World War II

The day the bomber crashed at Mt. Hood

... pilot dies avoiding Melrose homes

by Jeanne H. Shanklin

World War II had hardly ended but it's deadly impact was still being felt in Melrose. That day -- September 25, 1945, a B-25 Martin Bomber fell from the sky, its pilot maneuvering the stricken craft toward the fairways of Mount Hood. On hand to witness the scene was Jean Shanklin, then a young girl; several years later, in 1977, she wrote this following piece, which appeared in the Melrose Evening News. She brought it to the Mirror for further publication.

MELROSE - The Alamo, Gettysburg, Little Big Horn, Dunkirk, Guadalcanal, Verdun. These are only a few of the famous battlegrounds whose names have been et­ched in history because of the heroic exploits of the men who fought there.

Fortunately, Melrose has never been the site of military action, but 32 years ago this Saturday there oc­curred over this city a single act of extraordinary courage and self-sacrifice which equalled the feats of many of the soldiers fighting in the battles men­tioned above.

The characters in this drama of heroism were Ma­jor Doak Weston, his crew of five airmen and the plane they flew, a twin-engined Mit­chell B-25 bomber. The men were veterans of combat in Europe and they carried the distinctive aura of men who fought their war in the sky.

To the public, the airman of World War II was a dashing, romantic figure, and he usually obliged by playing the part.

He removed the stiffening band from his cap and let the crown flop down, in devil-may-care fashion; he sang about "going off into the wild blue yonder", and he had a strong esprit de corps and pride in his trade.

But for all his glamourous image, he was deadly serious about his work - he had to be.

Many airmen were little more than boys doing a man's work. Flying a bomber was hard work for all aboard, and there was always the dread certainty that many would not return from their mission.

Major Weston and his crew had lived close to death for over two years during their tour of duty in Europe and had learned to live with the grim possibili­ty that the comrades they chatted with at breakfast might not make it back to share the day's experiences over dinner.

Routine Flight

Now the war was over. Major Weston and his crew had been assigned to Grenier Field in Man­chester, N.H. On the morn­ing of Sept. 24, they were scheduled to make a routine flight to Boston.

Accustomed as they were to combat missions over the Continent with the ever-pre­sent danger of attacks by German fighters or heavy fire from anti-aircraft guns, the six fliers welcomed the prospect of an uneventful flight over the peaceful southern N.H. and Massa­chusetts countryside.

Their plane, the usually reliable B-25, was one of the Army's most versatile bombers. These were the planes that served around the world, with their most spectacular accomplish­ment occurring in the Pacific. Here 16 of these normally land-based bombers took off from the carrier, "Hornet", with Doolittle's raiders to par­ticipate in the historic "thir­ty seconds over Tokyo". This surely was a plane to have confidence in.

To Major Weston, a native of California, the name, Melrose, Mass., meant nothing more than a dot on his aeronautical map. He had no way of knowing that his actions a few hours hence would result in the saving of many lives in Melrose.
The flight started smoothly, but a few minutes from its destination the plane ran into trouble ­10,000 feet above Lynnfield as it caught fire. Though the crew valiantly battled the blaze, the flames spread rapidly and the bomber started to lose altitude.

By the time the crippled plane was over Melrose, it was obvious that it would soon be enveloped by the raging fire. Major Weston ordered his men to bail out.

However, he foresaw the probable destruction of homes and loss of life that would result if he were to follow suit and allow the plane to crash in the heavily populated area of the Me1rose East Side.

Fully aware of the great risk to himself, he elected to stay with the plane as long as possible, attempt to gain altitude and then try for an emergency landing in the open area (Mt. Hood) which stretched out ahead of him. He never had a chance. Seconds after the fifth crewman escaped, the blaz­ing bomber exploded.

The courageous young pilot had accomplished his objective, but it cost him his life.

Land Rescuers

This article would not be complete without some mention of the Melrose Police and Fire Departments and other rescue workers who did an outstanding job in this emergency under the direction of now-retired Fire Chief Sidney Field.
The force of the explosion had caused the pieces of the plane to be scattered over a wide area. The main sec­tion, with the Major's body still in the cockpit, fell onto the eighth fairway. One of the engines dropped about 200 yards away, and one wing landed in the woods near the Fish and Game club.

Fragments of the plane were everywhere, and the numerous small explosions from magnesium and gaso­line made the area extreme­ly dangerous for the workers.

Disregarding the constant danger of possible serious injuries, these men worked diligently for many hours.

Early that evening, two large army trailers from Grenier Field and a group of soldiers arrived to clear the area. Huge cranes were utilized to lift the wings and engines onto the trailers. Chief Field had search lights installed around the area to facilitate cleanup ef­forts which continued until late that night. Army of­ficials commended Chief Field, the fire department, police and the other workers who had rendered such effi­cient help to the Army. Their prompt and profes­sional handling of the disaster undoubtedly prevented further devasta­tion and possible loss of more lives.

By the next morning, only the scarred and burned earth remained. But Melrose residents would not soon forget the debt they owed the brave young man they never knew.

October 5, 2007

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