Sunday, 26 May 2024

Veterans to gather Saturday to honor soldier killed in 1942 crash

A plaque commemorating the fallen crew will be dedicated in July in Magdalena, New Mexico, near the site of the 1942 crash. Courtesy photo.

LAKEPORT – Sixty-six years after a young Lake County man and his crewmates died in a B-17 crash in New Mexico, local veterans are gathering to give him a proper military tribute

On Saturday morning a special ceremony will honor Staff Sgt. Thomas C. Ferron of Lakeport.

Ferron was only 22 years old when, on the night of Oct. 15, 1942, the B-17 on which he served as a radio operator crashed into a mountainside while on a routine training mission near Magdalena, New Mexico.

The entire nine-man crew – which was part of the Alamogordo Air Force Base's 459th Squadron, 330th Bomb Group – perished that cold night. In addition to Ferron, the crew included another Californian, 2nd Lt. Donald Jackson of Sacramento.

The Army brought the bodies of the men down from the mountainside, with Ferron returning to his family for burial in Lakeport.

The story might have ended there, had it not been for a man whose knowledge of the tragic story led him to creating a memorial tribute for the lost crew.

Rick Webster – who today lives in New Boston, New Hampshire – wrote to Kelseyville's American Legion Post No. 194 in March, seeking information on Ferron.

The letter came into the hands of the post's adjutant, Rich Feiro, a retired U.S. Air Force chief master sergeant.

Webster related growing up near Magdalena, New Mexico, and recalled how, as a boy, he hiked up to the peak where the plane had hit, bounced over the top and burned. He recalled how parts of the plane – including its intact tail section – could still be seen there at the time. However, a 2006 hike to the site with his grandson revealed that brush had overgrown the area and only a few engine manifolds were still visible, with all other traces of the crash having disappeared.

He shared with Feiro that he wanted to see a roadside memorial to the men – much as he had seen for wartime-era B-17 crash along a Wyoming highway. Webster had researched the crash, found out the crew members' names and had a plaque created, which is due to be placed during Magdalena Old Timers Days in the first week of July.

Webster asked if the post could find out if Ferron still had any relatives because he wanted to invite them to the July ceremony.

Feiro began to do some research himself, along with some good, old-fashioned legwork.

He said he called the county recorder's office and was able to track Ferron's gravesite to Hartley Cemetery, just outside of Lakeport. Feiro then went to the grave, where Ferron is buried in a family plot next to his parents, Serena and Thomas.

In 1942, there was no special headstone for fallen soldiers, said Feiro. The only indication of military service on Ferron's headstone is an inscription of his wing insignia.

Feiro and other local veterans, including Herman “Woody” Hughes – a retired U.S. Naval Reserve captain and chaplain of Lake County's United Veterans Council – then worked on looking for Ferron's surviving family.

The local vets eventually tracked down a cousin of Ferron's who lives in Nice. “That's the only relative we've been able to find,” said Hughes.

As they continued to seek out Ferron's story, the men decided they wanted to hold a memorial ceremony for the young man.

Because Ferron and his crewmates died in a crash 150 miles from the base, Feiro said, “We doubted very seriously that he got a proper military burial.”

All of the county's veterans organizations have been invited to present their organization colors at a ceremony which will take place at 11 a.m. Saturday, May 3, at Ferron's gravesite, with Hughes officiating, said Feiro.

The United Veterans Council's Military Honors Team – of which Feiro is the firing party commander – will offer a gun salute and a bugler will play “Taps.” The group also will perform the flag ceremony and present a flag to Ferron's family.

Organizers welcome the community to the special event, with a special invitation to veterans to come and honor a fallen comrade.

Hartley Cemetery is located at 2552 Hill Road East, Lakeport.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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