Fog clung to the face of Mount Harrison under a steady snowfall in September, the first time Frank J. Pryor’s family saw the site where his plane went down a few months before the end of World War II.
Now decades after the fatal crash, Pryor’s family traveled from Georgia hoping to connect the mountain to the memories of their patriarch.
The weather kept them from reaching the mountain’s summit, where they planned to pay homage to Pryor, but just being there was enough to bring comfort to the family.
“Seeing the conditions on the mountain today helps me understand what may have happened to them on Feb. 9, 1945,” said Jenny Pryor, Frank Pryor’s granddaughter, as she stood in the ski lodge parking lot at Pomerelle Mountain Resort, south of Burley.
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Jenny, who previously served as a second lieutenant in the Civil Air Patrol, feels a strong connection to her grandfather who died in the crash and the Civil Air Patrol members who were the first to locate the downed plane.
Jenny and her mother, Carol Pryor; uncle Ray Harp and cousin Ken Harp, traveled from their home to visit the mountain hoping to assign a place in their minds to the story.
“Jenny has always had a desire to see the place where the accident happened,” Ken Harp said.
Training flight from Mountain Home
Frank Pryor, a second lieutenant and navigator on the plane, was 22 years old in 1945 with a new wife waiting for him at home who was two months pregnant with their son.
He never returned home alive. Nor did 2nd Lt. Clinton R. Madeley, pilot, from Roselle, N.J.; 2nd Lt. James P. Sanders, co-pilot, Montgomery, Ala., Flight Officer Stuart R. McMaster, bombardier, Schenectady, N.Y.; Sgt. Don J. McClure, engineer and gunner from Dayton, Ky.; Cpl. William J. Little, gunner, Donora, Penn.; Cpl. Charles H. Tucker, Wichita, Kan.; and Cpl. George M. Ellett, tail gunner, Green Island, N.Y.
The airmen, based in Mountain Home Army Air Field, were sent on a training mission in a Liberator B-24 that took them over the 9,265-foot peak.
Two brothers, Arlo and Stan Lloyd of Elba, were 10 and 14 years old at the time of the crash, and their family members were part of the local band of men who trekked up the mountain to bring the air crews’ bodies down.
When the plane contacted the Burley Municipal Airport to report their location, the crew was told they needed to go up in altitude immediately, Stan Lloyd remembers.
The plane crashed about 100 feet from the top.
When the crew members were found, they had on basketball clothes underneath their uniforms, Arlo Lloyd said.
“I remember them searching for the plane,” he said.
Deep snow hampered recovery efforts, and the military was not able to retrieve the men’s bodies. The county sheriff gathered residents from the Elba valley to go up the mountain on horseback and recover the men.
When the plane was finally reached, crew members were still in the cockpit, sitting up and strapped to their seats, their bodies frozen solid. All the bodies were placed under the tail section of the plane and covered by a parachute until they could be carried down the mountain, Arlo Lloyd said. Four of the bodies were brought down the first day and five the second.
“Their bodies were packed solid in snow and there was no blood,” he said. It was difficult to tie the men who had frozen in contorted positions to the horses.
The next spring the military came back and burned the plane and painted yellow Xs on the wings to indicate it was a known crash site.
“What really impressed me was the community response,” Harp said. “They put themselves at risk.”
The stories the brothers heard over the years of the recovery prompted a strong desire in them to memorialize the site and contact family members of the fallen crew. The Pryor family is the first descendants of the crew to visit the site. Some family members attended the dedication of the memorial in 2004 that was held at the top of the mountain.
Residents in the valley also had a stainless steel cross made that was placed at the crash site.
For Jenny Pryor, the granddaughter, visiting the site fulfilled a long-held wish.
“It’s overwhelming,” she said, “but a relief because I’ve been waiting to do this for more than 10 years.”