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Ray Duckler: Looking for a piece of history

  • Mark Munroe drives the car to farm closest to where a plane crashed in 1944 in Epsom.  Hank Munroe, his son Mark, and Mark's son Matthew set out to find the site of a military plane that crashed in Epsom in 1944.  When the plane crashed, Hank was 17 and he was one of the people who guided the state troopers to the crash and built the road to the site.  When Mark was 18, Hank took him to the site, but neither had been back since.  On May 10, 2014, father, son and grandson went back to try to find the site.   <br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

    Mark Munroe drives the car to farm closest to where a plane crashed in 1944 in Epsom. Hank Munroe, his son Mark, and Mark's son Matthew set out to find the site of a military plane that crashed in Epsom in 1944. When the plane crashed, Hank was 17 and he was one of the people who guided the state troopers to the crash and built the road to the site. When Mark was 18, Hank took him to the site, but neither had been back since. On May 10, 2014, father, son and grandson went back to try to find the site.

    (ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • Hank Munroe smokes his pipe as he, his son and grandson tried to find the site of a plane that crashed in Epsom in 1944.  Hank Munroe, his son Mark, and Mark's son Matthew set out to find the site of a military plane that crashed in Epsom in 1944.  When the plane crashed, Hank was 17 and he was one of the people who guided the state troopers to the crash and built the road to the site.  When Mark was 18, Hank took him to the site, but neither had been back since.  On May 10, 2014, father, son and grandson went back to try to find the site.   <br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

    Hank Munroe smokes his pipe as he, his son and grandson tried to find the site of a plane that crashed in Epsom in 1944. Hank Munroe, his son Mark, and Mark's son Matthew set out to find the site of a military plane that crashed in Epsom in 1944. When the plane crashed, Hank was 17 and he was one of the people who guided the state troopers to the crash and built the road to the site. When Mark was 18, Hank took him to the site, but neither had been back since. On May 10, 2014, father, son and grandson went back to try to find the site.

    (ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • Mark Munroe walks through the forest in Epsom with his metal detector while trying to find the site of a 1944 military plane crash on May 10, 2014.  Hank Munroe, his son Mark, and Mark's son Matthew set out to find the site of a military plane that crashed in Epsom in 1944.  When the plane crashed, Hank was 17 and he was one of the people who guided the state troopers to the crash and built the road to the site.  When Mark was 18, Hank took him to the site, but neither had been back since.  On May 10, 2014, father, son and grandson went back to try to find the site.   <br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

    Mark Munroe walks through the forest in Epsom with his metal detector while trying to find the site of a 1944 military plane crash on May 10, 2014. Hank Munroe, his son Mark, and Mark's son Matthew set out to find the site of a military plane that crashed in Epsom in 1944. When the plane crashed, Hank was 17 and he was one of the people who guided the state troopers to the crash and built the road to the site. When Mark was 18, Hank took him to the site, but neither had been back since. On May 10, 2014, father, son and grandson went back to try to find the site.

    (ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • Mark Munroe considers a nail that he found with his metal detector and dug out of the ground where he thought the plane crash might have been.  When he brought the nail down to his father Hank, Hank thought it was a colonial nail.  Hank Munroe, his son Mark, and Mark's son Matthew set out to find the site of a military plane that crashed in Epsom in 1944.  When the plane crashed, Hank was 17 and he was one of the people who guided the state troopers to the crash and built the road to the site.  When Mark was 18, Hank took him to the site, but neither had been back since.  On May 10, 2014, father, son and grandson went back to try to find the site.   <br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

    Mark Munroe considers a nail that he found with his metal detector and dug out of the ground where he thought the plane crash might have been. When he brought the nail down to his father Hank, Hank thought it was a colonial nail. Hank Munroe, his son Mark, and Mark's son Matthew set out to find the site of a military plane that crashed in Epsom in 1944. When the plane crashed, Hank was 17 and he was one of the people who guided the state troopers to the crash and built the road to the site. When Mark was 18, Hank took him to the site, but neither had been back since. On May 10, 2014, father, son and grandson went back to try to find the site.

