Body of Army airman, found in glacier, to bring relief to family

Jeanne Pyle hopes the frozen, well-preserved remains of an Army airman found this month in a Sierra Nevada glacier are those of her brother, whose military plane crashed during World War II. Pyle, 85, remembers her brother, Cadet Ernest Munn, as a handsome, 6-foot-4 (1.93-meter) man with blond hair and blue eyes. He was among four airmen who died when their navigational training plane crashed after leaving a Sacramento, California, airfield in November 1942. None of the members of that flight was ever found.

Mountain climbers found the remains on Oct. 16 in California's Kings Canyon National Park, the head and arm jutting out of the receding glacier. The body was in an Army uniform, and the hair was blond. It was flown Monday to Hickam Air Force Base on Oahu, Hawaii, where it is being examined at the Joint POW-MIA Accounting Command for identification.

Confirmation that the body is that her brother would end a painful mystery that has lasted 63 years, said Pyle, who lives near St. Clairsville, about 110 miles (175 kilometers) east of Columbus.

"It would be exciting, in a sad way," said Pyle, who recalled last seeing her brother at a party on his 21st birthday, days before he enlisted in the Army. "We've been living with an empty feeling for so long. It would be nice to finally resolve this."

Forensic anthropologists there said they have a lot to work with. The ice preserved the body's skin and muscle, as well as the man's sun-bleached hair and his green uniform.

Military officials said the identification process would take weeks, possibly months. They also cautioned that the airman might not be blond at all and that his hair could have been discolored by the sun.

The three other men on the plane were pilot 2nd Lt. William A. Gamber of Fayette, Ohio; Cadet John Mortenson of Moscow, Idaho; and Cadet Leo M. Mustonen of Brainerd, Minnesota.

Pyle, the oldest of three sisters, said her brother's death was hard on her family, but especially her mother, who rode a train to Sacramento to attend a memorial service after military personnel suspended a search for the crew in 1942.

Munn worked at an investment firm in Wheeling, West Virginia, across the Ohio River from their farm near St. Clairsville, before enlisting, according to the AP.

"I don't remember anybody in the family questioning his decision," said Pyle, who keeps letters from her brother boxed up in her garage. "He died doing what he wanted to do."


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