle, LtCol, USAF (ret), but my father, also of the same name, was killed in the plane crash off Kwajalein atoll, 19 Sept 1950. I found details of the crash on this website and even after 55 years brought some closure to my father's death. My mother (my Dad's wife) and his mother, only recently deceased, were sketchy on the details and who could blame them! I had considered a trip to Kwajalein Atoll. I don't exactly know why--perhaps just to stand on the runway where my Dad last stood. These details certainly helped. If any readers of this message know more about this crash, I would appreciate hearing from them." - William G. Spangle, (KWE Note: Son William was born a little over a month after his 27-year old father was killed in this crash.)

    C-54 Skymaster memorial
    (Click picture for a larger view)

  • Watkins, Lt. William Lucian - Co-pilot.  His address was listed as Palo Alto, California, but he grew up in Chicago, Illinois.  He was the son of Mr. and Mrs. William Watkins (mother's name Louise?), and was survived by his parents, his wife Bernita Watkins (a former WAVE), and brother Charles.  He attended St. Nicholas Parochial School and Mt. Carmel High School in Chicago and then joined the Navy.  He was a Navy pilot in World War II, serving in the Aleutians and Alaska for 18 months.  After the war he took part in the Bikini atom bomb tests.  He was discharged from the Navy and worked in California before reenlisting in the Navy to serve in the Korean War.  He was 29 years old at the time of his death.  His wife Bernita was living in Pearl Harbor when she received word of her husband's death.

  • Lt Commander Isaac Shelby Best

    Best, Lt Commander Isaac Shelby - Born July 25, 1916 in Maryland, the son of Charles L. and Lella S. Best, he was a veteran of World War II and Korea.  He was married and the father of four children when he died at age 33 while serving as a navigator on this aircraft.  He attended San Diego State where he was a member of Tau Delta Chi fraternity before leaving in 1939.  He entered the Army as an aviation cadet but resigned and enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force.  He fought in World War II in Europe and was transferred to the US Navy in London in 1943.  After the war he was stationed at Miramar and briefly attended classes at UCLA.
  • Sessoms, CPO Robbie - Chief Aviation Machinist's mate, he was the son of Allen Gray Sessoms (1869-1941) and Pollie Autry Sessoms (1883-1963) of Route 1, Autryville, North Carolina.  Known siblings were brothers Dallas Sessoms (deceased), Kernol Sessoms (1920-1921), Ronnie Sessoms (1907-1926), and Muncie Sessoms (1912-1982).  Others believed to be connected to this family are Lonnie Sessoms, Vonie Sessoms (1909-1998), and Evelyne Sessoms, who all appear in the 1940 census in Allen Gray Sessoms' household.
  • Sauer, AEM/3C Edward Albert - Aviation electronics man 3rd class.  His address was listed as Scottsbluff, Nebraska.  His father was listed as Jake Sauer, living in Weiser, Idaho.
  • Johnson, AEM/3C Albert Joseph -  Albert was a veteran of both World War II and the Korean War. He was born in Iota, Louisiana on June 10, 1924 to Polite and Alida Johnson and lived in Beaumont, Texas most of his life. His wife was Mary Murl Chance. He had two brothers, Francis and Rufus, and three sisters, Waverly, Hilda Johnson (1922-2009) and Genevieve "Jennie" Morgan Norris (1927-2012). The Beaumont Enterprise ran a front page article about the crash.
  • Esposito, Ens. Constance Rita "Connie" (USN)  - Daughter of Frank and Maria Carmella "Millie" Parrenzi Esposito, Brockway, Pennsylvania, Connie was born on September 07, 1923.  She graduated from Brockway High School in June of 1941 and was a 1945 graduate of the Indiana, Pennsylvania Hospital School of Nursing.  After graduating she was employed at DuBois, Pennsylvania Catholic Hospital before joining the Navy in 1948.  She had assignments at Bethesda, Maryland and San Diego, California.  She is buried in St. Tobias Cemetery, Brockway.  Her siblings were: Gerald Esposito (died age 5), Theresa Mae Esposito Prosper, Yolanda Geraldine Esposito (1925-2013),  Anna Marie Esposito Benson, John Henry Esposito, Richard James Esposito, Josephine Pauline Esposito Bruzga, Patricia Jean (Patti) Esposito, and Francis Joseph (Cheech) Esposito (1930-2013). She was engaged to be married to a fiance who lived in California.
  • Kilthau, Lt. James Jacob - Born December 29, 1913 in Oregon, he received his first commission on June 15, 1943 and his permanent commission on April 1, 1946.  He was commander of USS Cape May County LST-521 when it participated in the invasion of Normandy in 1944.  Kilthau's hometown was listed as Portland, Oregon.
  • Englehardt, Ens. Edward F. - Born April 26, 1926 in Ohio, he was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Englehardt.  A graduate of Roger Bacon High School, his hometown was listed as Cincinnati, Ohio.  He was also a graduate of the Teachers College, University of Cincinnati, in June of 1950.  During World War II he was stationed in the Caribbean for two years and held the rank of Signalman First Class.  A member of the Organized Naval Reserves, he volunteered for active duty during the Korean War in August 1950.  Besides his parents he was survived by a brother, Andrew Englehardt Jr.

