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Park City Honors Veterans: Plaque Unveiled Remembers Air Crew From 1941 Iron Mountain Plane Crash


Credit Commemorative Air Force Flyover / Carolyn Murray
Carolyn Murray

Park City held double honorary ceremonies for Veterans this Memorial Day. The first was a service in the cemetery with full regalia, taps, bagpipes, color guard and performances by the Treble Makers. The second ceremony was at Squatters Roadhouse Grille. It was an Historic Sign Dedication to commemorate the airmen, both the survivors and those that died, in the B-18 airplane crash on Iron Mountain in 1941. You’ll find a slide show of the day’s events on KPCW.org.

The Master of Ceremonies Welcome at the cemetery was presented by American Legion Post 14 Commander Meredith Reed. She provided a brief history of the origins of Memorial Day and the ceremonial events unfolded with the presentation of colors by the military cadets from the Utah Military Academy. Captain Joseph E. Elliot is commandant of cadets. He last served at the Casualty and Mortuary Affairs at Fort Knox.

“We do a lot of Veteran programs. We do a lot of color guards. This was exceptional. It’s emotional for me. Very poignant to me being a Viet Nam veteran and still being in uniform. And, we’re honored to have my cadets because I want them to learn to serve something greater than themselves.”

The invocation was offered by Father Bob Bussen and the Guest Speaker was Park City resident, Brigadier General Doug Cherry, Deputy Commanding General for the 76th Division US Army Reserve. He asked the attendees to offer up the names of those they wanted remembered and several mentioned loved ones who died in Viet Nam.

“Since the founding of our nation, more than 42 million Americans have stepped forward to serve our country when needed. And, more than a million died for their children and ours delivering liberty.” 
The Treble Makers performed the Star-spangled Banner and a lullaby. Renai Moxe Hall, a member of the a cappella group, says the songs they chose touch on grief and loss.

“It’s a beautiful, annual tradition and we look forward to doing it many more years in the future. The lullaby was an unusual choice, but the words were also very appropriate, and the author intended them to also be used for those who are grieving.”

Summit county Sheriff’s Deputy, Jared Vernon, from the outskirts, performed Amazing Grace on the bagpipes. And Scout troop members placed a wreath of Flowers while the Utah Commemorative Air Force flyover included three historic airplanes. Traditional Taps was performed to close the service.

The Historic B-18 Sign Dedication was held at Squatters Grille which will be its permanent location. The line of sight is a clear view of Iron Mountain.  November 17, 1941 an Army Air Corps B-18 bomber crashed on the mountain. Two the seven airmen on board did not survive. Five parachuted to safety that night. Pearl Harbor was bombed three weeks later, and the US entered WWII where the five who survived went on to serve in the air corps.

Park City Resident Rory Murphy was with the 82nd Airborne until he was injured during a nighttime training jump in extremely stormy conditions in 1983.

When the B-18 went down more than 70 years ago in Park City, the winds were 70 miles per hour with snow and hail, and ice coating the wings of the aircraft. Electronics and radar systems were primitive, and Murphy says the crew was looking for the lights of Salt Lake City to do an emergency landing.

“So, they all jump out, except for Sargeant Anderson. The most extraordinary thing took place after that. And, beyond belief, almost supernatural in what occurred. Because, those guys drifted three miles until they were directly over our head, dropping about two or three thousand feet in elevation. That plane did a 180 degree turn all around here, came back and cut through the middle of those paratroopers. Killed Major Pirtle instantly. Major Pirtle’s body was found less than 100 meters from here. That plane ended up in the saddle of that mountain right there.”

Descendants of the airmen raised more than half the funds to produce the sign which was designed by Nancy Hall who handles the design on all the Park City Historic Society sign projects. Steve Leatham, Historic Society member and one of the lead historians who has worked on the B-18 memorial project says he hadn’t seen the final product until the unveiling ceremony.

“We got photographs from all of the family members. We got photographs from the Air Force of the B-18 bomber. When each of those family members gave us a photograph and we turned that over to Nancy."

Major Robert E. L. Pirtle and Sgt. Jack D. Anderson lost their lives that night. Their images, along with the other five airmen who survived are on the plaque. It will be installed at Squatters Roadhouse Grille permanently. It serves as a remembrance of the crewmen.

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