RENTON, Wash. – WWII veteran John Ponikvar was buried on his 95th birthday. A military bugler played Taps. An Air Force honor guard fired a 21-gun salute.
Then, the Chisholm, Minnesota native was laid to rest – 65 years after he died. “65 years, that’s a lifetime for a lot of people,” said Janie Fowler, Ponikvar’s daughter. “I’m just lucky I lived long enough for it to happen.”
Fowler was 7 years old in 1952 when she learned her father, a U.S. Air Force captain, had died in a plane crash. “We were coming home from church and we heard it on the radio,” Fowler recalled. “I can just remember sitting in the car and my mom crying.”
Ponikvar was one of 52 servicemen aboard a C-124 Globemaster. While flying home from McChord Air Force Base in Tacoma to Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, the plane went off course and flew at full speed into Alaska’s Mt. Gannett.
Harsh weather delayed the search. By the time the crash site could be reached, only a section of the plane’s tail was visible. By then, the rest of the aircraft and the men it had carried were entombed under packed ice and snow. The search was suspended and the men, over the years, mostly forgotten by all but their families.