Fallen but not forgotten

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Hrair H. Palyan
  • 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
It was 60 years ago when Ellsworth's namesake and the 21 other men on board an RB-36 were returning to Rapid City Air Force Base after routine training - when the unthinkable happened.

Brig. Gen. Richard E. Ellsworth and his crew were killed on their way back from Lajes Field in the Azores, an autonomous region of Portugal, where 11 other RB-36s from Rapid City were participating in simulated combat missions.

The aircrew began their 25-hour journey home, March 1953, said Paul J. Marcello, 28th Bomb Wing historian. He said although Capt. Jacob H. Pruett was aircraft commander, Ellsworth, the 28th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing commander, was the senior officer aboard and was co-piloting.

"As part of their training, they flew at 1,000 feet above the water," Marcello explained. "They also observed radio silence, turned off their radar guidance and flew via celestial navigation. The crew's navigator, Capt. Harold G. Smith, planned to steadily increase the bomber's altitude prior to reaching the craggy hills of Newfoundland."

During the flight, the aircrew encountered poor weather and strayed off course. As a result, they approached Newfoundland nearly one and one half hours ahead of schedule. When coupled with the two engines that became inoperable mid-flight, the low visibility the aircrew experienced led to a fatal miscalculation.

"After seven hours and 40 minutes airborne, they were still flying the RB-36 straight and level," Marcello said. "Seconds later, the immense bomber slammed into the frigid hills of a remote island, near the tiny village of Burgoyne Cove, Newfoundland. There were no survivors."

Nearby woodsmen were the first to get to the crash, and soon after, rescue teams arrived and the bodies of Ellsworth and his crew were eventually returned to RCAFB.

During a dedication ceremony June 13, 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower officially re-named RCAFB in honor of Ellsworth. Ellsworth's wife, Mary Ann, and his three children, John Richard, Paul and Robert, alongside hundreds of family members and friends of those who died, attended the ceremony.

Ellsworth was born in Erie, Penn., and graduated from West Point in 1938. During World War II, he served in Alaska, the South Pacific and the China-Burma-India theater. He flew nearly 800 hours as a transport pilot and weather specialist. He became the commander at RCAFB in November, 1950.

"The brave men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice to preserve liberty for all Americans must never be forgotten," Marcello added. "They are the ones who have paved the way for us today and have inspired hundreds of thousands throughout the years. Their memory will always be honored."