WWII airman found frozen in mountainside
Associated Press Mar. 24, 2006 07:47 AM
BRAINERD, Minn. - A World War II airman whose body was found frozen in a glacier last fall was to be buried in his hometown Friday, six decades after his plane crashed in the Sierra Nevada.
Leo Mustonen was 22 when his AT-7 navigational plane disappeared after taking off from a Sacramento, Calif., airfield on Nov. 18, 1942.
An engine, scattered remains and clothing were found over the following years, far from the plane's intended course, but Mustonen remained missing until last year, when two mountain climbers in California spotted an arm jutting out of the ice.
Authorities in October were able to chip out the remarkably well-preserved body of an airman who was carrying a fountain pen, an unused parachute and 51 cents in dimes, nickels and pennies dated between 1920 and 1942. There was a metal badge attached to his brown U.S. Army Air Forces uniform, but it was heavily corroded.
It took forensic scientists at the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command at Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii examining the bones, DNA samples and the airman's teeth to officially declare the body as Mustonen.
Mustonen's relatives felt it was important for him to return to Brainerd and be buried with his parents, said the Rev. Andy Smith. Smith was asked to preach at the funeral Friday before Mustonen' burial in the same cemetery as his family.
Leane Mustonen Ross, the airman's niece, said there was no question about bringing him home after the anguish the family suffered not knowing what had happened to him.
It's "certainly nice to know he won't be left alone up in the mountains in a pile of snow," she said in a recent interview. "It's good to give him a decent burial."