View Full Version : O.T. WWII Pilot Is Home At Last

05-19-2006, 04:57 AM
An ace is home at lastA WWII fighter pilot, missing since 1942, will be laid to rest today by his family.
By Jeff Price
Inquirer Staff Writer
Lt. Kenneth W. Ambrose was taking a break in November 1942 from battling Japanese aircraft over the Aleutian Islands, flying his P-38E Lightning on a maintenance run back to California, where he was to see his wife and their 8-week-old daughter for the first time.

"He radioed in to Bellingham [Wash.] Field that he was having plane trouble," said the daughter, Kathleen Edwards, now 64, of Blue Bell. "That was the last they heard from him."

No one knew where Ambrose's fighter went down until 1997, when the crash site was found in a rugged section of Washington state. Almost six more years went by before Edwards would learn of the plane's discovery.

She received that news in a phone call in August 2003 from Cye Laramie, an amateur military historian from Olympia, Wash. "It was a very strange call," Edwards recalled the other day. "He said, 'I've been looking for you for a long time.' I almost hung up."

She was to learn how hikers discovered the site and how a few determined people unraveled the mystery of the pilot's identity. Their search began in earnest in late summer 2002 with a 20-hour hike to retrieve the P-38's tail number, the first step toward finding the pilot's family.

The military did not positively identify Ambrose's remains until two months ago. But Ambrose's wife and Edwards' mother - Marguerite Crowe, 86, also of Blue Bell - died of Parkinson's disease before Edwards could tell her that the pilot was in fact her first husband.

Today, the story will have its epilogue at the 24-year-old pilot's funeral, with full military honors, at Philadelphia National Cemetery, Haines Street and Limekiln Pike.

In September 1997, Chad Norris and Ben Lynch were hiking in the Pasayten Wilderness in northern Washington state. From a high mountain lake, they had choices on a descent. They picked a more difficult route and along the way stumbled upon a crumpled P-38 in a ravine on a steep slope.

The site had never been disturbed. Fifty-caliber machine-gun ammo was scattered in the dense brush. But they saw no sign of a pilot.

When they returned to Seattle, Norris told his father, Steve. But that's as far as news of their find got for five years.

Like most outdoorsmen, Steve Norris is sensitive to the fragile nature of the wilderness, "worried about the area being raped and scraped by too many boots." Sensing no urgency, he kept the discovery a secret.

It wasn't until late 2001, as Norris planned a September trip to Pasayten, that he "started working on the mystery."

And once he started, Norris, who is a plywood consultant, didn't quit, saying he felt an obligation "to the pilot, to the pilot's family, and to the veterans who served with him."

But the trail was cold. "They had a lot of false leads trying to find us," Edwards said. "It'd been 60 years; people's memories, if they're even still around, you know -."

Norris first contacted military groups for information on a lost P-38 and pilot. No help. He then learned about the Army's Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii, home to experts in skeletal analysis and archaeology. It had nothing on the missing airman but counseled Norris on what to do on his 2002 hike: Find the P-38's tail number.

He got it but subsequently learned that corresponding military records had been destroyed in a fire. Again, no evidence of the pilot was spotted.

A break came, Norris said, when he learned of Laramie, who researched military plane wrecks in the Northwest as a hobby. The two met in November 2002. "He was a quite a detective," Norris said of Laramie, who is a dispatcher with Olympia's solid-waste department.

In his research, Laramie had dealt with Craig Fuller of Mesa, Ariz., who collects copies of declassified "history cards," sort of a log for military aircraft.

"The card showed it was an Alaska plane," Norris said.

That was a key finding, but the hunt was not close to being over. The card showed the plane was "written off inventory in 1943" and "not reported as missing," Laramie said.

Nonetheless, the Alaska angle paid off. In late 2002, Laramie had Norris contact John Cloe, a historian of the war in the Aleutians. Cloe said his "records don't show a loss in '43," Norris said, "but there was a kid who died in 1942, named Ambrose."

