SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – The remains of an Air Force gunner who was lost during a mock nuclear attack on San Francisco in 1950 were finally laid to rest on Friday.
Staff Sgt. Elbert Pollard and four others were lost off the British Columbia coast during the February 1950 exercise when their B-36 bomber hit bad weather, forcing the crew to bail out. Twelve other crew members survived.
The exercise, with the bomber flying from Alaska to San Francisco, was meant to help prepare for a possible war with the Soviet Union.
The aircraft carried a Mark 4 atomic bomb when it went down, but military officials say the plutonium core had been removed, making it only a conventional bomb, the San Francisco Chronicle reported (http://bit.ly/KZQl2Z ).
A 90-year-old survivor of the crash, Dick Thrasher, said the plane’s carburetors iced up in the storm, leading three engines to catch fire.
“The pilot said we had to bail out, but that before we did, we had to go out over the water and get rid of this nuclear weapon. So we did that,” Thrasher told the newspaper.
The military has said the pilot ditched the bomb into the sea before the plane crashed, resulting in a non-nuclear blast.
The men’s bodies remained missing until a Canadian fisherman in 1952 hooked a parachute that was attached to a booted foot. The foot was later buried at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis as a memorial to all five missing men.
It wasn’t until 2001, when a daughter of one of the men asked for the bones to be exhumed and identified through DNA analysis, that it was confirmed they belonged to Pollard, who was 28 at the time.
Pollard’s remains were transported by an honor guard and buried during a ceremony at San Francisco’s National Cemetery on Friday. The sounds of a 21-gun salute and a flyover broke the silence at Pollard’s new resting place right near the Golden Gate Bridge.
Pollard’s only child, Betty Wheeler, who was not yet two when he died, attended the ceremony.
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