Dedication and Appreciation

When I first met Duke Sumonia and Larry Carpenter it was on a winter’s day get together at Duke’s house where a bunch of "wreckchasers" gathered to meet each other and share stories for the first time. I’d read about Duke & Larry’s accomplishment of researching the Crown Point B-17 wreck and the history of the survivors and the subsequent reunion in the papers. I had hiked to the Crown Point B-17 but I was not then part of the group. I’d been referred to Duke as the historian to contact and he’d patiently answered my questions about the wreck and its story of the survivors.

At our first meeting I brought him an offering of the Civil Air Patrol wreck list and he gave me clippings from the newspaper on several different wrecks. At the gathering at his house I met Larry and Vi Carpenter, Kathy Weigle and several other kindred spirits. I had no idea that this interest in WWII and mountain history would turn into the fascinating adventure it has become for me.

My excuse for beginning this adventure was that handheld GPS units had just reached consumer pricing levels and it seemed that relocating wrecks with precise GPS coordinates would be of value to the CAP and would give me a goal to work for as I hiked through the woods. I already loved hiking off-trail but this treasure hunt gave new intensity to moving through the woods. I would never have guessed at the places I would go and the wonderful people I would meet along the way. It seems that when I tell someone I’m looking for airplane wrecks, they are instantly interested and , if they are a landowner, they see that I’m not some hunter with a strange way of asking for permission to hunt for elk but I’m telling them a very unusual kind of story about the land waiting to be unfolded. It is ironic that apparently the Civil Air Patrol has no interest in updating their records. I send my information to an individual who keeps it for the day that CAP might care.

My work with Duke and Larry has been very synergistic. Each of us has a role to play in documenting these wrecks. Duke does the basic research of newspaper articles, accident reports and some pretty darn good internet sleuthing. Larry prefers to work the family side of the situation and contacts survivors (if any), family, or friends of the victims and has a gift for reaching out to the people with the memories.

I am the ‘legs’ of the outfit. I have the energy, fitness, and enthusiasm to go hiking. I love going where people don’t normally go, planning my attack, puzzling out the clues, and then standing at the site and visualizing events. This kind of ‘bushwhacking’ hiking isn’t for everyone. It can be miserably hard work and one must be cautious about taking chances far from help. I would not normally be the guy to get interested in the human side of the story but Duke and Larry have helped me to see and experience that each of these events were like a rock thrown into a quiet pond- the event starts ripples which spread outwards and end up affecting many, many people as time passes.

It is with great sadness that we note the passing of Duke Sumonia on 1 July, 2015. He was a great friend and fellow aviation enthusiast.

picture of Duke Sumonia
Blue skies to you my friend.

picture of Larry Carpenter
Larry Carpenter

I am also grateful to the Hart and Andrus family for the opportunity to share their August 2000 adventure in visiting the site of Lt. Eldon C. Hart Jr.'s F-100 crash.  It gave my father and I a special focus to our outdoor adventure for that year which will make for very special memories for us as we were allowed to assist the  family in the process of bringing closure to their loss. They gave us the gift of accepting our help and allowing us the reward of knowing we'd done a good deed for good people.

Thomas Gallegos appears in several of these adventures and in pictures. His mother, Juanita Martin, took a chance on his behalf many years ago in hinting to me that he was a young man absolutely fascinated by what I was doing. I took a chance in inviting him along on the adventure. It has been a rewarding relationship for both of us.

In 2006  I was recruited into the Colorado Aviation Historical Society to help deliver some course material to generate interest for newer wreckchasers. This has been a fun group who have arranged group trips to the Spruce Mountain C-47 site and the Sterling RB-24 site as well as a so-far unproductive hunt for the engine from an AT-17 and the wreck site of a P-38 near Adobe Creek (Blue Lake) reservoir. Brian Richardson is a spark plug, Len Wallace is a major resource, Duke Sumonia provides lots of info, Matt Hensarling keeps the data base and does a lot of driving, Larry Liebrecht provides lots of photos, Alan Sparks helps search with tools and energy, and Lance Barber searches as much as he can be available. The group has reinvigorated my interest so you have them to thank for the additional site finds for this year and the future.

 A word about coordinates-  The presentation of actual GPS coordinates on a website to the general public is somewhat controversial among wreckchasers. Some folks tend to treat these crash sites as acheological sites and are hesitant to reveal locations for fear that everything there will eventually get picked up and there won't be anything for later visitors to find. Indeed this is a legitimate concern. I've seen a propellor blade carried off in my presence by strangers and most everyone who visits such a site seems to pick up some little tidbit as a remembrance. On the other hand, these wrecks have been visited and scavenged for, in some cases, over 50 years now. The year after they crashed they were basically interesting junk. In most cases big parts were retrieved and sent to the aluminum smelters for their scrap value. Since this was the fate that befell the thousands of B-17s and B-24s that survived the war, I don't believe there is very much point in keeping these places secret. To put it bluntly - the good stuff is already gone anyway so why hide them?

I think that people who make the effort to visit these sites are, by and large, respectful of the memories of the aircrew who were lost and if their visit brings awareness of these sacrifices to the next generation, it's well worth the loss of secrecy.

Thanks to my parents Capt. Ronald C. Miller and Carol Miller for an interesting and safe childhood with a jet-pilot father who came home safe and thanks to my wonderful wife Laurie  who celebrates my trips with me because she understands how much I need to get out and tromp around the woods.

Special Appreciation goes to Mike Molloy whose webpage Mike's Hikes kept my early website version (coordinates and site descriptions only) for many years.

The old site URL is:

Home Moggie!

Last Modified: 7/2/2015