June 14, 2003
Hi to all of you. I'm HOME!!!!!!!!!
First I want to thank all of you who supported me in my efforts to find more information about my father and to face whatever lay in front of me.
1LT Kenny Halverson
My trip was a total success. At first it was overwhelming, but the people of Thones made it so much easier for me through their desire to share everything they knew about the crash of my fathers plane and the recovery process. I was told by Jacque Golliet that there were many surprises in store for me. Not knowing what that meant until it happened, made me a little nervous. He was not willing to share what they had planned for me but that I should be ready to give a small speech and he would interpret for me. Never in my wildest imagination could I have dreamed of such a wonderful four days. They anticipated my every wish.
I met with Jacque on Friday afternoon, along with the man who accompanied me to France ...my dads best friend, who was suppose to have been on that plane the day it crashed. Jacque asked if we were ready to take a little trip to see the mountain. You bet I was. We drove through many little villages nestled in the mountains...how absolutely beautiful. Everywhere there were wild flowers in bloom, a beautiful blue sky and jutting up into the sky mountains that were breathtaking ... and at the same time ... my heart was pounding. I told him as we came into town it was as if the mountain was being pointed out to me in various ways. Rain fell for less than a minute ... there was a beautiful rainbow above one inparticular mountain. I told Charles Harbaugh that has got to be the mountain. I just knew it was. And so it was. Then out of nowhere, a plane flew very high and came straight down as if it was going to strike the mountain .. its trail pointing straight at the same mountain. My heart knew that was the place. Out of all the other mountains, I just knew.
At that very minute I felt I knew what the wise men had felt seeing the star of Bethlehem and following it. Jacque told me, he did not believe in such things ... but there it was ... right in front of us ... the very mountain. We had driven from approx 500 ft. to 4,000 ft. and I stood looking almost straight across at the crash site. I was here. I walked over to the edge of the cliff as if I was being pulled closer ... my heart pounding and here came the tears again. Jacque put his arm around me and said let it out. You have a lot of pain ... I feel your pain ... let it out.
After taking pictures and a few words from Jacque, we left to go to another view of the mountain. Each time I felt drawn to the mountain. It was strange to see so much beauty surrounding me and to feel the tug of the mountain. At the next stop in the mountains, we stopped at a wonderful restaurant standing all alone ... not a house in sight ... and we sat at the tables outside and had lunch ... the whole time the mountain was in my sight. We continued our trip to another side of the mountain and another and another ... each time driving miles and miles throughout the most beautiful countryside I have ever seen. I was afraid to ask, as if all the places he had taken us was not enough ... but in my mind I kept wondering am I going to be able to get closer ... will I be able physically to climb that huge, gigantic mountain of rock.
Jacque took us back to our hotel, which was at the base of the mountain next to the church where the memorial service had been held for the men of the crash site, 4th of July 1945. Its a delightful village ... small and very French ... the shops and the flower boxes under most of the windows, sidewalks with flowers everywhere, sidewalk cafes, and the architecture of two hundred years surrounding me ... and there it was ... the mountain, hovering above the entire village.
On Saturday morning Jacque came to our hotel to take us to ... first the church ... and then across the street to the historical society building. As I stepped through the doorway I was being stared at by over 50 pairs of eyes ... no smiles ... just checking me out. Believe me, I was nervous. Jacque introduced us and told them that I was the daughter of Lt. Kenneth Halverson ... they all made a sound in French that told that they were sorry for my loss. All of a sudden there were handshakes, kisses (one to each cheek), smiles, and words in French that Jacque translated for myself and Charles. The Asst. Mayor (the Mayor was out of town), all of the members of the historical society, the men who found the bodies, and a few of the men who helped recover the bodies were all there to greet us.
I told them of my quest and about AWON. I told them how grateful I was to each of them for the part they played in returning my father to his family. I was presented an annual book from the society in which the article about the crash was included along with pictures. I took a picture of my father out and presented to them ... again sounds of "we are so sorry." I also presented a three page letter thanking the people of Thones and the surrounding villages for all they did. Flashes were going off the entire time. Each of them had brought cameras including the local newspaper photographer. Then I was presented a color photo 9x10 of the mountain. One of the men had climed the mountain to take the picture for me as he knew it would mean a great deal to me.
Next, I was taken over to a corner where there were six chairs and people sitting at all but one of the places ... the place they wanted me to sit. Jacque had explained these were the people directly responsible for finding and for the recovery of the bodies. They thought I would have questions for them and like to hear the story. The first two people were the two men who as young men were out hunting (against German law to have any firearms). They had been following the tracks of wild goats as they were very hungry and needed to help feed their families. All of a sudden they see a body lying across a big boulder and see a small part of the plane. They hurried down the mountain where they knew there were an American unit. They told their story and the Americans did not believe them. They went to the town and told what they had found.