  • Robert Harsh
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    Harsh, Ens. Robert A. - "I recently read the article in the Korean War Educator concerning the crash of the Navy transport plane off the Kwajalein Island on Sept. 19, 1950. My father, Robert A. Harsh was aboard that plane. I want to thank Beverly Vancill and all those responsible for the memorial honoring the victims of that crash. I was not quite three years old when my father was killed and the details of his death were never made known to me, or to my sister, who was 6 months old. Now I know there is someplace I can go to see his name and know that he will be remembered. He served in the Navy during World War II and returned to Michigan to complete his education. He played football for Adrian College and upon graduation, took a job as football coach in a small town in SE Michigan (Clinton). He coached and taught one year before being called to serve during the Korean War. He never made it to Korea and was killed soon after leaving Michigan. If there is anyone reading this that also lost a loved one aboard that plane, I would like to hear from you. Thank you." - Fran Kottke,

    [KWE Note: Fran sent the following information about her father and members of his family.]

    "Robert Allen Harsh was born November 6, 1924 to Elizabeth (Lipscomb) and Burton Harsh in St. George, West Virginia. When he was six months old the family moved to the southern Michigan, northern Ohio area, finally settling on a farm west of Lyons, Ohio. He had one sister, Frances Adams-Sapp, who passed away in January 2007. My dad graduated from Lyons High School in 1941. He participated in several sports during high school, including basketball, track, wrestling and football. He spent one year at Toledo University before enlisting in the Navy in January 1943. He reported for training at the U.S. Naval Training Station in Great Lakes, Illinois in June 1943. After basic training he was sent to the U.S. Submarine Base in New London, Connecticut. From there he was aboard the USS Fulton from May 1944 - March 1945. Toward the end of World War II he was selected for officer's training and completed a course of training at Princeton University, after which he was commissioned an Ensign and maintained Reserve status in the navy. After discharge from the Navy in 1946 he enrolled at Adrian College in Adrian, Michigan, where he was a member of the football team. He married my mother, Nora Jane Fitch, in January 1947. (She was also a student at Adrian.) After graduating from Adrian College in 1949 he accepted the position of athletic director and football coach at Clinton High School in Clinton, Michigan. He coached for one season and was just beginning his second season when he was called to active duty. He left Clinton on September 12, 1950, and spoke with my mother from San Francisco prior to leaving for assignment aboard a Navy transport ship in the Pacific. This, of course, was the last communication from him.

    I was born on October 28, 1947 and my sister, Martha Harsh-Wheeler, was born April 21, 1950. She currently lives in Appleton, Wisconsin with her husband Doug. They have two daughters, Jennifer Rothschild in Alexandria, Virginia and Abby Hessling in Ashville, North Carolina. Jennifer has one child. I live with my husband John on his family's farm in Adrian, Michigan. We have two sons, Sean in Lansing, Michigan and Aaron in Detroit, Michigan. Both of my sons are teachers and look very much like my dad. Sean has two children, Alexis (22) and August (17). August plays high school football. I am an RN and currently work as a bereavement facilitator at Hospice of Lenawee. I firmly believe my early experience with the death of my dad led me to the work I now do."
  • Thrall, Ens. Alvin Eugene - Alvin Thrall was the youngest son of County School Superintendent Charles Burton Thrall (1890-1967) and Lillian MacNewell Thrall (1894-1992) of San Bernardino County, California.  According to the San Bernardino Sun (21 September 1950, page 19), Alvin was one of four sons of Mr. and Mrs. Thrall, and the third of their sons to die while in service to their country.  Their eldest son, Maj. Norman Everett Thrall, was commanding the 3rd Battalion of the 108th Infantry when he was killed on Luzon in the Philippines on January 28, 1945.  Less than two months later on March 19, 1945, another son, Lt. Howard Burton Thrall, Air Force pilot in the 97th Fighter Squadron, was shot down over Yugoslavia.  The fourth son was Robert Alan Thrall.  Alvin Thrall was born in Ontario, California, on November 10, 1925.  He graduated from Colton Union High School in June 1943 and enlisted in the Navy the following September.  He participated in operations in the Pacific during World War II, including the battle of Okinawa.  He was married to Verda Rae Nearman on December 19, 1948.

  • Lt. JG Alice Stella Giroux
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    Giroux, Lt. JG Alice Stella - Born January 5, 1910, she was the daughter of Euclid T. Giroux (1881-1954) and Celia Langlois Giroux (1881-1927). Her hometown was listed as Seattle, Washington.  Her siblings were: Lionel P. Giroux (1905-1992), Geneive Giroux (1907-1907), Desniega Giroux (Mrs. Ed Lick - b. 1911), Olene Giroux (Mrs. Robert Joseph Fletcher - 1913-1991)and Lillian Giroux (Wilson - born 1923).  Alice was a nurse in World War II and was in the US Naval Reserve when she was sent to Korea to take care of the wounded.  She died in the plane crash en route.  She graduated from St. Mary's Hospital School of Nursing in Rochester, Minnesota in 1932.  She had varied experiences as a nurse, including special duty at Saint Mary's a year at the American Hospital in Paris, and civil service at the Gorgas Hospital, Ancon, Canal Zone (1940-1942).  She joined the Navy Nurse Corps, reporting for duty at the US Naval Hospital in Long Beach on November 18, 1944.  After serving as a nurse at the Naval Hospital in Norfolk, Virginia, she was released to inactive duty on June 22, 1946.  She was a naval reserve nurse at the US Naval Hospital in Long Beach for over six months.  In April 1947 she was at Building #102, Birmingham General Hospital, Van Muys, California.  By October 1947 she had a new address in Pasadena.  After a period of inactive duty from 1946 to 1949, she went back to active duty on January 6, 1949 at the Naval Hospital in Corona, California.  She was transferred to the US Naval Hospital in San Diego, California on October 6, 1949.

