Full military honors set for Saturday
CANEY — A Caney soldier, whose body lay on an ice-covered mountainside in Alaska for over 60 years, will finally be laid to rest in his hometown on Saturday, June 21.
Pvt. Leonard Kittle, U.S. Army, and 51 other military personnel, died when their C-124 Globemaster airplane crashed into a mountain north of Anchorage on Nov. 22, 1952. Although the site was found within days, there were no survivors and the wreckage immediately became covered with snow and ice.
It was melting glacier ice that eventually caused the wreckage to be found by the Alaska National Guard in 2012. That discovery brought back a painful day in history for family members who never knew exactly happened to their Army and Air Force brothers, fathers, husbands or uncles.
Debris, including some human remains, were shipped to the Joint POW/MIA Account Command (JPAC) in Hawaii, as attempts were made to identify the military passengers.
It has taken two full years for military DNA specialists to identify the remains, which included that of Pvt. Kittle. More than half the men aboard the Globemaster still have not been identified. Army officials say a large portion of the debris field remains under ice, even today.
Even though Kittle’s family was notified in 2012 of the wreckage being located, it was only this year that final word came of his positive identification.
After a flurry of details being worked out, a full military service is now set for 10:30 a.m., Saturday, June 21, in the Sunnyside Cemetery, Caney. Pvt. Kittle will be buried beside his parents, Hazard and Mary Jane Kittle.
A full detail of 10 to 12 soldiers will give the military tribute and memorial service. There will be a 3-gun salute by a rifle detail from Fort Riley, the presentation of a U.S. flag to Kittle’s widow, Sandra Kozak, the playing of Taps by a U.S. Army bugler and a funeral message by U.S. Army Chaplain William Breckenridge as officiant.
Kozak, who has lived in East Troy, Mich., for many years, will be accompanied to Caney by their daughter, Linda Erickson, along with Kittle’s sister, Beatrice Crawford, Bartlesville, Okla., and other family members.
Although Kittle’s immediate family members are either deceased or live elsewhere, there are several distant relatives who reside in the Caney area.
The family will receive friends on Friday from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. in the Potts Chapel, Caney, and the Caney Valley Historical Society will host a reception for family members and friends on Friday evening from 6:30 to 8 p.m. in the Sandstone Conference Building located next door to the funeral home in downtown Caney.
Veterans’ flags will be flying on Saturday at Sunnyside Cemetery, and the entire community is urged to fly flags in front of their homes and businesses.
See related stories on page A4 in this edition of the Chronicle.
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Widow of Caney soldier remembers final goodbye, telegram telling bad news
By Rudy Taylor
Her name was Sandra Kittle back in 1952 — a new mother and wife of a soldier who came home on leave to see their baby daughter, Linda, for the first time.
Times were good and hopeful. Eisenwhoer had just been elected U.S. president two weeks before, Thanksgiving Day would be included in Pvt. Leonard Kittle’s leave, and they could spend lots of time holding their new baby.
Finally, it was time to say goodbye. Sandra wanted to accompany him to the Santa Fe depot to see him off as he headed to Seattle where he would catch a flight to Anchorage for AIT training.
“Leonard didn’t want me to go to the train station,” said Sandra, who is now Sandra Kozak, widow of the man who will be honored with a military funeral on Saturday.
“I was standing on the front porch holding our baby, and that’s the way he wanted to remember us,” she said.
Kozak said her soldier husband made several comments about the airplane flight he was to make to Alaska. He said the weather was bad, and there had been several crashes in recent years. He didn’t feel good about flying.
But it would be okay, he told her. She was to live with his parents in Caney until he returned. At that point, he figured he would eventually be sent to Korea, but he still had more military training to finish.
It was six days after Thanksgiving, and all was well. Then a Caney police officer, Tricky Troxel, rapped on the Kittles’ front door.
Sandra’s first thoughts were of her own parents who were on the road with pipeline work.
He first talked to Hazard Kittle, Leonard’s father. “I need to talk to Sandra,” she heard him say.
“That poor man could not even speak — he was torn up,” she said. “He finally asked for a glass of water and I gave it to him.”
Then he reached in his shirt pocket and pulled out a piece of familiar-looking paper. It was a telegram from the U.S. Army telling her that a C-124 Globemaster with 52 men on board had crashed near Anchorage. Her husband was on board.
“My whole life changed in that moment,” she said. “We had so many dreams, and our little Linda was so very special to him.”
From that point, until 2012 when the Alaska National Guard spotted the wreckage which had been hidden beneath ice and snow, there was never much news about the ill-fated Globemaster.
“I had moved on with my life, and so had Linda,” said Kozak. “Oh, yes, Leonard was always in the back of my mind, and I always made it a point to tell Linda stories about him, but those days became distant to me.”
Then came the phone call from an Army official who told her about the aircraft wreckage, and that they were collecting debris and even a few human remains.
Even then, there wasn’t much hope given her. The Army would keep her informed — that’s all.
