Tuesday, March 28, 2017


(USAF Photo)
Every now and then, someone will stop by the blog, see something and send me an email. They are always a welcome sight in my inbox. Some touch me deeply.

This was one such email.


I am deeply touched by your account of the crash that killed my uncle, Major Wm. C. Smith in your blog posting “Update to Emotions” of January 15, 2015.  He was my mother's brother, and died in that crash just ten days after their mother passed away.  You can imagine the grief my mother experienced, not to mention my uncle's wife.  My mother was never able to visit Washington DC again after the day he was buried at Arlington.  I only visited his grave as an adult.  I was an infant at the time of his death, but recall my mother telling me as a child that they were told my uncle and his co-pilot were out to "put in their hours" of flight (if that makes sense).  It was a routine thing.  But they also said that they believed that the pilots, sensing something was wrong, purposefully veered the plane away from an inhabited area, presumably to reduce danger to civilians.  Of course I don't know if the Air Force always tells the family things like this, but it sounded like something he would have done.  And it also sounds like you and your family may have been some of those civilians.  I am interested in your report that hypoxia may have been at play, which means he would not have been aware at the time of the explosion.  Thank you for your respect for this fine man.  I found your blog by happenstance - I have a friend moving to Vermont, and wanted to find the newspaper account to see if he is moving close to where the crash occurred.  I am afraid that I do not know who my uncle's co-pilot was, and both my parents and my aunt have passed away now.  

I tried to post my comments in the comments box, but it would not recognize me.  If you wish to publish my statement (without my email address and using just my first name) you may.



Your email brought forth a number of emotions. First of all, it's nice to know that Major Smith is still remembered by his family. Secondly, I am touched that you would contact me about this. I wrote more than one post on your Uncle's crash, in this post I mentioned that I had learned the name of your Uncle's co-pilot -
The other crewman was Captain Robert L. Wessel, USAF, USMA Class of 1957.

At the time of the crash, Capt. Wessel was living in Watertown, Massachusetts, not that far from Major Smith in Lexington. As Major Smith was stationed at Hanscom Field, Capt. Wessel must have been stationed there as well. Not a definite fact but one which, I believe, we can assume.
I'm not sure exactly which post(s) you read but as I recall, there were three: first, second, and third.

It's not unusual that military pilots then would fly to "put in their hours." As a matter of fact, they still do. In order to draw flight pay (an extra allowance) all military pilots must fly a certain number of hours every month. It was true back then, it is still true today. (My son-in-law is a pilot in the Navy.)

Pilots are trained in the symptoms of hypoxia, it's a vital part of their training. It is quite possible that recognition of the onset of those symptoms gave your Uncle enough time to steer away from the town before losing consciousness. Having served many years in the Air Force myself, it is my considered opinion that neither pilot was conscious at the time of the crash. I know what I saw.

As your Uncle and Captain Wessel both wore the same uniform as myself, though long years before me, I consider them brothers-in-arms. I will never forget them.

Thank you again for your kind words and my apologies for your not being able to leave a comment. That sometimes happens on older posts.


Chris Goodrich, MSgt, USAF (retired)

It is good to know that those who have left us are still remembered, long years later.

Major Smith, Captain Wessel, I shall never forget you. Someday, perhaps we shall meet in that clearing at the end of the path.

To my fellow airmen...

Ave atque vale!


  1. Very fine post Sarge. One of the many upsides to modern communications technology is that it allows for exchanges like this which probably would never have happened if Saint Erogla had not bestowed the interwebs upon us.

    There was a heavy aluminum rain across the land and seas in those days, the likes of which we'll not see again. Every Eagle that fell was a living, breathing man with hopes and dreams and kinfolk and plans and possibilities, and none of them expected to fall.

    A wise person once told me that you seldom realize it when you're doing your most important work.

  2. That does make it worthwhile doesn't it?

  3. One minor quibble. Back in the day, Pilots had to fly a minimum of 4 hours per month in order to continue to receive flight pay. So, staff officers would go out and fly on weekends or when they found time to maintain that pay, which is what it sounds like our two pilots were doing. By the time I got on active duty, that was no longer the case. Today, Pilots who are in an active flying billet must fly a certain number of hours to maintain currency in the jet. Staff guys no longer get to fly in most staff positions, more's the pity. I believe that was a financial decision as in the olden days, a large number of aircraft were needed in order to keep the staff guys flying. In the various drawdowns over the years someone realized that just paying the flight pay would be less expensive than all the costs associated with keeping additional aircraft on the rolls.

    1. I wouldn't call that a quibble, more of a clarification.

      Thanks Juvat.

  4. Thank you for a very moving post.

    Paul L. Quandt


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