    Lt. JG Allice Stella Giroux
    School of Nursing Photo
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    Saint Mary's Alumnae Quarterly had an article sent in by Alice from the Canal Zone on May 17, 1942.  She wrote: "I am on night duty at present, on a white men's ward, patients with pneumonia, malaria, etc. and some surgical patients... Misses McCue ('27) and Beavan ('30) are also on the night shift, so we often have pep fests over the supper hour.  Miss McCue leaves for vacation shortly, and may stop in Rochester.  I spent thirty days of my vacation in Guatemala and the remaining thirty here and in the interior of Panama.  I greatly enjoyed Guatemala city, also Antigua, a city of ruins, destroyed by earthquakes of 1773 and eruptions of a nearby volcano.  Two other nurses joined me on a trip to Chichicastenango, about 170 miles from in the highlands and away from Guatemala city.  There we met the famous priest Reverend Rossbach, who has lived with the Mayan Indians, educating and teaching Christianity to them for the past thirty-seven years.  He also is a noted jade collector.  He actually did all this work on his own and has a display of evacuations made in a museum connected with the church.  In this village we saw processions of pagan Indians worshipping idols, climbing mountains and offering their prayers.  Father Rossbach says he has converted many of them.  He allows them to enter his church, but without their idols.  He goes about it gradually and much remains to be done.  All in all it was a most enjoyable trip.  I did get some grand pictures, and wish I had my color movie camera with me.  Please give my best wishes to the Sisters."
  • Boatman, Ens. Marie Margaret - 25 years old, San Antonio, Texas.  Marie was born March 8, 1925 in Abilene, Texas, daughter of Rev. Clarence Otto Boatman (1896-1969) and Ruby Ellen Clark Boatman (1894-1942).  Reverend Boatman was pastor at Government Hill Methodist Church.  Marie attended Southwest University, Georgetown for pre-med and then graduated from Harris Methodist Hospital School of Nursing in Ft. Worth.  She was employed at Harris until she was commissioned in the Navy Nurse Corps on March 10, 1948.  She was assigned to the Naval Hospital in Long Beach, California, from that date until January 5, 1950.  On January 11, 1950 she reported to the US Naval Hospital in Bremerton, Washington, where she remained until receiving overseas orders for Yokosuka, Japan on September 11, 1950. She was survived by her father, step-mother Ethel May Hickman Boatman (1895-1977), and two brothers John Harvey Boatman (1924-1990), a World War II veteran, and David Boatman.  Dave (a World War II veteran also) was in the Navy during the Korean War at that time and came home to attend his sister's funeral.  Marie Boatman is buried in Ft. Sam Houston National Cemetery.

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Ens. Marie Margaret Boatman

  • Lt. JG Constance Adair Heege

    Heege, Lt. JG Constance Adair - Constance was born July 2, 1918, daughter of George Frederick Heege (1891-1983) and Clara K. Wegener Heege (1892-1982) of Kirkwood, MO.  From suburban Kirkwood, Missouri, she graduated from the University of Missouri in 1941.  She graduated from St. Louis University School of Nursing in 1947 and taught school for two years before joining the nurses' cadet training corps at St. Mary's Hospital, St. Louis, MO.  She was formerly a staff nurse and clinical instructor at St. Louis University Hospital before taking her oath of office as Ltjg NCR on December 3, 1948.  She was stationed at the US Naval Hospital in Long Beach, California, from January 5, 1949 until February 17, 1950.  The next day she went on duty at the US Naval Hospital, SMR, Oceanside, California, and remained there until receiving overseas orders to the Naval Hospital in Yokosuka, Japan.  In addition to her parents she was survived by sisters Shirley (Ohlson) and Mourine (Marco) and a brother George Frederick Heege III (1930-2001).  She is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery, Kirkwood, MO.


  • Lt JG Jeanne Elizabeth Clarke
    Image #23.E1.16. Courtesy of Providence Archives, Seattle.
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    Clarke, Lt. JG Jeanne Elizabeth - Born May 12, 1918 in Oregon, Jeanne was the daughter of George Henry Clarke (1878-1939) and Eleanor Jane Clarke (1882-1932).  Her hometown was listed as Portland, Oregon.  Her siblings were Margaret C. Clarke (a WAC in World War II), George T. Clarke (also a World War II veteran), and John H. Clarke, all of Multnomah County, Oregon.

    Jeanne graduated from Washington High School and then  graduated from St. Joseph's School of Nursing in Vancouver, Washington in 1943.  She enlisted in the US Navy Medical Corps on December 27, 1943.  She was commissioned in the Navy in 1944 and served until 1946. In November 1949 she volunteered for active duty again.   She had assignments at Puget Sound, Washington and San Diego, Long Beach and Oceanside, all in California.