She stayed in contact with the Montgomery County Chronicle over the next two years, and with Naomi Marsh of Caney, who was married to Kittle’s cousin, the late J.C. Young.
It was early this year that Kozak started receiving more encouraging information … and actually received two pieces of the airplane. Then in April, she was notified that a full military burial would be planned for Pvt. Leonard Kittle — the Army had identified certain remains as his.
“This has been bittersweet for me,” said Kozak. “But finally, Linda and I will find closure in my husband’s loss. I have started crying again — it has been many years, you know.”
Still, the past several weeks have also been happy for her, as she has reconnected with the community where they grew up.
“I’m glad our last memories were on that front porch,” she said. “It was such a nice place to keep that memory.”
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A weekend of honor: citizens asked to fly U.S. flags on Friday, Saturday
By Rudy Taylor
It will be a weekend of honor.
A local soldier will be laid to rest after 62 years of being lost on a snow-entombed mountainside. (See story on today’s front page).
Still, there is a side to Friday and Saturday’s events surrounding the military funeral of Pvt. Leonard Kittle that is celebratory.
And, so it should be.
Caney citizens, and those coming from out-of-town for the service, are being encouraged to fly American flags.
Everything within view of the funeral procession or the military proceedings will be a mounting place for an American flag.
Those planning the events say it will be just fine to wave your approval as they pass. Tears will flow. But the family also will like seeing your smiles.
This is a sad — but happy— occasion.
Becky Woodall-Wheatley, president of the Southeast Kansas Blue Star Mothers of America, has stepped forward to handle details of events surrounding the official military service.
Included in non-funeral events will be a cookies-and-punch reception on Friday evening at 6:30 p.m. in the Sandstone Conference Building, next door to the funeral home. The Caney Valley Historical Society is helping to host the reception, and the Independence VFW Auxiliary will provide part of the refreshments.
The historical society also has decorated the front window of its museum to honor Pvt. Kittle.
Everyone is welcome to attend and meet family members, and also sign the guest book at the funeral home.
Kittle’s widow, Sandra Kozak, and their daughter, Linda Erickson, will be in attendance, as well as Kozak’s two sons (from a different marriage) and their wives. A special guest will be Michael Stephens who is Pvt. Kittle’s only grandchild. There also are two great-granddaughters.
On Saturday morning, the funeral cortege will leave Potts Funeral Chapel at 10 a.m., headed for Sunnyside Cemetery.
The procession will go east along Fourth Avenue (the town’s main street) to Highway 75, then turn north to Taylor Street and west to the cemetery entrances.
The flag-draped coffin will be escorted by various units including the Legion Guard motorcycle detail, members of the Patriot Guard from both Oklahoma and Kansas, and the traditional family cars for family members.
Those attending the graveside service may enter any of the south gates of the cemetery, then walk to the grave site which is located in the center of the cemetery at the north end.
Numerous dignitaries will attend the 10:30 a.m. service, including a representative of Gov. Sam Brownback’s office.
“Let’s all do what we do best in Caney — show our love for this family and our thanks for a soldier’s ultimate sacrifice for us,” said Woodall-Wheatley.
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Florida woman tries to involve herself with all Globemaster families
By Rudy Taylor
Among family members of the 52 men killed in the C124 Globemaster in 1952 is a Florida woman who has made history-keeping on the crash her passion in life.
Tonja Anderson-Dell’s grandfather, Airman Isaac Anderson, was on the ill-fated flight with Pvt. Leonard Kittle.
Among other projects, Anderson-Dell designed an artistic collage that represents the airplane itself, along with the crash scene, various military personnel and a field of white crosses at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington County, Va.
She also recorded a special video that contains most of the crash victims, and she has put together a 10-inch binder that holds 15 years worth of her research.
“About 15 years ago, I asked my grandmother about her husband’s death,” said Anderson-Dell. “She told me the story and I wanted to know more. I asked for permission to open up a hard chapter in her life and she allowed me to do so.”
Anderson-Dell said her grandmother, just like the parents of Pvt. Kittle, thought her husband was going to return home. For that reason, she did not accept the flag that was offered to her 62 years ago by the U.S. Air Force.
The granddaughter said the remains of Airman Anderson still have not been identified, so he will not be coming home any time soon.
Those original visits with her grandmother were in 1999/2000 and she immediately applied for a copy of the accident report from the military. “I fight for all these men,” she said. “They gave their lives for their country, and I will keep my passion for the men of the Globemaster C124 until they all come home.”
She now spends a lot of time speaking with the wives, siblings, children and other family members, and this has brought much joy to her.
“After speaking with them, my heart hurts and I even cry because I now understand why my grandmother never remarried,” she said.
Her special project is one that will live on — the naming of a peak in the vicinity of the C124 crash.
The proposal was first approved by the Alaska Historical Commission. Anderson-Dell made the proposal which gained final approval by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names.
The newly named peak is in the middle of a southwesternly trending ridge six miles southwest of Mount Gannett north of the northwest end of Prince William Sound. The ridge is located on land owned by the Bureau of Land Management.
