The Elephant Mountain site

On Jan. 24, 1963, a fraternity house at the University of Maine was my home away from home. NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s mother hadn’t been born.


At about 3 that afternoon, as I headed across campus in a biting January wind, life was not so carefree for nine U.S. Air Force fliers aboard a B52C Stratofortress making a low-altitude training mission over Brownville Junction. Crewmen heard a loud in-flight explosion. That noise was the sickening sound of the aircraft’s vertical stabilizer breaking off in flight! Traveling at 280 knots, the B52 began an uncontrolled 40-degree right turn and a few minutes later crashed into snow-covered Elephant Mountain about 10 miles northeast of Greenville.


There were nine crewmen on board. Only three got out. The pilot, co-pilot and navigator ejected. The co-pilot died when he hit a tree in his parachute. The navigator miraculously survived even though his chute did not deploy. He was separated from his ejection seat when it hit the deep snow at 16 times the force of gravity. Despite broken ribs and a skull fracture he was rescued and eventually lost a leg to frostbite. The pilot, who also got hung up in a tree in his parachute shrouds, was rescued and went on to fly again.


Although I was, at the time, an immortal young man who aspired to be a naval aviator, the close-to-home military tragedy caught my attention. It was sobering. These airmen died, not in a shooting war, but simply on a routine training mission from Westover Air Force Base.


Time passed. There was the Vietnam War, and a lot of others. Some friends who were naval aviators did not come back. My oldest son flew in the Bosnian conflict. My son-in-law, an A-10 pilot, served in Desert Storm. My youngest son commanded an armored vehicle in Kuwait.


During the next 53 years, I kept reminding myself to visit Elephant Mountain, site of the 1963 B52 crash. It never happened — until last week. Diane and I had been camping and fishing at the Big Eddy campground on the West Branch of the Penobscot River. Fishing was slow. On a splendid September day punctuated by a cerulean blue sky against a backdrop of cascading autumn colors, we drove the Silas Hill Road and on up to Elephant Mountain.


Thanks to a lot of work, donations and selfless patriotism by a number of organizations, you can now drive to within a short walk of the B52 crash site. It has been preserved as a memorial in the memory of the brave American airmen who gave their lives in the service of their country during the Cold War with the Soviet Union.


It is a site to see. The debris field is scattered throughout a hardwood ridge pretty much as it was that January afternoon when the huge machine plowed into Elephant Mountain. To its credit, timberland owner Plum Creek has designated the site a no-harvest area. As the signage reminds you, it is a “sacred” area not to be disturbed or vandalized.


Standing there amid the scattered remains of that ill-fated Straofortress there is a temptation to close your eyes and try to imagine such a violent intrusion into what otherwise was no doubt a silent January day in the Maine woods.


Thinking of those military men that day and the long parade of so many others who have similarly perished in the name of freedom, another name came to mind: Colin Kaepernick. You’ll recall he is the 49ers football player who refuses to stand for the national anthem.


What a sad day it is in America! To think that we have come to this. Somebody should invite Colin Kaepernick to visit Elephant Mountain.




The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. His email address is [email protected]

V. Paul Reynolds

Columnist at Ellsworth American
The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. His email address is [email protected]

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