    An article in the St. Joseph Hospital Chronicles of May 14, 1943 told about her graduation as a nurse: "Nineteen Nurses received diplomas. Their services are greatly needed at this time both in the hospitals and in the armed forces. They are Misses: Sue K. Aklin, Marie M. Allaire, Barbara C. Argianas, Isabelle M. Berning, Mary K. Butler, Jeanne E. Clarke, Marian Elliott, Ann C. Gomulkiewicz, Corrine T. Hanson, Georgean D. Haskin, Caryl E. Hewitt, Mary E. Klein, Anne M. Lulay, Ellen Lerfold, Marianne Mc Cullough, Martha E. Partanen, Joyce B. Reed, Rufina C. Parish, Helen E. Steyaert."

Lt JG Margaret Grace Kennedy
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  • Kennedy, Lt JG Margaret Grace - 27 years old, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Edward J. Kennedy, May Street, Webster, Massachusetts.

    Newspaper Article:

    Webster (Massachusetts) Times September 21, 1950
    Navy Nurse Killed in Plane Crash
    LT. (jg) Margaret Kennedy on Way to Korean Front, Webster's First Casualty

    "First from Webster to be killed in the Korean War is a woman, Lt. (jg) Margaret Kennedy, 27, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Edward J. Kennedy, May Street. Word of the death of the Webster Naval nurse was contained in a telegram received yesterday by the parents, states that she was one of 26 who were killed in the crash of a Navy Transport plane Sept. 9, 1950, off Kwajalein, the Pacific's worst military air accident. Not only is Lt. Kennedy the first woman to give her life, but the first woman in any war to be killed, and who claimed Webster for her home. News of the death of their daughter was received by her parents in the following telegram: "It is with deep regret that I officially report the death of your daughter, Lt. (jg) Margaret Grace Kennedy, USNR, on 9 September, as a result of a plane crash which occurred in Kwajalein, in the Marshall Islands.  When further details concerning recovery of remains are received, you will be informed promptly.  Your daughter dies while serving her country and in the performance of her duty. Admiral John W. Roper, Chief of Naval Personnel."  Miss Kennedy served as a naval nurse in World War II, and at the end of the war, entered Denver University, graduating last year. She recently re-entered the Naval Service, and was stationed at San Diego. She volunteered for overseas duty and was on her way to the theater of war when the plane disaster occurred. She was born in Webster, attended school here and graduated from Bartlett High School. She entered Peter Bent Brigham Hospital and graduated from the training school, later entering the service in World War II.  Surviving are her parents, a sister, Helen Kennedy in California, and a brother, Thomas of Webster, who served in World War II and was a member of L Company, which was Federalized from here."

    According to a 1951 issue of the American Journal of Nursing, Lieutenant Kennedy graduated from Peter Brigham Hospital in Boston in 1944 and was a general duty nurse for a few months before joining the NNC in 1944.  She had a period of duty at Portsmouth, Virginia, Chelsea, Massachusetts, Newport, Rhode Island, and at Long Beach and San Diego in California.

  • Lt. JG Calla Goodwin
    Picture courtesy of Needham B. Broughton High School
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    Goodwin, Lt. JG Calla Virginia - Born on April 25, 1922 in Tyrrell County, North Carolina, her hometown was listed as Raleigh, North Carolina.  She was the daughter of Frank O. Goodwin Sr. (1895-1976) and Madelyn B. Goodwin (1900-1976), both of whom are buried in Concord, Contra Costa County, California.  She was also survived by a brother, Frank O. Goodwin Jr., who is now deceased.  Calla was a 1940 graduate of Needham B. Broughton High School in Raleigh, North Carolina, where she was a member of Latin Club, Glee Club, Typing Club, a staff reporter for the school radio, member of Girls' Athletic Association (GAA), German Club, and the RHS Glee Club, and participated in school operettas and the State Music Contest.

    After high school graduation she received her nursing degree from Rex Hospital School of Nursing in Raleigh in 1943.  She joined the Navy Nurse Corps on January 6, 1944, and reported for duty at NNH in Ports, Virginia on February 16, 1944.  She left there on May 15, 1945 and on May 20 reported for duty at the Naval Hospital in Bainbridge.  On July 23, 1945, she began duty at the Naval Hospital in Charleston, South Carolina, and remained there until May 1948.  On May 13, 1948, she reported to the Naval Dispensary at the Charleston Naval Shipyard Naval Base in South Carolina, where she remained until July 6, 1949.  On August 5, 1949, she reported to duty at the US Naval Hospital in Long Beach, California, where she remained until going on duty at the US Naval Hospital, SMR, Oceanside, California, on February 18, 1950.  She remained there until receiving overseas orders to the US Naval Hospital in Yokosuka, Japan.
  • Rundell, Ens. Edna June - Born August 1, 1926 on a farm near Stafford, Kansas, Ensign Rundell was the daughter of Lee Harold Rundell (1891-1949) and Gladys June Vincent Rundell (1895-1983) of Stafford.  Her siblings were sisters Anna Lee Rundell Lee (1917-1989), Evelyn Rundell (Gilmer) (1922-1981), Dorothy M. Rundell Hathaway (1930-1996), and Helen Marie Lofland (1916-2001), and brothers Harold and Jay, both World War II veterans.  Her grandmother, who was living at the time, was Mrs. J.W. Vincent of Stafford.

    Edna June Rundell

    Edna June Rundell

    Edna June attended Liberty Grade School and then graduated from the Stafford High School with the Class of 1944.  In June of the same year she entered cadet nurses training at the St. Elizabeth Hospital in Hutchinson, graduating in 1947.  She worked as a nurse in the hospital at Wellington, Kansas, and while there she enlisted as an Ensign in the U.S. Navy.  She reported for duty at the UN Naval Hospital in Bremerton, Washington, on December 30, 1948 and remained there until receiving overseas orders to the US Naval Hospital in Yokosuka, Japan on September 11, 1950.

