BY RUDY TAYLOR
Family members of Pvt. Leonard Kittle hope to bring his remains back to Caney for a military service, as soon as DNA tests are finished.
DNA test kits have been sent to family members in hopes of identifying specific pieces of equipment such as dog tags or helmets, or possible bone fragments.
Kittle’s wife, Saundra Kozak of East Troy, Wis., said being brought back home to Caney is what the soldier would have wanted.
“Caney meant so much to him,” she said. “He grew up there, and I also lived there. We think he would have liked being buried beside his mother at Sunnyside Cemetery.”
She said Army officials are already talking about flying to Caney for a service, and it may take some time to get all the DNA testing completed.
Kozak said she was shocked to get the telephone call from an Army official last week, informing her of the news.
“We always knew about the crash, how many were killed and which mountain the airplane hit,” she said. “And, once we learned details, there was no doubt that everyone on board died.”
Still, she said his parents never gave up.
“They always held out hope that he would be found alive,” she said.
Kozak said Pvt. Kittle had spent four weeks in Caney — just before the plane crash on Nov. 22, 1952.
“He got a 30-day leave so he could come home to see our little daughter who had just been born,” said Kozak. “We had a special time together, and it gave him a chance to get to know the baby, whom we named Linda.”
She said Kittle called her on the telephone when he arrived at McChord Air Field, Wash., before departing for Alaska.
“He was nervous about flying on to Alaska where he was stationed,” she said. “I gave him the assurance that everything would be OK, but he had a sense of foreboding — he seemed to know.”
His wife was a Caney girl, too (her father’s name was Earl Sanders).
“I loved dating, then marrying Leonard,” she said. “I can’t tell you how many miles I rode on the back of his motorcyle. He also loved fast cars. We had so much fun.”
She and her aunt Beatrice Crawford both spoke of Leonard’s zest for life, how popular he was among his friends, and how he enjoyed playing basketball and football for Caney High School.
He and his cousin, J.C. Young, were the best of friends, and he also was good friends with Don Whittington (both of whom are deceased), she said.
“He died way too young,” she said, “and getting this news about the plane on that mountain has reopened our grief. We’re all in shock, yet we’re so glad that we might be bringing him home soon.” “It would make him very happy — I can tell you that for sure.”
Family members of Army Pvt. Leonard Kittle say their recent contacts by the U.S. Army has revived their grieving.
“It has always been sad, just because none of those men’s remains were ever found,” said Kittle’s sister, Beatrice Crawford of Bartlesville. “I must admit, I’ve shed some tears since getting that call last week.”
Crawford said she gladly sent her DNA sample kit back to the U.S. Army, hoping it will help identify any remains or property belonging to Kittle.
But after 60 years, there probably won’t be much to find, Army officials have told the family.
“Even if we only get his dog tags, it would give us some closure,” said Crawford who is the lone surviving sibling of the Caney soldier. Brothers James and Augusta Kittle did not live to receive last week’s news that the C-124 Globemaster had been located.
Crawford said her parents, Hazard and Betty Kittle, took the news of their son’s airplane crash in a hard way.
“My mother and dad would turn on the radio to see if the news had anything on survivors,” she said. “Then my dad would turn off the radio — wouldn’t listen to entertainment of any kind. We didn’t even have Christmas for several years after that.”
The elder Kittle bought a headstone for his son, and it still stands in the Caney Sunnyside Cemetery, in the space beside his mother.
That’s where family members hope to place any remains of Pvt. Kittle that might be found.
“All these years, nothing but a stone,” his sister said. “It’s so sad.”
The little baby who was born to Leonard and Saundra Kittle in 1952 now lives in the same town where her mother lives — East Troy, Wis.
Linda Erickson can’t remember her father, but she has become quite involved over the past week in trying to locate old photos and other personal items belong to her father.
“It is giving all of us some closure on a man who has always been my hero,” she said. “My mother talks about him sometimes, but here recently we’ve really talked a lot and I’ve learned so much about him.
“I wish I could remember him, but I’m glad that he got to know me, even if only for a few weeks.”
In November 1952, the Caney Daily Chronicle carried news stories of the disappearance of the airplane that carried Caney’s Leonard Kittle. In a story printed on Nov. 25, 1952, editor H.K. “Skeet” George penned these thoughts as he reported on the trauma and tragedy befalling the family of a fallen Caney soldier.
“The terrible moments of anxiety and heartache that drag into hours . . . and hours into days . . . are being experienced by members of the H.A. Kittle household, 519 N. Wood, where the youthful wife, the father, mother, brothers and sisters await word of the fate of a loved one, listed as missing in action in one of the armed forces’ largest transport planes . . .
“At such a time as this, the only thing possible to do is wait and pray. Friends of the family, sharing in the ordeal of grief and anxiety, can do little else.
“They can reflect, however, that as a Caney High School athlete from 1945 to 1949, Leonard Kittle was a wiry, capable, resourceful boy with a lot of initiative and a lot of determination. If that plane landed with the Caney soldier still having a fighting chance for survival, the Caney boy is the type who would come through.
“Leonard Kittle was that kind of boy. As the emotions of the community run the full scale from despair to hope — and always to prayer — the people who watched this boy perform in athletics cling to the memories of this ability in that phase of life as a hope that he will come safely home.”