The remains of an American airman found 60 years ago in Canada have finally been laid to rest — along with one of the Cold War’s most enduring mysteries: the identity of the only recovered victim from the so-called “Broken Arrow” incident of February 1950, when a crippled U.S. bomber dropped an atomic bomb into the Pacific Ocean before crashing into a British Columbia mountaintop.
In a poignant Memorial Day ceremony on Friday at cemetery in San Francisco, a few small bones from the body of U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Elbert W. Pollard were interred in the presence of his daughter, 64-year-old Betty Wheeler. She had learned just a few months ago, thanks to advanced DNA testing, that a man’s foot and parachute plucked from coastal waters by a B.C. fisherman in 1952 belonged to her father.
John Clearwater with help of museum curator Shawna Moffat have put together exhibit on world's first Broken Arrow (nuclear weapons accident) which happened in early '50's in British Columbia when US Air Force B-36 Bomber ditched a nuke bomb in the Pacific ocean and bailed out of the aircraft which plowed into a mountain--variety of items salvaged from the crash site.Photograph by: Pat McGrath, Ottawa Citizen.
Pollard, a decorated veteran of the Second World War and a U.S. Air Force gunner at the height of the Cold War, was one of 17 airmen involved in a simulated Soviet attack on San Francisco on Feb. 13, 1950. But their mammoth B-36 bomber — carrying an Mk-4 nuclear bomb en route to California from an airbase in Alaska — was disabled by an ice buildup in stormy weather approaching B.C.’s Queen Charlotte Islands.
The bomb — which contained five tonnes of conventional explosives and some unenriched uranium, but not the plutonium core of a fully-armed nuclear device — was dropped and exploded over the ocean before the crew bailed out of the failing aircraft. It eventually crashed into Mount Kologet near Stewart, B.C., about 500 kilometres north of Vancouver near the southern tip of the Alaskan panhandle.
The crash site, now protected by the Canadian government because of its significance in Cold War history, has given rise over the decades to both scholarly research and wild conspiracy theories about the possibility of a lost A-bomb on Canadian soil.
Canadian Cold War historian John Clearwater, who curated the 2007 “Lost Nuke” exhibit about the incident at the Western Canada Aviation Museum in Winnipeg, said at the time that the B-36 crash “was a crucial event, both for understanding the nuclear age and Canada’s role in it.”
The accident and the myths it gave rise to highlighted “the paranoia and secrecy that surrounded everything to do with atomic bombs,” he said.
Twelve of the men from the doomed B-36 parachuted to safety and were later rescued by a fishing boat and a Royal Canadian Navy warship. But five others, including Pollard, were lost and presumed drowned or killed in difficult landings along the remote and rugged B.C. shore.
In 1952, a fisherman in waters off the Queen Charlottes snagged a parachute and military-issued boot containing a man’s left foot. It was repatriated to the U.S. and — though not linked to a specific individual — was buried at a military cemetery in St. Louis in a ceremony commemorating Pollard and the four other airmen killed in the 1950 crash.
In 2001, after a request by family members of one of the five victims — Lt. Holiel Ascol — the foot bones were exhumed and scientifically sampled to try to determine which of the men they belonged to. Those DNA tests proved inconclusive, but more advanced experiments conducted recently identified Pollard as the man whose boot and parachute were pulled from B.C.’s Hecate Strait in 1952.
“I feel such joy that I am being given my father,” Wheeler said last week to a newspaper in Texas, where the B-36 had been scheduled to land after its planned mock attack on San Francisco in 1950.
Wheeler, who lives near Sacramento, Calif., attended Friday’s burial of her father’s remains — with full military honours — at the U.S. national cemetery in the Presidio, a historic San Francisco military compound within sight of the Golden Gate Bridge.
“I feel some kind of reverence and a strong desire to honour him,” Wheeler told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in advance of the ceremony. “I chose the Presidio because it’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. With all my father went through and all the places his bones have travelled, I wanted him to finally be in a place of beauty.”
Source: Randy Boswell, Postmedia News
Gravity always wins!