When Silence Fell…

I sat down on the floor and stared at the old, dusty bankers box that was sitting in front of me. The box looked worn and the lid no longer fit quite right. I removed the lid to reveal old family files and a lot of old forms that traced my family back for generations. The first file I pulled out had no label on it, but had the most papers in it, so I opened it. It was my dads journal! I start flipping through it and stopped at the page that read, “When Silence Fell.” It was the story about my grandpa. He was missing in a plane crash before I was born. So rather than retell the story, here it is in my dad’s own words…

“The plane refueled at the small airport in Southern Utah. The wind was brisk and the cold seemed to penetrate down to the bone. Refueling complete, final checks made, the two men climbed aboard. After a quick final pre-flight check, the big man looked up at the other and started the engine. As the engine warmed up, they both seemed lost in thought as eyes automatically scanned the instrument panel. A final check for clearance and he slowly taxied the plane to its designated position for take-off. With a thrust of power, the small plane raced down the runway and lifted smoothly into the air. The land seemed to fall away as the plane gained altitude. Finally leveling off, a quick check of the instruments indicated everything was going fine, but the turbulence was much stronger than anticipated. They flew North away from the storm front, gaining altitude, and tried to pull above the worst of the storm before turning South again. With each mile it seemed apparent that they weren’t going to miss the full storm. The small plane was being tossed about without letup and with growing anxiety the men realized that things weren’t going well. The instruments were hard to read and even with seat belts it was difficult to keep from being slammed about the small cabin. As they flew over the mountains the violence of the storm increased and with zero visibility they had to rely on their instruments. Suddenly breaking out of the cloud cover, they saw trees rushing at them. Almost by reflex, the big man reached forward and secured the power, as the terrible noise touched his ears.


  The U.S.S. Agerholm, (DD-826), was moored pier side at Yokosuka Ship Repair Facility, Yokosuka, Japan, As a Boilerman Third Class, I didn’t always get the best jobs, and today I had to climb up onto the steam lines over the No. 1 Boiler, to wash soot off of the lines.We were feeling pretty frisky thinking of liberty that evening and were throwing soapy sponges at each other, as we joked and horsed around, and even accomplished a little work. Somebody yelled down the hatch, “Hey Below! Is Halsey down there?” “Yah, whatcha want?” “They want you topside. You’re supposed to see the Executive Officer.” I went topside and found the X.O. in his stateroom. “Here,” he said. We just received this message from the Red Cross.” I couldn’t believe my eyes as I read the message. It said dad’s plane was missing. He had refueled in Southern Utah, then headed for an overnight stop on Las Vegas. He never arrived in Las Vegas. Search planes were sent out. Would I please come home. I took emergency leave and flew back to the United States. Uncle Cleo had gone to Southern Utah and was finishing up the ground search and investigation. He investigated reports of people hearing plane that sounded in trouble during the big storm. Nothing. The air search extended all the way down to Lake Mead, but nothing was found. The plane had just simply vanished. There was even speculation in the newspapers that he may have left the country for some reason. These were sad days. Irene was a tremendous help. We were kind-of semi engaged at the time. Her mother said she had to date other guys while I was away, but when I was in town, Irene and I spent all available time together.


