High up in the Big Horn Mountains, about 23 miles from Buffalo, Wyoming, rest the remains of a B-17F-55-DL Flying Fortress, serial number 42-3399, nicknamed “Scharazad.” The highest peak in the Big Horn Range is Cloud Peak, at an elevation of 12,840 feet. After the crash of the bomber, the next peak over, the one on which the bomber rests was renamed Bomber Mountain. The plane is still there today, but the bodies of the crew, William R Ronaghan (pilot), Anthony J Tilotta (co-pilot), Leonard H Phillips (navigator), Charles H Suppes (bombardier), James A Hinds (aircraft engineer), Ferguson T Bell Jr (radio operator), Lee ‘Vaughn’ Miller (assistant aircraft engineer), Charles E Newburn Jr (assistant radio operator), Jake F Penick (aircraft gunner), Lewis M Shepard (assistant aircraft gunner), were recovered from the crash site and given a proper burial.
On June 28, 1943, the B-17F “Scharazad” left Pendleton, Oregon to join a bomber group headed to Europe during World War II. Around midnight, Captain Ronaghan radioed that their position was near Powder River, Wyoming. That was the last transmission, and they were never heard from again. The Army launched multiple search campaigns to find the missing plane among the mountains, but modern search aids like GPS were not available until the 1960s, and planes can be difficult to find in mountainous terrain anyway, due to trees and grasses blending with the green tones of the plane.
It would take two long years for the families of these fallen men to have closure, and it came by chance, really. On August 12, 1945, two cowboys spotted the shiny aluminum from the wreckage and discovered all ten crew members deceased. For two years the paint color had allowed the plane to be hidden on the mountain, but as time, and the elements, went on, the paint wore off, and the shining aluminum allowed the plane to be located. The mountain was named “Bomber Mountain” in their memory. I can’t imagine the pain of loss the families of the crew must have felt knowing that their loved one had died, but to have no real idea what happened for two long years…must have been very hard to bear. Knowing where it all happened, while not removing the pain, at least brings peace.