    (ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • Matthew Munroe, 9, assists his grandfather Hank up a particularly steep part of the trail back to the car after they and Hank's son and Matthew's dad Mark tried to find the site of a plane that crashed in 1944 in Epsom.  Hank Munroe, his son Mark, and Mark's son Matthew set out to find the site of a military plane that crashed in Epsom in 1944.  When the plane crashed, Hank was 17 and he was one of the people who guided the state troopers to the crash and built the road to the site.  When Mark was 18, Hank took him to the site, but neither had been back since.  On May 10, 2014, father, son and grandson went back to try to find the site.   <br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

    Matthew Munroe, 9, assists his grandfather Hank up a particularly steep part of the trail back to the car after they and Hank's son and Matthew's dad Mark tried to find the site of a plane that crashed in 1944 in Epsom. Hank Munroe, his son Mark, and Mark's son Matthew set out to find the site of a military plane that crashed in Epsom in 1944. When the plane crashed, Hank was 17 and he was one of the people who guided the state troopers to the crash and built the road to the site. When Mark was 18, Hank took him to the site, but neither had been back since. On May 10, 2014, father, son and grandson went back to try to find the site.

    (ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • Mark Munroe pauses for a break while digging to see if he could find parts of a plane crashed on to Nat's Mountain in Epsom in 1944.  He later determined that this particular clearing wasn't where the plane crashed.  Hank Munroe, his son Mark, and Mark's son Matthew set out to find the site of a military plane that crashed in Epsom in 1944.  When the plane crashed, Hank was 17 and he was one of the people who guided the state troopers to the crash and built the road to the site.  When Mark was 18, Hank took him to the site, but neither had been back since.  On May 10, 2014, father, son and grandson went back to try to find the site.   <br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

    Mark Munroe pauses for a break while digging to see if he could find parts of a plane crashed on to Nat's Mountain in Epsom in 1944. He later determined that this particular clearing wasn't where the plane crashed. Hank Munroe, his son Mark, and Mark's son Matthew set out to find the site of a military plane that crashed in Epsom in 1944. When the plane crashed, Hank was 17 and he was one of the people who guided the state troopers to the crash and built the road to the site. When Mark was 18, Hank took him to the site, but neither had been back since. On May 10, 2014, father, son and grandson went back to try to find the site.

    (ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • Mark Munroe drives the car to farm closest to where a plane crashed in 1944 in Epsom.  Hank Munroe, his son Mark, and Mark's son Matthew set out to find the site of a military plane that crashed in Epsom in 1944.  When the plane crashed, Hank was 17 and he was one of the people who guided the state troopers to the crash and built the road to the site.  When Mark was 18, Hank took him to the site, but neither had been back since.  On May 10, 2014, father, son and grandson went back to try to find the site.   <br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)
  • Hank Munroe smokes his pipe as he, his son and grandson tried to find the site of a plane that crashed in Epsom in 1944.  Hank Munroe, his son Mark, and Mark's son Matthew set out to find the site of a military plane that crashed in Epsom in 1944.  When the plane crashed, Hank was 17 and he was one of the people who guided the state troopers to the crash and built the road to the site.  When Mark was 18, Hank took him to the site, but neither had been back since.  On May 10, 2014, father, son and grandson went back to try to find the site.   <br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)
  • Mark Munroe walks through the forest in Epsom with his metal detector while trying to find the site of a 1944 military plane crash on May 10, 2014.  Hank Munroe, his son Mark, and Mark's son Matthew set out to find the site of a military plane that crashed in Epsom in 1944.  When the plane crashed, Hank was 17 and he was one of the people who guided the state troopers to the crash and built the road to the site.  When Mark was 18, Hank took him to the site, but neither had been back since.  On May 10, 2014, father, son and grandson went back to try to find the site.   <br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)
  • Mark Munroe considers a nail that he found with his metal detector and dug out of the ground where he thought the plane crash might have been.  When he brought the nail down to his father Hank, Hank thought it was a colonial nail.  Hank Munroe, his son Mark, and Mark's son Matthew set out to find the site of a military plane that crashed in Epsom in 1944.  When the plane crashed, Hank was 17 and he was one of the people who guided the state troopers to the crash and built the road to the site.  When Mark was 18, Hank took him to the site, but neither had been back since.  On May 10, 2014, father, son and grandson went back to try to find the site.   <br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)
  • Matthew Munroe, 9, assists his grandfather Hank up a particularly steep part of the trail back to the car after they and Hank's son and Matthew's dad Mark tried to find the site of a plane that crashed in 1944 in Epsom.  Hank Munroe, his son Mark, and Mark's son Matthew set out to find the site of a military plane that crashed in Epsom in 1944.  When the plane crashed, Hank was 17 and he was one of the people who guided the state troopers to the crash and built the road to the site.  When Mark was 18, Hank took him to the site, but neither had been back since.  On May 10, 2014, father, son and grandson went back to try to find the site.   <br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)
  • Mark Munroe pauses for a break while digging to see if he could find parts of a plane crashed on to Nat's Mountain in Epsom in 1944.  He later determined that this particular clearing wasn't where the plane crashed.  Hank Munroe, his son Mark, and Mark's son Matthew set out to find the site of a military plane that crashed in Epsom in 1944.  When the plane crashed, Hank was 17 and he was one of the people who guided the state troopers to the crash and built the road to the site.  When Mark was 18, Hank took him to the site, but neither had been back since.  On May 10, 2014, father, son and grandson went back to try to find the site.   <br/><br/>(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

