Body Of Kansas Soldier Who Died In 1952 Gets Proper Burial

Saturday, June 21st 2014, 8:02 pm
By: News On 6

The body of a man lost in a military flight that crashed more than six decades ago is finally home.

His funeral, held on Saturday, brought closure to his Kansas family.

U.S. Army Private Leonard Kittle was one of 53 military personnel on board a C-124 Globemaster aircraft which crashed in a remote area of Alaska on November 22, 1952. The plane was en route from the state of Washington to Elmendorf Air Force base in Anchorage, Alaska.

The military says adverse weather conditions halted immediate recovery efforts. When the weather eventually cleared, rescue crews were unable to locate the plane or the crash site.

On June 9, 2012, the crew of an Alaska National Guard helicopter on routine training spotted the wreckage on a glacier near Mount Gannett east of Anchorage. Kittle's remains were recovered shortly thereafter.

His body was flown to Tulsa International Airport on Friday and then continued the trip to Caney, Kansas.

6/19/2014 Related Story: Military Funeral Set For SE Kansas Soldier Killed In 1952 Crash

Saturday's homecoming in Caney drew hundreds who wanted to pay final respects.

It was full military honors for a soldier missing in action.

"It's just been wonderful... I really can't put it in words," daughter Linda Erickson said.

Erickson didn't think she would ever see her father again.

She only was a month old when Kittle was drafted into the Army.

He died with 51 others on that transport flight over Alaska when their plane crashed into a mountain.

Kittle's loved ones almost gave up hope for finding him until now.

"We just never thought this would happen," widow Sandra Kozak said. "We were told there was nothing, 'go on.' And now to think that they found some personal items and some remains like Linda said you can't say, 'Oh, not he's here,' because you'd be let down again. So we just went on …when the call came in that he was identified.... his remains, it was shock."

"I never got my hopes up because 17 out of 52 isn't good enough odds for me to...but when they called us and said my dad was one of them I think my words were, 'Oh my God," Erickson said.

For more than 60 years, Kittle's grave site remained empty at Sunny Side Cemetery.

Now, the soldier has a final resting place and a proper burial.

"Just never give up," Kittle's sister Beatrice Crawford said. "Always feel positive that you will be able to bring him home and put him to peace... right now I feel more peaceful than I've been since we first heard about it."

Kittle's former bride was overwhelmed by the day.

"Today has been wonderful," Kozak said. "I couldn't imagine it would be this... to bring him home. I'm glad it is. It's wonderful."

It took years to give them peace and provide Kittle a dignified burial, but to family, it's never too late.

"But it's not something that has been forgotten," Erickson said. "Even all those years, I thought I kind of would, and now he's home next to my grandma."