The Mt Tom B-17 Memorial Story
On July 9,1946 at 10:21pm, a B-17 "Flying Fortress" bomber, converted into a transport plane, crashed into the southeast slope of Mt. Tom, outside of Holyoke, Massachusetts. The flight, enroute to New York from Greenland, was to stop at Westover Field in Chicopee as the port of entry into the United States before continuing on to its final destination.
The passengers -- 15 Coast Guardsmen, 4 Army Air Corps servicemen, 1 Red Cross official and 1 US Public Health Corps medical doctor -- were returning home after serving their country in Greenland during World War II. The 4 Army Air Corps crew members on the flight were also soon to be discharged after completing their honorable military service.
While making the approach to Westover on a dark, rainy night, the plane struck the 1200-foot mountain about 300 feet below the summit. After tearing through trees, the B-17 hit a rocky outcrop causing the aircraft to disintegrate and starting an intense fire that burned for much of the night. Several people who were at the Mountain Park amusement park at the base of Mt. Tom that evening climbed up toward the accident site via an old cable railway roadbed but could not get close due to the heat of the fires. In the morning, rescue crews found the bodies of the young men among the wreckage in the scarred and charred landscape. All were killed on impact.
The crash was, at the time, the worst air disaster in New England's history and the single largest loss of Coast Guard life outside of a maritime accident.
For the next 50 years, the only memorial at the crash site was a small cairn of rocks that passing hikers would occasionally maintain. However, in 1994, Holyoke resident Norman Cote determined that a more appropriate monument was needed to honor the 25 young men. In the true altruistic spirit of the Pioneer Valley, an all-volunteer committee was formed, money was raised, a design was conceived, family members of the deceased were located, and a permanent monument was established alongside that rocky outcrop and old cable railway.
Fifty years after the tragedy, on July 6, 1996, during an inaugural ceremony, the Mt. Tom B-17 Memorial was was dedicated to those 25 servicemen who, in Norm Cote's words "...were on their way home. For them, who did their very best, and now in God's hands... at peace."