Looking Back

A Douglas A-26 Invader light bomber on an airfield in California in 1947. This is the type of plane that crashed in Bedford on Aug. 12, 1947.

GRENIER FIELD IN MANCHESTER, a former World War II U.S. Army airbase, was repurposed in the spring of 1947 as the home of the new 82nd Fighter Group of the U.S. Army Air Forces and the host base for the newly established New Hampshire Air National Guard’s 133rd Fighter Squadron. The base was now part of the Strategic Air Command (SAC), which was a major component of the U.S. nuclear deterrent effort against the Soviet Union during the Cold War. By mid-July 1947 over 1,400 servicemen were stationed at Grenier.

Among the staff at Grenier Field were men trained in handling various duties associated with the grim aftermath of plane crashes. Their skills proved important in June 1947 when one of the most famous incidents in New England aviation history occurred. A few minutes after midnight on June 15, 1947 a B-29 Superfortress heavy bomber plowed into Hawk’s Mountain in Perkinsville, Vt. The impact and explosion killed the 12 airmen on board.

The crew was on a training mission that had originated in Tuscon, Ariz., on the morning of June 14. After stopping mid-afternoon for refueling at the Pittsburgh Airport in Pennsylvania, the plane headed for Hanscom Field in Bedford, Mass. The crew encountered heavy rain and fog so they attempted to maneuver around the bad weather.

Conditions got worse as darkness descended and the disoriented pilot and co-pilot ended up flying the plane into Vermont at low altitude.

At 5:20 a.m. on the morning of June 15 a crew of enlisted men from Grenier Field arrived at the crash site to remove the bodies of the airmen.

Grenier’s commanding officer, Colonel Edwin L. Tucker, was tasked with leading the accident investigation. His team included officers from the airbase and personnel from the Civil Aeronautics Administration.

By June 19 the crash site had been thoroughly surveyed, and all evidence had been examined. That day military police from Grenier patrolled the area while a crew used explosives to demolish the larger pieces of the plane to make for easier cleanup. The area was then cleared of debris. The data from the investigation was turned over to the Aircraft Accidents Board at Grenier.

The Grenier Field community faced its own air tragedies a few weeks later. Near midnight on Aug. 12, 1947 Major Frank W. Hess, the executive officer of the 97th Squadron of the 82nd Fighter Group, was ferrying a P-51 from Texas to Maryland when the plane lost power over Alexandria, Va. When his body was found the evidence indicated that he had been killed when he had hit the plane’s tail after opening his parachute.

On that same day Captain John B. Stern was piloting a Douglas A-26 Invader light bomber over Manchester with two fellow Grenier Field airmen on board, Technical Sergeant Everett W. Hughes and Sergeant Joseph R. Ramasocky. They were returning to Grenier from Andrews Field in Maryland. When they were about a mile from the airfield their plane was rammed by an AT-11 bombing trainer piloted by Major Cullie B. Harris, who was on a routine training flight out of Hanscom Field.

Eyewitnesses reported that the AT-11’s tail and one wing were sheared off by the collision. The plane plummeted to the ground, crashing into the yard of a house at 705 Beech Street, the home of Harry and Gladys Stone.

It nearly hit a group of children, and flames from the wreckage burned a nearby garage.

Captain Stern flew the heavily damaged A-26 in a southeasterly direction for about 6½ miles. He made a desperate attempt to land in an open area at the Manchester Country Club in Bedford, but the plane was on fire and he couldn’t control it. The aircraft hit a grove of trees and disintegrated in flames.

On Sept. 18, 1947 the U.S. Army Air Forces became a separate branch of military service, the U.S. Air Force. A timeline of Grenier’s recent history published in the base newspaper in 1949 made no mention of any ceremony or special event having taken place there to mark this milestone.

Grenier Field now became Grenier Air Force Base, or Grenier AFB, as it was often referred to in print.

Next Week: Community life at Grenier Air Force Base.

Aurore Eaton is a historian and writer in Manchester, contact her at auroreeaton@aol.com or at www.facebook.com/AuroreEatonWriter