Hank Munroe, a senior at Pembroke Academy at the time, remembers the ages of the dead, so young, and the smell of fuel, so strong.

He remembers the flames and the explosions and the wreckage, scattered in a thickly wooded area on the side of a mountain in Epsom.

He remembers the pilot and co-pilot, ejected from the cockpit and seated in the remote area, still strapped in. Munroe found the crash site shortly after the B-24 Liberator crashed 70 years ago, killing its crew of 10.

He and his son, Mark Munroe, found it nearly 40 years later, when, this time, Mark was the student at Pembroke Academy.

That time, father and son nudged aside pine needles with the tips of their shoes, like a third baseman smoothing dirt between pitches. They found burnt pieces of metal, parachute buckles, debris with serial numbers.

Unfortunately, we found no such smoking gun on Saturday, no such evidence that something awful and historic had happened here, at a place called Nat’s Mountain.

Our 2014 expedition included me, Monitor photographer Ari van den Akker and three generations of Munroes. There was Mark, now a 48-year-old firefighter living in Chester who wore an Indiana Jones-style hat. There was Mark’s 9-year-old son Matthew, who wakes up mornings thirsty for news about the Bruins.

And, of course, there was the focal point of our story, 86-year-old, pipe-puffing Hank, the former president of the New Hampshire College University Council, the former fire chief in Pembroke, and the current senior with a quick wit, huge heart and the will to climb rocky inclines to find what few people even know about.

Back in the early 1980s, the first time Hank had returned, the first and only time Mark had seen it, uncovering the past seemed so easy.

“Walked right to it,” Mark said. “My father remembered which way, there was a clearing, and I started finding things on the ground. We knew we had found it.”

They found bits and pieces of the bomber that had taken off from Grenier Air Force Base in Manchester on April 24, 1944, on its way to Goose Bay, Newfoundland.

Pilot Marvin Rupp of Winfield, Kan., radioed his final message at 9:05 that morning, according to the Aircraft Accident and Incident Report.

“Ceiling 1,300 feet and visibility two miles,” he said.

The first call to authorities came 10 minutes later. Hank, a member of the Civil Air Patrol, was hanging around a general store called Lombard’s when a pair of state troopers came in and asked if the teen could help lead them through the thick woods and brush.

Hank, who’d hunted in the area, agreed. On the way they heard explosions, oxygen tanks on fire. The troopers fired their guns in the air, hoping for a response.

None came.

“Bodies all over the place,” Hank said. “The pilot and co-pilot had been ejected. There was chaos, the wings up, the fuselage down, bodies inside.”

The ages of the dead hit hard. Hank says he could still make out the youth in their faces.

Rupp, 26, was one of the older men to die. Second Lt. James Jones of Alumbank, Pa., the co-pilot, was 21. Lt. William Hunold of Brooklyn, N.Y., was 22.

“Kids,” Hank said. “Boys.”

From there, Hank and other young CAP volunteers cut brush and guarded the site overnight, until the military police arrived the next day. A makeshift path was created for the bulldozers and trucks needed to haul the major pieces of the wreckage away. The bodies were carried down “in what residents described as rubber overall jackets,” according to a newspaper account.

The official report, which Mark showed me, blamed the crash on human error, saying Rupp and Jones had not flown enough hours to maneuver through the fog that day and make the proper judgments as the misty Epsom mountain approached.

