EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 24, 2012

Pelham students hike into history

Pelham students visit World War II bomber crash site

By John Toole jtoole@eagletribune.com
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — PELHAM – Two dozen Pelham Memorial School students are back home from a journey to history.

A weekend trek in the New Hampshire wilderness took the middle school students to the wreckage from a World War II bomber crash that tested the crew’s survival skills.

Before their daylong adventure on Mount Waternomee, teacher Jay Palmieri asked the students to close their eyes and imagine what went through the crew member’s minds as they climbed from the wreckage with broken bones, scrapes and cuts in blizzard conditions on a remote mountainside.

“I think it must have been pretty difficult,” seventh-grader Brittany Ducharme said yesterday, reflecting on the hike and pondering what the crew experienced.

“It was difficult for us. It was steep. We had to figure out our way across a stream. In 1942, it was snowing and it would have been hard for them to see where they were going,” Brittany said. “I think it almost would have been a miracle for them to survive that crash.”

But five of the crew members did survive that B-18 crash 70 years ago in the White Mountains.

The crash happened after the crew became lost in the snowstorm as they returned to Westover air base in Massachusetts after patrolling for German subs in the North Atlantic.

“It’s pretty amazing they crashed on that mountain and survived,” seventh-grader Rachael LaVallee said. “This was my first time. I hadn’t hiked before. It was so hard.”

The students hiked 4.6 miles and spent the day doing it.

Conditions, while not as bad as those experienced by the bomber crew, were enough to give the students an appreciation for the World War II adventure.

Rain had created muddy, slippery going for the students.

“The mud was bad. Literally every time I would step down there was a puddle of water in my shoes,” seventh-grader McKenzie Kozak said.

The students estimated they spent an hour trying to find a way across a mountain stream safe enough for all of them to pass.

What they found amazed them, debris scattered over the mountain.

“Big parts, small parts everywhere,” LaVallee said.

“We came across this huge engine that was probably the size of me,” seventh-grader Haley Vinciguerra said.

The condition of the parts surprised the Pelham hiking party.

“The parts look like they are brand new,” teacher Kevin Correa said.

“We thought they would be rusted,” McKenzie said.

Madison Burke saw a wing from the plane and then a symbol of the country.

“There was a star on the wing,” she said. “That was pretty cool to see.”

Two of the crew members died in the crash. The students paused to plant a few small American flags.

“To symbolize and honor what the crew did for us,” seventh-grader Blythe Vageant said.

Palmieri has stressed that point with the students.

“Because of men like these who died in the crash, we are able to do things like this hike,” Palmieri said.

Most of the hikers are part of Pelham Memorial’s six-year-old hiking club, which Correa and teacher Emily Whalen advise.

They not only hike together, but sometimes look after town conservation trails.

Last weekend’s hike was one of their longest and certainly their most historic, Correa said.

He was proud of them for completing the hike.

“Look, out of 24 students, for 80 percent of them this was a first-time hike,” Correa said. “They all made it.”