Press-Republican

January 29, 2014

Wright's Peak redux

Vermont man recalls placing plaque in memory of crew members

By ROBIN CAUDELL
Press-Republican

---- — PLATTSBURGH — Richard “Dick” Fletcher’s memory is incised with the lone glove he and a search party found among the USAF B-47 debris at the summit of Wright’s Peak.

Fletcher descended the 4,587-foot peak to Adirondack Loj after it was determined that 1st Lt. Rodney Bloomgren (plane commander), 1st Lt. Melvin Spencer (co-pilot), 1st Lt. Albert W. Kandetski (navigator/bombardier) and Airman 1st Class Kenneth R. Jensen (observer) had perished in the Jan. 16, 1962, crash. 

Every step of the way was laden with the knowledge that Kandetski, his Hollywood-handsome housemate, had died.

‘AL’S FATHER IS HERE’

“I found a state trooper, and he was nice enough to give me a ride back to Plattsburgh Air Force Base,” said Fletcher, who was a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at the time and stationed at the base.

He was tired when he returned to his apartment and hadn’t had much to eat.

“I was there with my other roommates, and they said, ‘Al’s father is here, and he wants to have dinner with you tonight.’”

Fletcher showered, shaved, donned a uniform and drove to meet Albert Kandetski Sr. at the Officer’s Club.

“He was a very nice man and very thankful for what I was trying to do for him and his son. We had a nice meeting, nice chat, very emotional. It was an awful thing, so sad, losing his son.”

Mr. Kandetski gave Fletcher a book that had belonged to his son and told him he would be in touch.

INVITED ON CLIMB

As spring advanced and the snow pack retreated, more wreckage was revealed. The Stratojet was about 30 miles off course. Just 100 feet higher, the bomber would have cleared Wright’s Peak, but then Algonquin loomed right behind it.

“They didn’t find anything of the poor airman (Jensen),” Fletcher said. “He was probably sitting down somewhere below.”

During the summer of 1962, Mr. Kandetski contacted Fletcher to invite him on a climb of Wright’s Peak with him and family members of the crew.

“He said, ‘The Air Force is making up a plaque. We want you to take it up there and put it up there someplace on the mountain.’ I said, ‘Thank you very much. That is something I really would like to do, and I’m very proud to do that.’”

Four evergreens, each with a crew member’s name tag, were to be planted on the mountain. It was up to Fletcher to select a spot.

‘THE FORCE TO DO THAT’

It was a halfway decent summer day when the party set out on the three-and-half-mile trek.

“We came to a nice little opening looking out at the Adirondacks mountain, very picturesque,” Fletcher said. “I said, ‘You know, what do you think of going off the trail here a little bit, and this would be a nice spot to plant these three trees. It’s a nice opening. You people decide.’”

Trees planted, they resumed their ascent. Fletcher carried a bronze plaque and tools to affix it to a rock face.

“We got up to the top. At that point, you could see part of the landing gear was embedded in the rock. I said, God almighty, the force to do that. At the same time, it created a little wall of rock there close to this bedrock.”

Fletcher chose this place to mount the plaque commissioned by the 380th Bomb Wing. As he lifted the chisel to secure the plaque, it started storming.

“I said, ‘What am I doing holding up a lightning rod? ... Lord, let me finish my job.’”

The memorial plaque lists the crew members’ names followed by this sentence: “A Strategic Air Command B-47 crew killed here 16 January 1962 while on a mission preserving the peace of our nation.”

After a prayer, Fletcher and the others climbed back down and returned to PAFB.

Military and civilian planes — 313 — logged 1,681 flying hours searching for the B-47 crew, according to a Feb. 8, 1962, P-R article by Roy Southworth. A parachute’s billowing, orange panel tipped off U.S. Army Lt. H.D. Lyttle to the lost crew below his L-19.

FAMILY MEMBERS

Bloomgren, 26, left behind a wife, Connie Lou; a daughter, Cynthia (last name now Bosch); and son, Steven. He was the son of Harold W. and Edith C. Swanson Bloomgren of Jamestown. 1st Lt. Bloomgren is buried at the Sunset Hill Cemetery in Jamestown.

Spencer, 28, was survived by a wife, now Lois Greuling Fleming, and daughter, Julia Spencer-Fleming. He was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Calvin Spencer of Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Jensen had a wife and a daughter. He was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Anders R. Jensen of El Cajon, Calif.

Kandetski, died 14 days after his 25th birthday, left behind his parents in Sunnyvale, Calif. He is buried in the Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno, Calif.

‘BEEN WANTING TO GO’

In 1962, Fletcher was 27. He resigned his commission that fall and went home to Boston.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers wanted to reassign him to the next generation of missiles. By early 1963, he had returned to PAFB as a mechanical engineer. He worked for the Civil Engineer Group to support the Atlas Missile sites, staying until they were shut down when the Minuteman Missile came online.

Whenever he visits here, his thoughts invariably turn to Wright’s Peak.

“I’ve been wanting to go,” Fletcher said. “The last couple of years I’ve been saying (that) to myself. I’m 78 years old. I’ve had two hip replacements. I want to go back up there ... someday.”

Email Robin Caudell:rcaudell@pressrepublican.comTwitter: @RobinCaudell

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CRASH ON WRIGHT'S PEAK

This is the third and final installment of a three-part series recounting Richard "Dick" Fletcher's remembrances of the B-47 crash in 1962.