    She was a member of the Methodist church in Stafford.  Her obituary stated: "She was a loveable and pleasant girl, very sincere in her work of helping others.  She made many friends in her work and varied interests in life.  Edna was fond of music and the piano was her constant companion.  She will be sadly missed by all who knew her, especially her family."

    At the time of her death, Edna's sisters, Helen Lofland and Dorothy Hathaway, were residing in California, and their mother had gone to California to visit them and see her daughter Edna June before she left for overseas duty.  Mrs. Rundell was still in California when she got the news of her daughter's death.

  • Lt. David John Jackson Jr.
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    Jackson, Lt. David John Jr. - Born August 30, 1924, he was the son of David John Jackson Sr. (1896-1978) of Butler County, Pennsylvania, and Mrs. D. Mae Jackson (1900-2/1983), Tarentum, Pennsylvania.  He was also the husband of Mrs. Lois L. Jackson of Berwick, and the father of a two-year-old son, David.  He had a sister Norma J. Jackson (five years younger than David) and a brother Howard E. Jackson (three years younger than David).  A graduate of Tarentum High School and California State Teacher's College, David joined the Navy upon leaving college and received a commission.  He served part of his 1942-43 duty in Hawaii.  He and his family had just moved to Berwick, Pennsylvania when he was recalled to active duty just two weeks to the day before his death.  While he was en route to Japan, he sent a postcard to his parents, who received it only minutes after they were informed via telegram of his death in the airplane crash.
  • Palmer, Lt. Francis Gibbs - Born June 16, 1921, son of Police Officer James J. Palmer and Catherine Boyle. Palmer, he was born on June 16, 1921 in Newport, Rhode Island.  He was married on August 20, 1950 to Miss Margaret Sullivan in California.  He graduated from De La Solle Academy in 1939 and then the Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, New York in 1943.  He had been on duty on the tanker Ashtabulha until he received transfer orders to the Far East Command as a member of the admiralty staff in Tokyo.  His bride was en route home from California when she received the news of the tragedy.  (She was pregnant at the time with the couple's only child, a daughter Margaret.)  Margaret Louise Sullivan Palmer was the daughter of Judge and Mrs. Mortimer A. Sullivan Jr. of Newport.  Her sister Dorothy was married to Lieutenant Palmer's brother, James J. Palmer Jr.  He also had a brother John M. Palmer and two sisters, Mrs. Charles Virion of Newport, and Mrs. Ann Blaisdell of East Neck, Long Island.
  • Smith, Lt. JG Harold Kenneth - Born December 08, 1924 in Iowa, his parents were J. Truman Smith (1885-1969) and Miriam S. Smith (1889-1992) of New Virginia, Iowa.  The Smiths had lived in various towns (including Linn and New Virginia) in Warren County, Iowa.  There was another son in the family, Donald E. Smith, who was three years younger than his brother Harold.  Harold's address at the time of his death was listed as Los Angeles.
  • Beste, Ens. Eleanor Clara - Navy Nurse Corps; from Freeport, MN.  Eleanor Clara Beste was born February 20, 1925 in Freeport, daughter of Henry F. Beste (1883-1941) and Regina G. Haselkamp Beste (1886-1968).  She graduated from St. Cloud, Minnesota Hospital School of Nursing in 1946.  She was assistant head nurse before joining the Navy Nurse Corps in January 1948.  She was assigned to the naval hospital at Bremerton, Washington before receiving transfer orders to Japan in September 1950.  Her siblings were: Ulric Conrad Beste (1914 - 1989), Emmeline Mary Beste (1916 - 1968), Regina T Beste (1918 - 1990), Mary Helen Beste (1920 - 2000), Julitta Magdalen Beste (1922 - 1997), Francis Bernard Beste (1927 - 1931), Al Beste, and Clara Beste Klobe.

  • Lt. JG Mary Liljegreen
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    Liljegreen, Lt. JG Mary Eleanor - Mary Eleanor Liljegreen was born on August 31, 1925, one of three children born to Carl Joseph Liljegreen (1892-1976) and Agnes Elizabeth Wyse Liljegreen (1890-1968).  A 1942 graduate of West Seattle High School and Seattle University, she took her nurse's training at Providence Hospital School of Nursing, graduating in 1946.  After graduation she was employed at Providence Hospital until signing up for the Navy on July 1, 1947.  She reported for duty at the Naval Hospital in Oakland, California, on September 2, 1947, and remained there until December 5, 1949.  On December 28, 1949, she reported for duty at the US Naval Hospital in Bremerton, where she remained until receiving overseas orders for Yokosuka Hospital in Japan on September 11, 1950.  She was the sister of former World War II POW LeRoy Randolph "Lee" Liljegreen (1916-1997), who was the husband of nurse Miriam Jeannette Smith Liljegreen (1921-2012), and sister of Mrs. Timothy Hugh Harn Jr. (Elizabeth Louise "Betty") (1923-2001), who was also a nurse and graduate of Providence Hospital School of Nursing.  Mary Eleanor's hometown was listed as Seattle, Washington.