Then, in the early 1980s, Hank and Mark returned, before the thick grass and weeds and trees had fully grown back, when Hank’s memory and legs were fresher. They found proof of the past, which Hank only recently turned over to the Civil Air Patrol, much to Mark’s chagrin.

They went back Saturday. They brought bottled water, shelled peanuts, bug and tick repellent, sandwiches, a metal detector, shovels, walking sticks and the enthusiasm that comes from hoping you can touch the past.

It had rained hard in the morning, so we hiked through water and mud, stepping on branches and sticks, some bending from moisture, some snapping and cracking because the sun had gotten through.

At times, Hank leaned hard on a walking stick, and Matthew supported his grandfather’s other side on the steeper hills.

We waved at black flies, twisted our ankles on rocks and slippery leaves, talked about the Bruins and learned that Hank married shortly after the B-24 crash, when he was only 18. His wife, Myra, died in December 2012, from Alzheimer’s disease.

We also learned that Mark had tried to find the crash site the day before his mother died. He received a call to rush back, that his mother was near death, so, already lost, he dropped his metal detector and shovel and sped down the mountain, reaching his mother before she passed.

In other words, we got to know each other, which happens when you hike 8 miles over rough terrain, wondering if you’ll discover a piece of lost history. Failing to find the site during the first half of our trip, Hank and Matthew stayed behind at the car while we carried on, looking for a pile of rocks built specifically to honor the dead.

Mark had found it shortly before he got the call about his mother, and legend has it that a family member of one of the dead built it.

We found it, a 4-foot high structure overlooking a clearing that slanted downward and made it hard to stand.

“I’m not convinced this is where the plane came down,” Mark said. “The plane crashed into a ridge, a cliff, and this doesn’t look right.”

By then we had hiked for nearly five hours, on the most humid day of the year. Mark placed a tiny American flag on the memorial, wedging the little flagpole stick between two rocks near the top.

Then we climbed down, back to Hank and Matthew, disappointed we hadn’t unearthed anything startling. We knew the major pieces of the plane had been taken away years ago, the wings and propellers and engines and seats and chunks of aluminum.

But Hank and Mark’s discoveries from the ’80s gave us hope. Now, after Saturday, Mark sees things differently.

“Maybe it’s not meant to be found anymore,” he said.

“We brought that flag to remember them,” Hank said, between draws on his pipe. “Someone should remember them and remember what happened here.”

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or rduckler@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @rayduckler.)

Legacy Comments11

I enjoy reading these slices of life in our area. The news can be gotten quicker on tv or internet but these human interest stories can only be found in newspapers now days. I have a feeling in the future even they will be gone and we should enjoy them while we can.,

I knew you couldn't stay away. Why are we fighting it, tillie? It's bigger than the both of us. You're Elizabeth Taylor to my Richard Burton. Awright if I call you Lizzie?

I have read some funny commenters on here but you are not one of them. Don't you have some cats in your neighborhood you could just go out and tie cans on their tails for your kicks?

Wrong again, tillie. I'd never do such a thing. I'm an animal lover. What else could explain this attraction?

Hmm...Duckler, Ducklady. I ain't never had much lernin', but used to own a Dick Tracy two-way wristwatch (50¢, plus two box tops). Might Ducklady be Ray's mom? What else to explain an over-the-top compliment on this non-story? Editor should've captioned it as, "Ray Duckler: Looking for a piece of a story". I guess a fruitless 5-hour tramp through the woods had to be salvaged in print, regardless. How it ended up on page one, let alone the lead, might be a better story, however. But at least we know Ray didn't leave his PB+J sandwich on the counter this morning, or Ducklady would've said so.

No relation, Mr. Moss. I have never met nor do I know Ray. But I am an avid reader and Ray is a very good writer.

Do you have a housecat named 'tillie'? You write like a woman who does...lol.

Either Ray's a good writer or you need to get a life because you obviously read this story to the end. Only a good writer could pull that off.

I've watched some bad movies all the way to the end, too. That didn't make them Academy Award winners. Good journalists don't make themselves the lead character in nearly every piece they write. Ray does. nuf ced.

CWMoss, yes we can read this as a BIG story, one which locals know all too well. Yet, the CM fails at every turn to do any investigative journalism. This was a good story with no conclusion really. Most of Ducklers stories are drivel, however.

Ray, you're such a good writer. Nice piece.

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