Cloe mentioned Ambrose in his book, Aleutian Warriors. "He was sort of a hero," Norris said, "so Cloe knew him." In August 1942, Ambrose and Lt. Stanley Long, patrolling the Aleutians in their fighters, shot down two four-engine Japanese flying-boats, the first two Japanese aircraft to be shot down in the Pacific Theater by the P-38.

Having gotten Ambrose's name, Norris said, "I need to find someone alive who knows about all this."

Cloe gave him H.L. McGalliard, now of Texarkana, Texas, a crew chief who knew Ambrose "in the mud and fog of the Aleutians," Norris said.

Ambrose "was a good man," McGalliard recalled this week. "He went down 28 November '42. I knew he was missing the 29th because he never reported."

So, as 2002 ended, the sleuths had a name. Now, could they find any surviving relatives?

Laramie said the World War II death register listed Ambrose's hometown in Alameda County, Calif. Laramie and Norris were betting the newspapers there would have had a story on the downing of the Japanese transports.

Norris had a cousin in the area who found a story on the heroics that also mentioned that Ambrose's wife was pregnant and listed his relatives. He didn't have any siblings, so there were no other Ambroses to call. Ambrose's wife, Marguerite, whose maiden name was Clark, had a brother, Sylvester Clark, who was named in the story.

"If he was still alive," Laramie said, "we would find him. And we did. He was still in California, and I called him."

"He was so excited," Laramie said. "Marguerite was still alive and with her daughter in Pennsylvania. He gave me Kathleen's phone number."

That was August 2003. Still, there was no hard proof yet connecting Ambrose to the P-38. That would be the military's job.

Long before the call to Edwards, Norris had been urging CIL, Hawaii - which in late 2003 became the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, or JPAC - to send specialists to the crash site to look for evidence to justify an archeological dig. In late summer 2004, they found a piece of a femur, a scapula, Ambrose's dog tags, and twisted frames of his glasses.

"It was kind of emotional," Norris said.

Those who made the trip were ready to declare the remains Ambrose, but "someone in Hawaii decided we needed to go back and do an official dig," Norris said.

The archeological dig was set for the summer of 2005.

Meanwhile, Edwards and her mother waited. Crowe's Parkinson's disease was worsening, Edwards said, and she had decided not tell her any more about the investigation until positive ID was made and a service date could be set.

By March of this year, JPAC had completed its three-year investigation, ruling that bones found at the crash site were those of Ambrose. Edwards was formally notified on March 22.

"She was very ill at that point," Edwards said of Crowe. "Then she rallied, and I was getting ready to tell her, and she just died suddenly."

Still, Edwards said, the first news in 2003 of the crash site had a profound impact on Crowe.

"We talked about it for months afterward," Edwards said. "She laughed; she cried; she was absolutely amazed."

"She had never really talked about my father," Edwards said. "It wasn't until high school when I really found out that my stepfather wasn't my father."

After today's ceremony in Philadelphia, Ambrose's remains will be interred at Indiantown Gap National Cemetery. She had planned the Philadelphia services so her mother could attend. The Norrises and Laramie are supposed to be there, she said.

Back in Pasayten, the wrecked P-38, minus its three machine guns and live rounds, is undisturbed again. No one connected with the case is revealing its location.

"We're hoping this doesn't turn into a big attraction," said ranger John Newcom.

It likely won't.

"Even as wilderness goes," Newcom said, "this is the remote of the remote."

Contact staff writer Jeff Price at 610-313-8124 or jprice@phillynews.com. M O R E N E W S F R O M
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05-19-2006, 05:16 AM
Nice story and good to hear he is finaly laid to rest. Thanks for sharing

05-19-2006, 05:23 AM
Originally posted by tHeBaLrOgRoCkS:
Nice story and good to hear he is finaly laid to rest. Thanks for sharing


thx for postin

05-19-2006, 05:23 AM
Thanks for sharing. http://forums.ubi.com/images/smilies/25.gif