A search and rescue party was arranged ... volunteers from several villages (resistance), 31 German prisoners to do the picking away of the glacial ice thickness to get the bodies free. There was a small cabin for hikers where some of them stayed and the other slept under the stars. They would take turns watching the German prisoners as they worked. The process was not only very difficult ,but as the ice was so hard, it was a very slow process. In the month of June, 1945 three bodies were recovered and taken down the mountain. They returned to the crash site and my fathers body was the last to be found in August 1945.
Due to the plane hitting straight into the mountain (only 30 k and they would have made it over the top of the mountain) parts of the plane were everywhere. It caused an avalanche covering most of the plane and the bodies and sent it approx 300 yards down to a flat place nestled between the rocks. The snow turned to ice during the winter. People had heard the plane and the crash but didn't know which mountain or where it crashed. Due to the storms of winter they could not search for it till spring.
Jacque came to the hotel and drove us to the nearest spot he knew for us to see the crash site but it was a long way away. I could see where the plane hit and the place of the actual bodies but almost impossible for me to walk that far not being a seasoned climber. I was heartsick to be so close and not in good enough condition to climb it. I felt really down.
We went to another outdoor restaurant and as we sat there, two men I had seen earlier came up to me with two walking sticks and an umbrella. They told me to get in the car and they would drive me up a pretty rough road as close to the site as they could get me and take me to the crash site. Lord, my heart beat so hard and it was harder and harder to hold back the tears the closer we came. They were so sweet to me. I was not in hiking clothes and sure had the wrong sandles on to be mountain climbing but they said if you can try, we will help you get there. You bet I can try.
So here we go (Charles had to remain in the car as his health would not allow walking very far much less rugged mountain climbing). I had two walking sticks to help me and one man kept an umbrella over my head as being so close to the sun you can get sunburned really fast. The other kept putting his hand out to me to help me over the big boulders but I was doing fine. I took the umbrella and told the other man it was not necessary ... it was slowing us down and I am surely not a pansy ... nor would I let them think I could not make it.
We climbed for some time and all of a sudden they stopped..just standing there ... I wondered why and then I looked down into the hole made by the waterfall during the spring thaws over the last 59 years. There it was!!!!!!!! Part of the plane. It took a few minutes for the disbelief of finally seeing it to turn to a flood of tears ... my own personal waterfall.
They told me this is where we found your father. There was the pilots seat crushed and only recognizable by the material and frame. I got down on my knees and thanked God and all who had made this possible including all my sibs in AWON who gave me the courage to do this.
I picked up a few more parts and carried them back down the mountain including a piece for Charles to take home. I cannot tell you the peace that overcame the years and years of pain. I felt the closest I had ever felt to my father. I knew this moment had changed me forever.
I just know God and my father were there every step of the way and through the healing process. It was as if one big gasp of air I was ok. My torment was over. Oh how I wished I could have shared this with my mother, my sons, and my grandaughters. This part of my life is over ... now I can go forward and know I have done all I could to honor my father as well as myself as his only child.
Vive la France ...Thank you. And long live the work and dedication of all the members of AWON.
God Bless.Barb Henry
The picture above was taken
in June, 1945 on Mt. Tournette, France ... the crash site of Lt. Kenneth Vernon
pilot; 2nd Lt. K.R. Gauthier,co-pilot; M/Sgt R.L. Campbell and Sgt. C.D. Pavick. None of the bodies were found
on the same day. Gauthier was laying across a boulder and was found first.Lt. Halverson was the last one found.
The French Resistance volunteers
held rifles over 31 German prisoners and made them use picks to recover the
bodies from the ice. The plane was a Douglas C47B-1 DK Skytrain serial # 43-48449.
One of the recovered bodies being taken down the mountain.
The picture above was taken
in 1999. When the plane hit the very top of the mountain,
the plane fell and created an avalanche which covered the entire area for 10 months, and as it is
a glacier, it became layers of ice. During the spring thaw in 1945, the waterfall carried much of the plane
downstream as it is a powerfall waterfall. I saw how deep some of the holes were from the water crashing down.
As you can see, the motor had
rocks on top of it, which held the motor in place from going any further
down the mountain. We drove as far as we could and walked to the area where when I looked closer could
tell it was the pilots seat with part of the electrical wires intertwined and crushed almost flat by a huge boulder.
The parts I brought home were cut off this piece with a metal hand saw which took an hour and a half
to cut through. The rivets are rusted and loose but still in place. It is all aluminum except for the rivets.
You can see a part of the fuel
line on the right side of the photo.
As the motor was higher up the mountain and takes a very seasoned climber to get to it, I couldn't make it.
But I have the pictures and that is good enough for me. The scenery is outrageously beautiful all around the
crash site. The waterfall is seasonal and due to the heat wave they were having, it had almost come to an end until fall.
The story and pictures were
provided by Barbara Halverson Henry,
and may not be copied or used without expressed written permission.