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Nearly 70 years after a transport plane crashed in an Alaskan mountain range, Wisconsin airman’s remains come home

Nearly 70 years after his disappearance during the Korean War, United States Air Force Airman 2nd Class Edward J. Miller received a hero’s welcome at General Mitchell International Airport, and then headed home for the final time.

Miller, who grew up in the Rock County community of Evansville, was aboard a Douglas C-124 Globemaster on Nov. 22, 1952, when it crashed into Mount Gannett about 45 miles east of Anchorage during a blizzard. The plane was headed to Elmendorf Air Force Base near Anchorage from McChord Air Force Base in Tacoma, Wash.

Forty-one passengers and 11 crewmen were on the transport flight. All died in the crash.

Dozens of curious onlookers watched as law enforcement and fire vehicles lined up outside Gate D-44 Friday evening in preparation for the arrival of Miller’s remains. When the Delta Air Lines plane carrying Miller’s remains touched down, military officials raised a U.S flag. 

As passengers began departing the commercial flight, a Delta official announced in the terminal: “We have a fallen soldier on board … We would like a nice, quiet moment for the fallen soldier.” 

The gate area quieted immediately, and then multiple passengers stood or sat near windows to watch as the casket, draped in a U.S. flag, rolled down a conveyor belt. Military officials saluted, and then gently transferred it from the plane to a waiting hearse. In the terminal, some observers took videos; a few teared up. 

A convoy that included military, law enforcement and fire department officials escorted Miller’s remains and members of his family to the Ward-Hurtley Funeral Home in Evansville.

Related: With Honor Flights postponed for the pandemic, veterans get a show of support with caravan through Milwaukee

Related: The pandemic shut the Wisconsin Veterans Museum for 473 days. It reopens Thursday with new stories and fresh approach.

Sisters emotions were high

Miller graduated from Evansville High School in 1948 and joined the military in 1951. He is survived by two sisters, Dorothy Wheaton and Nancy Cox, who both live in Florida.

The two made the trip to Wisconsin this weekend. Both chose not to speak; emotions were too high.

Since 2012, the Colony Glacier Recovery Team, a group of Air Force and Army searchers, has been recovering the remains of those lost in the crash. All but a few have been found.  

Miller’s remains were unearthed by the Colony Glacier Recovery Team during three different missions between 2012 and 2019. In one of those missions, a dog tag with Miller’s name and vital information was found near the remains.

The Armed Forces Medical Examiner laboratory in Dover, Del., confirmed that the remains near the dog tag belonged to Miller using mitochondrial DNA sequencing of deep bone tissue.

Two other men from southern Wisconsin lost their lives in the 1952 plane crash. The remains of George Ingram of Beloit and Thomas Condon of Waukesha were returned home in 2016.

Gov. Tony Evers ordered all U.S. and Wisconsin flags to be flown at half staff on Saturday in Miller’s honor. At 1 p.m., he was buried with full military honors in Maple Hill Cemetery in Evansville.

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