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  • Lt. William Lee "Ernie" Horter
    (Click picture for a larger view)

    Horter, Lt. William Lee – William Lee (“Ernie)” was born August 20, 1923 in Jersey Shore, Lycoming, Pennsylvania to Milton Horter (1893-1975) and Frances Smith Horter (1920-1973). He grew up in the in Balboa, Canal Zone. He was employed as an instrument repairman at Panama Air Depot and then attended the University of North Carolina in September, 1941 where he was Phi Beta Kappa and majoring in accounting. He volunteered to serve in the Navy in World War II in the Pacific; his Navy ID number was 341785. He served in the Amphibious Branch of the US Navy in World War II, commanding boat LCT 1051 and participated in the invasion at Okinawa, Japan. After World War II, he went on inactive duty as did most Reserve officers. He graduated from college in 1948 and was serving the Isthmus of Panama’s Finance Bureau when he resigned on September 4, 1950 to go on active duty. Ernie was prominent in baseball circles in the Pacific. Ernie last departed from the continental U.S. from North Island, San Diego, California. His siblings were Marguerite (Mitten Sheridan) (1918-2002), Ruth (Spooner) (1919 - 2007), Milton Horter Jr. (1920-1989), Marion (Connor) (1921-1983), and Joan (Lundy) (1930-2006).


  • Eldridge, Ens. Jane Louise - (age 27) US Navy Nurse.  The daughter of Harold and Lillian Eldridge of Detroit, Michigan, Jane entered Providence Hospital School in 1943 when she joined the U.S. Cadet Nurses Corps.  She remained for a year as a nurse at Providence Hospital after graduation and then entered the U.S. Navy Nurses Corps in September 1947.  She reported to the US Naval Hospital in Bremerton, Washington on December 10, 1947, and Jane was still stationed there when she came home on leave September 2, 1950.  Four days later her leave was cancelled and she returned to Bremerton, where orders transferring her to the Naval Hospital at Yokosuka, Japan awaited her.  On the trip to Japan the plane stopped three times for fuel.  After the final stop, the plane crashed after leaving Kwajalein Island.  See also: The Michigan News, November 1950, pg. 148.  Her hometown was listed as Detroit, Michigan.

    An article about Jane's death appeared in The Capital Times newspaper in Madison, Wisconsin (September 21, 1950), stating:  "The fiancee of Lt (jg) Arpad Masley, Madison Navy doctor, and 25 other persons were killed Tuesday in the crash of a Navy transport in the Pacific Ocean near Kwajalein.  Lieutenant Masley, the son of Mr. and Mrs. A.L. Masley, 3626 Spring Ctr, was to have been married to Ensign Jane L. Eldridge, daughter of Mrs. Lillian Eldridge, Detroit, Michigan.  The elder Masley is director of physical education for men at the university.  Mrs. Masley said her son and Miss Eldridge had been engaged since June and that they planned to be married on their next trip home.  Lieutenant Masley is in Korea, and Miss Eldridge had been ordered recently to report for duty in Japan.  Mrs. Eldridge explained that her daughter was home early this month on a 30-day leave, but that she had been home only six days when ordered to report in Bremerton, Washington, in preparation for going to Japan.  A 1947 graduate of the university medical school, Lieutenant Masley began his navy service in September 1949.  He and Miss Eldridge met at the Bremerton Naval Hospital while both were stationed there."

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Kwajalein Memorial

There is a memorial dedicated to the military personnel who have served on Kwajalein through the years, as well as a memorial dedicated to those whose lives were lost in the airplane crash of September 1950.  Following is information about the memorials.

Dedication of Memorial

[KWE Note: The following article is from the Kwajalein Hourglass, February 28, 2007.]

The unveiling and dedication of two memorials honoring United States military service were held oceanside of the airport runway and at the American Legion Post 44 on Monday.

The first memorial commemorated the crew and 11 Navy nurses who lost their lives in a plane crash one and a half minutes after takeoff from the Kwajalein airport during the Korean War in 1950.

"I am awed by the commitment of these nurses in choosing a Navy career that would take them away from friends, family, safety and comfort of stateside duty at a time when travel and communication was much more difficult than it is today to deliver world-class health care anytime, anywhere," said Capt. Lori Carlson, keynote Beverly Vencill and Darryl Lambert unveil the nurse's memorial on oceanside near the runway. speaker at the Navy memorial service. Carlson, director of Health Services at the Naval Health Clinic Hawaii, Pearl Harbor Naval Base, flew in from Honolulu specifically for this event.

The second memorial paid tribute to Soldiers and their families who served on Kwajalein since 1944. Lt. Col. Jeffrey Klein, U.S. Army Kwajalein Atoll Host Nation director, served as keynote speaker on behalf of military families currently living on the island. "This memorial will act as a touchstone to link a shared experience--living and working on Kwajalein


[KWE Note: The following article was written by Dan Adler, Media Manager for the U.S. Army's Kwajalein Hourglass.  It appeared in that publication on pages 4-5 and 8 on March 21, 2009.  Appreciation and credit goes to Dan and the Kwajalein Hourglass.]

Former Kwajalein Resident Beverly Vencill Was Force Behind Memorial Wall, Nurse's Memorial

During her two hours on Kwajalein, Beverly Vencill worked at Building 1010 for five years.  She would pass the wall across from the fire station every day as she went to work.  She PCS'ed in 2007, but during a recent visit to Kwajalein, she described her feelings about it to the Hourglass.  "Day after day, I would pass that wall and think ... nasty gray wall ... nasty gray wall ... nasty gray wall," she said.  "I kept thinking someone should do something about it."