Anderson-Dell submitted the proposal that it be named “Globemaster Peak.”
“As you can see, I’m totally dedicated to the men of the C124 which included my own grandfather,” she said.
Her grandmother, Dorothy Anderson, died in September 2001 shortly after telling her granddaughter, “Tell them I am ready for my flag now.”
Tonja Anderson-Dell received the ceremonial Americal Flag two months later.
Anderson-Dell will arrive Friday to take part in the memorial to Pvt. Leonard Kittle.
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Military unit strives to recover remains
BY ANDY TAYLOR
Long after the guns of war have silenced and truces have been declared, one element of the U.S. military remains on the battlefield.
It’s called the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, which goes into former war-torn areas to identify unaccounted-for U.S. servicemen and servicewomen from past armed conflicts. It is the Joint POW/MAC Accounting Command, known as JPAC, that made the positive identification of Pvt. Leonard Kittle and other servicemen from the C-124 Globemaster that crashed in a mountain in Alaska in 1952.
Based in Hawaii, the command was activated in 2003 to search for the more than 83,000 Americans still missing from past conflicts. At the heart of the command is the Central Identification Laboratory, which is the largest and most diverse skeletal laboratory in the world.
The command has 21 recovery teams, including one underwater and one mountaineering team. Each team consists of 10 to 14 people comprised of a forensic anthropologist, team leader and sergeant, linguist, medic, life support technician, communications technician, forensic photographer, explosive ordnance disposal technician and mortuary affairs specialists. Standard recovery missions last 35 to 60 days depending on the location and recovery methods used on site, said Lee Tucker, JPAC spokesperson.
Team members have to be in top physical condition to reach excavation sites, which, like the wreckage site of the C-124 Globemaster, are often in very remote places. Adding to the difficulty, teams travel with up to 10,000 pounds in survival and excavation equipment, he said.
“We knew that getting to the Globemaster crash site would be a tough test, considering the remote nature of Alaska,” said Tucker. “What we do know is that the airplane crashed high atop the mountain in a blinding winter storm. The aircraft crew had no idea that there was a mountain in front of them . . . because they were 20 miles off course. Subsequent investigations and search teams identified the wreckage from the air but were unable to get to it because of the steep mountain terrain. The glacier itself was able to release some of the details of the wreck when it slowly ebbed. An Alaska Air National Guard crew on a routine flight spotted the wreckage about two years ago, and that’s how JPAC got involved.”
Tucker said JPAC teams have made three investigation visits to the Globemaster crash site. Their sole mission is to bring back any evidence of the human remains of U.S. servicemen and servicewomen. The wreckage itself, although important to the storyline, is of little interest to JPAC, Tucker said.
“Our mission is to find the remains and bring them home,” said Tucker.
JPAC has teams in southeast Asia to seek and identify remains of U.S. military personnel who died in the Korean War, Vietnam War and the Cold War. Digging for remains in the jungles of southeast Asia requires an entirely different set of anthropological skills because of the terrain and nature of the equatorial climate, he said.
“If we find an airplane crash site in southeast Asia, the conditions of the countryside make it almost impossible to identify human remains,” he said. “That’s because the jet fuel may have burned the remains entirely, and the acidic soils may have hastened the decomposition process. In Alaska, it was different, because the very storm that led to the Globemaster crash subsequently buried the remains of the airplane and literally entombed it in a glacier.”
Tucker said only a small portion of the Globemaster was revealed in the ebbing glacier. It’s believed a major portion of the airplane remains encased in ice and snow, he said.
“What we have found appears to be the tail portion of the airplane,” he said. “We believe the remainder of the Globemaster is still hidden under the ice and snow.”
At a recovery site, the anthropologist, also referred to as the recovery leader, directs the excavation much like a detective oversees a crime scene, he said. Each mission is unique, but there are certain processes each recovery has in common.
The first step for the anthropologist is to define the site or determine the site perimeter. Once a site perimeter has been defined, the anthropologist establishes a grid system and sections the site with stakes and string. Each section is then excavated one grid at a time. Every inch of soil that comes out of the site is screened for any potential remains, or material evidence.
When enabled by the environment, wet-screening techniques, where all soil is washed through wire mesh with high-pressure hoses, are used. To help with what can be a massive soil removal effort, JPAC may hire anywhere from a few to more than 100 local workers.
Once the remains are positively identified at the JPAC laboratory in Hawaii, the military serviceman’s and servicewoman’s next of kin is notified, and procedures are put into place to deliver the remains to the deceased’s loved ones.
“It’s an incredibly rewarding experience,” said Tucker. “Our job is to bring the heroes home.”
Since 2003, JPAC has identified more than 722 Americans. More than 1,814 Americans have been identified since the accounting effort began in the 1970s.
JPAC estimates there are as many as 83,000 missing military personnel from all previous armed conflicts. Of those 83,000, 74,000 are missing from World War II alone. The U.S. military has estimated as many as 8,000 personnel as still missing from the Korean Conflict.