Saturday, May 20, 2006
After 64 years, a mystery is laid to rest Fighter pilot crashed in wilderness near Mount Baker
By MIKE BARBER
Sixty-four years after he disappeared near Mount Baker while flying home on leave from battling Japanese warplanes in the Aleutian Islands, Lt. Kenneth Ambrose was laid to rest Friday morning.
The 8-week-old daughter the 24-year-old Army aviator was flying home to see, now Kathleen Edwards of Blue Bell, Pa., attended his memorial service, with full military honors, at Philadelphia National Cemetery on Friday.
At the conclusion of a memorial Friday for World War II fighter pilot Lt. Kenneth W. Ambrose, his daughter, Kathleen Edwards, embraces Cye Laramie, as Steve Norris and his son, Chad Norris, look on.
His widow, Marguerite Ambrose Crowe, remarried and went on with her life. She died Easter afternoon in a nursing home near Norristown, Pa., at 86. Her daughter had been planning to tell her that remains found with Ambrose's shattered P-38 fighter plane in the Pasayten Wilderness east of Mount Baker in 2003 were identified as his.
"I never knew Kenneth, so I'm pleased and excited about him being found, yet I'm really sad that (the funeral) didn't happen while Mom was still alive," Edwards said yesterday.
"On the other hand, just knowing that they had found the plane three years ago, and finally knowing what happened to him, was enough for her," she said.
Lt. Kenneth Ambrose disappeared in his P-38 on Nov. 28, 1942, near Mount Baker. Ambrose was missing for more than six decades.
Her mother, who suffered from Parkinson's disease, long ago made peace with Ambrose's disappearance and moved on, Edwards said. "Mom had a peaceful death," she said.
While the Philadelphia cemetery was the site for the service, it is full. Ambrose's remains will be interred at Fort Indiantown Gap National Cemetery in central Pennsylvania.
The Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command in Hawaii, renowned for recovering the remains of the missing long lost in the nation's wars, sent a team to the crash site in the summer of 2004. It found some of Ambrose's bones where the plane crashed and burned in a winter storm, en route to a stop at Everett's Paine Field, on Nov. 28, 1942.
Last summer, JPAC launched a full-fledged archaeological dig, cleanup and recovery mission. It took until April for extensive DNA tests to conclude positively that the remains were Ambrose's. Casualty officers formally informed Edwards last month.
Yet she and her mom had known years before. Edwards, whose stepbrother, Dane Crowe of Bremerton, also attended the service, said the most meaningful part of her father's service was when the Army chaplain read a Bible verse "that talked about the virtues of men and tenderness and kindness."
"He was addressing that to 'the gang,' " she said, referring to a Seattle family and an Olympia man who attended the service, Steve Norris of West Seattle, his son, Chad, and their wives, and Cye Laramie of Olympia.
All were key in discovering, protecting and doggedly solving the mystery of Ambrose's disappearance, which was marked by frustration and dead ends because of the passage of time and lost or erroneous military records. "I'm kind of glad that our family is connecting with Ambrose's family," Steve Norris said before the funeral yesterday. "It is emotional to meet Kathleen. It sort of finalizes the whole thing for me after nine years."
Ambrose began to emerge from the mists into which he had disappeared in September 1997, when Chad Norris and his friend, Ben Lynch, found the wreckage while scrambling over a steep slope returning from a cross-country trek to a high mountain lake.
Kathleen Edwards never knew her father, whose memorial at Philadelphia National Cemetery in Philadelphia included the playing of taps.
Steve Norris tried to interest authorities while visiting the site, strewn with live ammunition, to look for evidence. Norris kept the location secret, however, to avoid attracting looters and vandals who might desecrate what he suspected could be a pilot's resting place.
Norris contacted the Seattle P-I to help in 2001 and enlisted Laramie, an amateur historian who researches military plane wrecks in the Pacific Northwest. A network of volunteers emerged, including H.L. "Mac" McGalliard of Texarkana, Texas, a crew chief in the Aleutians campaign who knew Ambrose; Craig Fuller of Arizona, who collects declassified military aircraft logs; and John Cloe, a historian of the Aleutians war, who had noted Ambrose in his book, "The Aleutian Warriors."
Ambrose had been something of a hero in August 1942 when, with Lt. Stanley Long, he recorded the first two P-38 victories in the Pacific over Japanese warplanes. The only child of Kansas sharecroppers, Ambrose had an early passion for the trumpet that landed him for a spell with Count Basie's band. Ambrose became an Army aviator in October 1941 and moved with Marguerite to McChord Air Force Base near Tacoma.
Two months later the nation was at war. By the spring of 1942, Ambrose bade his expectant wife goodbye for the last time and flew to fight in Alaska.
He was headed to California to see his wife and new daughter when he disappeared.
Edwards was elated when Laramie, Norris and the P-I found and contacted her about the plane's discovery in 2003. Edwards told her mom, who wept and laughed.
Once a singer in the chorus of the San Francisco Opera, after Ambrose disappeared, Marguerite never sang again. She always wondered whether he died on Mount Baker or in Puget Sound. Knowing was a relief.
Edwards said her mother seldom mentioned her father. She did not know until high school that her stepfather was not her father.
Yesterday, though, she felt something of what his life meant. She wept at taps, she said. "And I cried again when they gave me his flag."