Vencill said the idea of making the wall into a memorial to military personnel and their families who have worked and lived on Kwajalein since 1944 sprouted in 2005 after her husband, Jim, a two-tour Vietnam veteran who worked at the Kwajalein Marine Department, was diagnosed as suffering from Agent Orange.

She said, "I wanted the Memorial Wall to serve as a symbol of gratitude that would celebrate military personnel and let them know that we do appreciate them.  Military personnel meant a lot to me and knowing what Jim was going through, I was determined to have something to honor them."

She was then working as a secretary for Col. Beverly Stipe, then USAKA Commander, and got permission from her for a memorial project.  Vencill solicited ideas from various departments and residents about what design should go on the wall.  After some debate, it was decided that it should be flowers.  "Flowers were chosen because of the island theme of welcoming leis and an 'Aloha' spirit that we wanted to show," said Vencill.

She enlisted the expertise of residents Melissa Dethlefsen, who is a graphics artist, and Doug Hepler, high school teacher, master carpenter and artist, for help with the design for the wall.  Hepler helped Vencill make a template for the design.  Darlene Duarte was Vencill's 'right hand man' for the project.  Duarte's father was in the Navy and she had been a Navy brat.  "I'm military down to my pinky toes," said Duarte.

Money was raised for the memorial through donations and a fish fry at the Vets' Hall with fish donated by Kwajalein Atoll International Sport Fishing Club.  The American Legion Auxiliary collected donations.

Many individuals and departments aided in making the memorial wall a reality to the community.  San Juan Construction Company repaired the cement problems.  Steve Metta and Fred McNickle organized various Kwajalein Range Services Public Works personnel to professionally do the necessary power cleaning, priming and base painting for the project.  Many Kwaj residents came out to pain the flowers once stencils made by Hepler were put in place.  Adults and children helped in the project.  The USAKA Commander and John Pickler, then President of Kwajalein Range Services, pitched in by painting.  USAKA Soldiers also helped with the wall.

"Many days it was very hot and it was hard work," said Vencill.  "Sometimes Darlene and I would work late into the afternoon in the heat and we would get tired and not do such a good job of painting."  But, "Rusty LaRoche would come by in the evenings after we had left.  He touched up what we had done and made it look very nice," she said.  "He was a real angel."

Concerning the nurse's memorial, Vencill said that since the time she first arrived on Kwajalein in 1983, she had heard stories about a Navy plane crash in which several nurses had been killed.  She didn't know if it was just a story and a Kwaj 'legend'.  "I got some information about it from Jimmy Matsunaga at the time, but didn't pursue it," she said.

During her second tour, Vencill said some people were talking about a group of eight women U.S. service members who had just been killed in Afghanistan.  "They were saying it was the largest number of military women killed since Anzio, when German artillery hit a tent where nurses were working and killed six of them," said Vencill.  "I thought, 'wait a minute.'  Here we are at Kwajalein where we lost 11 nurses and nobody knows about them""  She added, "I thought that was a crime."

She started investigating and searching on the Internet for anything she could find about the crash.  All she could see was very short mentions of it.  But, "Now I knew it was true," she said.  "It had happened."  Vencill said she asked some older Marshallese about it.  One of them she talked with was six or seven at the time and he remembered seeing the fireball in the sky and hearing the screams that night.

She contacted the Navy Historical Branch and, "They sent me the plane's 'death certificate' and that's how I got the names of the crew and the nurses who were on board.  The plane had crashed after taking off from Kwajalein in 1950.  The nurses were on their way to Japan and then Korea."

She decided that a memorial to the crew and the nurses who perished in the crash should be erected near the runway.  As with the memorial wall, donations funded the nurse's memorial.  Money even came from Navy nurses in Japan where the plane had been headed when it went down.

Vencill travelled to Oklahoma and visited a quarry that made monuments.  She showed them the design and they made some improvements to it and fashioned the plaques both for the nurse's memorial and the memorial at the wall.  The military paid for the expense of transporting the plaques to Kwajalein.  Both memorials were dedicated by the community on February 26, 2007.

"Kwajalein is such a great community with such wonderful people, and a great spirit," said Vencill.  "You really don't realize it until you leave."

Recognition of military service and sacrifice was the impetus for both memorials, the brainchild of Beverly Vencill, Memorial Projects Program chairperson.  "I want these people remembered for what they represented, their bravery, self sacrifice," Vencill said referring to the Navy memorial. She also wanted the Memorial Wall to serve as a symbol of gratitude that would celebrate military personnel "and let them know that we do appreciate them."

