Remembrance of Mr. Donald Donat

From the Korean War Educator web site:

(With no offense meant to the author, I took the liberty of redacting a few lines of the story)


Donald Donat - Remembrance of the Victims

I was in the radio room of the 374th Communication Squadron at the time of the crash.  They were monitoring air traffic at the time, and we heard the call from the 124.  As I remember, the pilot reported one port engine failing and within a minute or two he called and said he had lost his other port engine.  That was the last we heard.  Sgt. Matt Welton and I went outside and could see the smoke off in the distance.  We took a Jeep and went to the crash scene.  There were 128 on the manifest, but in counting the bodies they came up with 129.  At first they thought they may have killed someone on the ground.  As it turned out, one of the 374th boys had put his brother on the plane to fly back to Korea where he was stationed.  This happened often where guys hitched rides.  Unfortunately, this time it cost the guy his brother.  I don't remember what his name was.  I only know that you never forget the smell.

Matt and I were right at the crash, up close.  It happened in late afternoon, as I remember.  I had gone to the radio room to meet Matt, and we were going to go to dinner.  When we arrived at the scene, it was a smoldering mess of pieces.  The recovery people were placing the bodies on buses that were used to transport serious stretcher cases from Korea normally.  This evening they were used to take the bodies back to base.

The plane pieces varied in size.  The tail vertical section was in almost one piece.  The body of the plane was in hundreds of pieces.  The engines were whole.  I believe that it hit at about 20 or 25 degrees.  When it hit, the force made it bounce back about five feet.  We could tell by the marks the engines made in the dirt.  The bodies were primarily outside, as the plane was torn apart.  The crew compartment, however, was crushed, and the pilot and copilot were mashed in the plane.

We stayed until dark.  I came back on the 19th and took pictures of the crash.  I didn't take the time to go get a camera when it happened.  All we were trying to do was get there to see if we could help.  Of course, there was no need.  They were all dead.

How did I feel?  Well, as I remember, like someone hit me in my stomach--short of breath, shaken.  And as I said, the smell of burnt flesh.  Terrible smell!!  Sad to think that they had just finished their R&R and were on their way back to Korea.  I guess it could have been worse if it had happened on the way to Japan and they had never had their R&R.  But just think...they were mostly in their teens and twenties.  Never really lived.  Many with no wife or children.  Sad.

As I remember, they brought a bulldozer and plowed a road between a row of houses back about 100 yards in the field to the site.  I believe it was a potato field.  The first there were the crash crews, and I believe it was the Army Med Evac unit that had the buses.  They used to meet the planes coming in from Korea MASH units and take them to hospitals in Japan.  I don't know who counted the bodies and I don't know the name of the guy who put his brother on the plane.  I just remember everyone talking about how badly he felt.  I didn't know him and I don't know if he got to go home or not.

As to the smell, burnt pork comes to mind, but when you know it's a funeral fire of 129 good GIs, it makes you sick.  I never saw anything on the crash until I wanted to tell our local newspaper about it.  They are planning an article on it for--I guess for want of better words--"War Stories."  I wasn't sure of the date.  I should have looked on the back of my pictures.  I had dated them.  But I went to Google and found your site and another site that mentioned the crash.