Unchecked tears rolled down Paul Martin’s lined face as he clutched the hand of an Air Force servicewoman who handed him a handwritten note at the graveside service for his older brother.
The note said simply it was an honor to attend the burial of Airman 3rd Class Howard E. Martin six decades after the Globemaster military transport plane he was on crashed into the side of an Alaskan glacier.
Hundreds of people in this small central Indiana town lined the streets and attended the full military services for Howard Martin, one of 17 servicemen's remains recovered recently among the 52 people who died in the Nov. 22, 1952, tragedy on Mount Gannett 50 miles east of Anchorage.
The wreckage remained submerged beneath the snow and ice of the Colony Glacier until 2012 when it was spotted by an Alaska National Guard helicopter crew. It took another two years to retrieve the remains and send them home to their families.
Howard Martin was 21 years old at the time of the nighttime crash; his remains were identified on April 18, 2014, exactly 83 years from the date of his birth.
Paul Martin, 81, recounted the long wait for the return of his brother, expressing relief for the family to have his final resting place at home in Indiana. He said that was the eternal wish of his parents before they passed away several years ago.
“Mom and Dad both kept thinking that one of these days they’ll find him and bring him home," said Paul. "So she bought three cemetery plots rather than two."
The brother's remains were buried next to his parents' graves in Elwood Cemetery.
Niece Rusti Koons said she was touched by the large community turnout for her uncle's funeral and burial. “It was very overwhelming,” she said. “I have never seen such support."
Jane Buttry, 76, of Elwood, holding an American flag, was among residents who stood along the funeral procession route to the cemetery.
"It's been a long, long time," she remarked. "It means a lot when you get a family member back."
Traci Moyer is a reporter for The Herald Bulletin of Anderson, Ind. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.