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Newspaper Clippings

Kansas City Star, Volume 113, No. 225, September 20, 1950, page 1

"A navy 4-engine transport plane plummeted into the sea off Kwajalein and exploded today, killing all twenty-six personnel aboard, the navy announced here. The plane went down at 7:18 o’clock this morning immediately after the take-off, just outside the lagoon at Kwajalein, a 14th naval district spokesman said. First reports said an explosion and fire followed after the plane hit the water. Rescue planes and boats sent out from Kwajalein reported no survivors had been picked up. Four bodies were found in the water. A patrol bomber, a crash boat and a globetrotter patrol craft reached the scene minutes after the explosion, the spokesman said. "All we found were two empty life rafts and debris drifting near by,” the spokesman said. Aboard the plane were nineteen passengers and seven crew Their names were withheld pending notification of next of kin. Witnesses at the Kwajalein airport reported nothing unusual in the transport’s take-off. The tower operator reported no transmission was recorded from the plane after it took off other than a last routine report from the pilot that he was shifting radio frequencies. Seconds later the plane dipped, sliced into the water and exploded. The 14th naval district said airport witnesses saw the flash of the explosion before the plane sank. The plane was attached to the fleet logistics air wing. Pacific. It left Barber’s point naval station, near Honolulu, late yesterday on a flight to the Far East, by way of Kwajalein. The plane was a navy R5D. Fleet logistics air wing planes have been carrying equipment and men to Tokyo to help sup ply naval forces off Korea. The R.5D is the navy version of the Douglas C-54 transport plane. The navy said the death of twenty-six men in the Kwajalein crash was believed to be the Pacific’s worst military air disaster."

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5 Local Navy Nurses in Ocean Plane Crash That Snuffed Out Lives of 26

Unknown Bremerton, Washington area newspaper, pages 1 and 5

Navy reports identifying the 26 persons killed Tuesday when a four-engined transport crashed into the sea near Kwajalein were especially shocking to personnel at U.S. Naval Hospital here.  Five of 11 navy nurses aboard were detached from the local hospital last week.  They were Lieut. (jg) Mary Eleanor Liljegreen and Ensigns Eleanor Clara Beste, Jane Louise Eldridge, Marie Margaret Boatman and Edna June Rundell.  The other victims were eight navy men who were passengers and the seven crew members.  Only four bodies were recovered.

Today the navy sent a special plane to drop 26 Hawaiian leis on the waters, two miles from Kwajalein Island where the transport had refueled on a flight from Hawaii to the far east.

There was hurried excitement among the five nurses and their friends at the naval hospital here 10 days ago.  The five had received dispatch orders for overseas assignment.

One of the most excited was Lieutenant Liljegreen whose promotion to that rank came simultaneously with her orders.  As such she became senior officer of the group reporting to San Francisco by commercial air.  The dark-eyed, 25-year-old brunette from Seattle was serving on her second station, having been indoctrinated at the naval hospital at Oak Knoll, California.  She had reported here during the Christmas holidays of 1949.  Among her friends and among the patients in the dependents ward where she last worked, Lieutenant Liljegreen was known as "Mary".  Her surviving parents are Mr. and Mrs. Carl J. Liljegreen of Seattle.

Most outwardly pleased with prospect of her overseas assignment was Ensign Beste, 25, a vivacious blue-eyed blonde from Freeport, Minnesota.  Beginning with her arrival here 20 months ago for indoctrination, Ensign Beste became well-known for her many interests and popularity.  Ensign Beste wanted to be a doctor.  So, last year she attended Olympic college by day and worked evenings at the hospital.  In addition, she studied foreign languages through correspondence courses.  "Ensign Beste was extremely popular with dependents," Lieutenant R.J. Mitchell, assistant chief nurse, recalls.

Ensign Eldridge, 28, was on leave and vacationing at her Detroit, Michigan home when her orders came.  She returned to hurriedly pack her personal and professional belongings.  Bremerton also was her first navy station: she reported here in December of 1947 and served largely in hospital wards.  The tall, slender brunette was engaged to a navy doctor who left recently for assignment aboard a military transport.

Ensign Boatman, a jolly Texan who seemed younger than her 25 years, was the only other member of the group able to visit home before departing overseas.  She visited San Antonio briefly before her final flight.  Ensign Boatman, a tall, strawberry blonde, had been here only since January of this year, having received her indoctrination at the Long Beach naval hospital.  Her duties had been in the outpatients clinic and on the enlisted wards and her Texan humor had always been welcome.

The last of the group, Ensign Rundell, had reported here in January of 1948 for indoctrination and her duties had been on medical and surgical wards.  The tiny, 24-year-old brunette from Stafford, Kansas, had only recently learned of the death of her father.

Lieut. (jg) Alice Stella Giroux of Tacoma, and Lieut. (jg) Jeanne Elizabeth Clarke of Portland are among the other nurse victims.  Others are Lieut. (jg) Call Virginia Goodwin of Raleigh, North Carolina; Lieut. (jg) Constance Adair Heege of Kirkwood, Missouri; Lieut. (jg) Margaret Grace Kennedy of Webster, Massachusetts; and Ens. Constance Rita Esposito of Brockway, Pennsylvania.

Plane crewmen were Lieut. Comdr. S.L. White, Barber's Point, Hawaii; Lieut. Comdr. I.S. Best, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii; Lieut. W.L. Watkins, Palo Alto, California; and Lieut. (jg.) W.G. Spangle, Williamsport, Pennsylvania.  Also, Chief Machinist A.G. Sessoms, Charleston, Tennessee; E.A. Sauer, aviation electronics man third class, Scottsbluff, Nebraska; and A.J. Johnson, aviation electronics man third class, Beaumont, Texas.

Passengers were Lieut. J.J. Kilthau, Portland; Lieut. (jg) W.L. Horter, Balboa, Canal Zone; Lieut. (jg) F.G. Palmer, Newport, Rhode Island; Ens. E.F. Englehardt, Cincinnati, Ohio; Ens. R.A. Harsh, Clinton, Michigan; Ens. D.J. Jackson, Jr., Berwick, Pennsylvania; Ens. H.K. Smith, Los Angeles; and Ens. A.E. Thrall, Colton, California.



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