The hunter was mad. How could he become separated from his friends so easily was beyond him. Here it was, the day before Halloween and he was lost in the woods. He’d never hear the end of this one. He stopped and fired 3 more shots and listened. Just the sound of the wind, nothing more. What made it really bad was the growth and vegetation here on the mountain. It was so thick here that travel was slow at best. Finally, weary from walking, he sat down for a short rest. As he sat there he tried to picture the terrain in his mind. He was sure he was on the right course to get out, but why was the undergrowth getting thicker? Looking off to his left he thought he saw something. Moving to a better position, he saw what looked like a wing from a plane. Moving closer, he saw that it really was a wing. It looked like the plane had plunged into the growth of trees, snapping several off and coming to rest atop the toppled trees. A large limb had fallen across the top of the plane, leaving the plane positioned in such a way that it sat there gently rocking from the motion of the breeze. The wreck looked old. The lost hunter thought he’d climb up and look it over and see what might be inside. “Strange the plane rocking in the wind like that, ” he thought. The plane’s back was broken, the fuselage looked bent. Climbing up to the cockpit, he looked inside and froze. Adrenaline shot into his veins and his face lost color. There were 2 skeletons in the plane. After having momentarily froze, he finally was able to move. He scrambled down and raced away, the thick vegetation tearing at his clothes and slowing his pace. As the vegetation thinned he ran and ran, stumbling in his haste. Suddenly he broke into a clearing and saw his friends. Almost incoherent, he tried to tell them what had happened. When they finally understood, they wanted to be shown where. He refused and started running for the horses. His friends took their bearings and estimated the location of the plane. Then they got their horses and followed their friend to where the trucks and horse trailers were parked, and prepared to return to town to report what their friend had seen.


She stood there humming to herself. Two months had passed since his ship had left for the Far East. He was aboard the U.S.S. Wadell, (DDG-24), a Guided Missile Destroyer. The phone rang and she lifted the receiver. “Hello?” “Hello, Mrs. Halsey?” the voice said. “Yes.” “This is the St George, Utah, Sheriff’s Office Calling. A plane has been found that we believe was your husbands fathers.” This started a chain of events that led to another Red Cross telegram to me (Larry). It was November 2, 1976. I was in Sidney, Australia this time. I went on emergency leave again, but there was a 2 day delay. The plane I was to leave on was an Air Force C-141, but we were delayed with electronic difficulties and had to wait for a part to arrive from the Philippines. In the mean time, Irene and my two sisters, Gloria and Diane, went to St. George to claim the body that had by now been positively identified as my fathers. Irene dove our 1972 Chevrolet Kingswood Station Wagon. Not having much money between them, the three women obtained permission, and permits, to transport the body themselves. They had the shipping casket loaded into the back of the station wagon and headed North with dad. They said they felt a special peace and joy as they traveled North and sang many songs along the way. When they arrived in Logan, Utah, they parked over night at Irene’s grandmother’s house. The next morning they had car trouble so they took the wagon to the local Chevy dealer. The repair people looked at the load in the back with questioning looks in their eyes. Irene and Diane left Utah (Gloria lived near Logan) through Idaho, Oregon, and into Washington. As they traveled, they still felt that peace. Something special was happening. After 13 years, dad was finally going to rest, and his last trip was with them. Tears of love and happiness sparkled in their eyes, as like pioneer women of old, they took the family patriarch to his early resting place. I arrived in Washington right after they did. Dad’s funeral service was held in Washougal, Washington, and he was buried in the neighboring town of Camas. TV reporters were there from Salt Lake City following the story. I wore my uniform and the local American Legion Drill Team provided a firing squad, for the graveside service salute. As the grave was dedicated by Bishop Mason Smith, I looked at the coffin and was astonished to see it quiver. I thought I was seeing things. Maybe it was the wind. Almost like a voice inside, I felt, “All is well.”  The year was 1963, and when the silence fell for Wallace C. Halsey, it was complete.


The above story was put together from eye witness accounts, news clips and speculation. One strange thing I did not mention in the story, is that the rescue team reported that dads watch was running when they went to retrieve the body. It was a waterproof, self winding watch, and the plane rocked and bounced enough that sometimes it would start ticking. The Federal Aviation Administration investigation revealed that for some reason, the planes power had been secured just prior to impact. Possibly done in hopes it might avert a fire during the crash. It was speculated that one of the reasons the plane did to burn was because it never touched the ground, and hot engine parts never came into contact with the spilled fuel. Dad was traveling with his friend, the manager of the Seal Beach Airport, in Southern California.  Larry Burgess Halsey.

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