February 13, 2008 in City

WWII-era crash victim identified

By The Spokesman-Review

A body linked to a 66-year-old World War II mystery has been identified as that of an airman from Ohio, his family confirmed Tuesday.

Ernest “Glenn” Munn was 23 when he died in a military plane crash on the Mendel Glacier near the 13,830-foot summit of Mount Darwin in California’s rugged Sierra Nevada mountains.

Also killed in that crash was John M. Mortenson, 25, of Moscow, Idaho.

When the mummified remains were found last August by Seattle author Peter Stekel, it was not known if the body was that of Munn or Mortensen. Both wore aviation cadet uniforms.

Mortensen’s remains and those of 2nd Lt. William A. Gamber, the pilot, still have not been located. The body of air cadet Leo Mustonen was found on the glacier in October 2005.

The three young U.S. Army Air Force aviation cadets and the pilot were aboard an AT-7 Navigator that crashed during a snowstorm on Nov. 18, 1942, near the California-Nevada border.

The body Stekel found last summer had been entombed in the glacier but became partially exposed because of a significant snowmelt during last year’s drought in California. A search of the area turned up metal debris, believed to be parts of the aircraft.

The remains were taken to the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command’s forensic laboratory – called JPAC – at Hickam Air Force Base in Oahu, Hawaii. JPAC officials have not released a formal statement about the identity of the remains.

However, Munn’s sister, 87-year-old Jeanne Pyle, of St. Clairsville, Ohio, confirmed Tuesday that she and two other surviving sisters, Sara Zeyer, 85, of Adena, Ohio, and Lois Shriver, 83, of Pittsburg, were notified Friday by military officials.

“I was so shook up I couldn’t speak for a time,” Pyle said. “Now, we are all so thrilled we can bring closure to this.”

Pyle said she and her sisters plan to bury their brother in Ohio in a military funeral as soon as his remains are released by the military, probably in the next few weeks.

Military identification experts took blood samples from her and Zeyer in 2005 after another body was found in the same area of Evolution Basin. That body was identified as Mustonen, 22, of Brainerd, Minn.

Stekel, who’s writing a book on the mystery, said he intends to hike back into the California high country this summer.

“I plan to return to the crash site again next summer and fall to continue my research,” he said. “I don’t want to hold out false hope for the Gamber and Mortenson families, but I also don’t want to give up on searching until I’m confident there is nothing else to find.”

“I can’t express how happy I am for the Munn family,” the author said from his Seattle home.

Stekel said he appreciates the work of the forensic anthropologists and other JPAC scientists who work to identify bodies of missing soldiers.

“Across all cultures, people care deeply about what happens to their bodies after death,” he said. “It is our duty to ensure that these men are treated with the respect that we ourselves would expect. JPAC succeeds admirably at this task.”

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