National Guard Plane Crash

Charleston Gazette
April 9, 1951

Victims Logged Many Hours Over Fatal Hill

(Editor's Note: The following story was written by Dallas Higbee, news editor of The Gazette, who before his discharge last October was public information officer of the 167th Fighter Squadron, West Virginia Air National Guard. He was a close friend of many of the men killed in the C-47 crash here yesterday.)

By Dallas C. Higbee

Most of the men who died in the C-47 crash atop a Kanawha County hill Sunday had trained for more than three years at Kanawha Airport as members of the West Virginia Air National Guard.

That the pilots who were among the dead knew the terrain is attested by the fact that in those three years they flew thousands upon thousands of hours in the air over the very territory where they died.

And in that three years, not one fatal accident and only one serious accident took place.

All of the pilots of the squadron were veterans of World War II. Last year the squadron attained the highest efficiency rating - which included morale, operating efficiency, maintenance, safety and many other factors - of any Air National Guard squadron in the entire nation.

Credit for that distinction should go to every member of the squadron headed at that time by Lt. Col. James K. McLaughlin of Charleston.

The fact that the pilots knew the Charleston terrain so well gave credulence to the belief by military personnel that a faulty engine may have caused the fiery crash here.

The pilot of the ill-fated transport, Capt. Edwin Keatley Whittington, was considered probably the best "big ship" pilot in the entire squadron. His co-pilot on this trip, Lt. H. B. Kesler, ranked next.

Capt. Whittington had an outstanding war record with the Air Transport Command and joined the 167th when it was formed in the spring of 1947. Before World War II he was a civilian flier and logged hundreds of hours in the air over the Charleston area.

He was a graduate of Dunbar High School and a former employe of The Charleston Gazette, where his wife, Mrs. Orpha Whittington, also worked at one time.

Lt. Kesler was a veteran of the last war, also with the ATC. His love for flying was so great that he refused to give up his pilot's rating despite the fact that a steel brace held his back rigid. He was severely injured in an automobile accident after joining the squadron at its inception. The handicap of his back did not impair his skill as a flier, superior officers said.

Probably the most spectacular war record was compiled by Lt. Charles R. Michaelson of Charleston. Lt. Michaelson was shot down over enemy territory on two occasions, one time making his way back through enemy territory to his home base in England. The other time he was shot down over Germany and spent the rest of the war in a POW camp.

It was during this episode that he had what he descried [sic] to this writer as his most harrowing experience. But, let's let him tell it in his own words, as he told to me when when [sic] we were together last summer at Air Guard encampment in Ohio.

"If you want a POW story, I've got one," he said. "I had been shot down and after being interrogated, was being transferred to a regular prison camp. As the transportation was a little bad, I was beating it out on foot, with a guard. There had just been a B-26 raid on the Frankfurt marshalling yards and as we came up over a ridge I could see a bunch of German civilians around a crashed B-26.

"They had the six crewmen out and were hanging them to a big tree. We ducked back down and went around another way. The way those guys were made, they would have strung me up, too."

Like other members of his unit, First Lt. Herman F. Winter, Jr., 29, returned to active duty last October.

The only son of Mr. and Mrs. Herman F. Winter, Sr., of 663 Forest Circle, South Charleston, he served three years in the U. S. Army Air Force during World War II.

During six months of that period he was a medium bomber pilot flying combat missions over Italy.

Lt. Winter was a graduate of Charleston High School and attended West Virginia University and Morris Harvey College.

Lt. Drexel E. (Rex) Crites was the second of his family to die in air crashes. His brother, Lt. Arthur Crites, was killed in the crackup of a B-25 bomber in September, 1942, shortly after he had won his wings as a bombardier.

Rex Crites, too, had an enviable war record. He was a fighter pilot in the Ninth Air Force, European theater, with a number of enemy planes shot down to his credit. Again, I'll let the lieutenant tell of one of his experiences in his own words.

"We got in a lot of strafing missions," Lt. Crites said, "but the best was a troop train. I was flying a 51 when we ran across a dilly one day. I started in at one end and kicked rudder enough to make my ship 'walk' to the other end, spraying troops on each side.

"The train stopped when they saw me and men spewed out like rats. I saw a clump of trees and planned a neat little trick for them. After a pass at the train, I came around for another shot and caught these guys in the trees from the rear. It was a picnic."

Sgt. Richard Hazeltine, top-flight armorer for the squadron, went through the Battle of the Bulge in the last war as a member of the Third Armored Division. He was in service 39 months with seven months of overseas service, most of which was in combat. He was an employe of The Gazette before World War II and returned to his job at the end of the conflict.

Sgt. William H. Shelton, termed by his associates one of the best crew chiefs in the business, went overseas with the Eighth Air Force in 1942 and flew 25 missions, returning to the United States in 1943. He volunteered for a second tour overseas and went back late in '43 for 30 more missions.

Shelton was one of three brothers in the squadron. William, then 28, and his brothers John, 29, and Larry, 23, were inducted together in Charleston last October for their second tour of duty with the Air Force.

Their parents are Mr. and Mrs. Hugh Shelton of Lockwood, Nicholas County.

Larry was a radio man with the 9th Air Force in Germany after the war, and John, a flight chief, served during the war with the 10th Air Force in the China-Burma-India theater.

Sgt. David E. Rollyson, Jr., was shot down over Europe and spent 18 months in a German prisoner of war camp, being liberated at the end of the war.

Lt. Lyle L. Finley was in the South Pacific during the war, flying a P-38 for the 14th Air Force.

Sgt. James E. Creasy was another of the dead who had a brother in service. Sgt. Robert Creasy is in the U. S. Marines in Japan. Sgt. James Creasy is survived by his wife, Ardith Stanley Creasy, and his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Henry Lewis Creasy of Chesapeake; a sister, Mrs. Irving Hastings, Jr., of Cabin Creek.

He was an employe of Libby-Owens-Ford Glass Co. prior to last October.

The body is at Degnan and Kittinger at South Charleston.

The only serious accident before Maj. Sutherland's death Thursday involved Lt. Leonard Bostic of Charleston, who crash-landed an F-47 Thunderbolt near Kanawha Airport Dec. 6, 1947.


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