A memorial service honoring four North Dakota Air National Guardsmen was reported on this day in 1970. The memorial came days after the four missing men were declared dead by the Alaska Air Command at the Elmendorf Air Force Base near Anchorage, Alaska. The guardsmen, Eddie Stewart, Ingvald Nelson, Donald Flesland, and Floyd Broadland, had been missing since August 27, when they had disappeared while on a mid-afternoon flight from Anchorage to the King Salmon Air Force Station, a flight of only two-hundred and fifty air miles. The Elmendorf Air Force Base near Anchorage served as a temporary base for the North Dakota Air Guard “during a two week training deployment” at this time.
The four men left the Elmendorf Air Force Base on August 27, 1969; this was the last time that anyone saw either the men or the C-54 four-engine transport plane that they flew. Flying the C-54 to the King Salmon Air Force Station near Lake Iliamna that day was part of a routine training exercise for the North Dakota Air National Guard. All four of the guardsmen had extensive military training and experience in their respective fields, so when word reached Anchorage that the men had not reached their destination that day, the Alaska Air Command commenced an intensive search of the area that was to last eight weeks and include air-sea rescue units from California, Michigan, Oregon, Hawaii, and Japan. After finding no evidence of either the plane or the men after four and a half months, the Alaska Air Command was compelled to change the status of the guardsmen from ‘Missing in Action’ to ‘Declared Dead’. The command was quick to point out that “the discovery of any evidence pertaining to the aircraft...or the men, [would] reopen the formal search.
The families of the men, all of whom served within the 119th Fighter Group, elected to hold a joint memorial service in Fargo. Chaplain Major David Knecht of Bismarck presided over the service, held at Fargo’s First Lutheran Church. Despite twenty below temperatures, nearly seven-hundred and fifty people, including North Dakota Governor William Guy, attended the service to pay their respects to the pilots. Major Lowell Lundberg of Fargo concluded the eulogy by saying, “These men and our comrades gave their lives in aerial flight over Alaska...while serving their state and their country. May God perserve their memories.”
The Fargo Forum. January 13, 1970: p.1-2.
The Fargo Forum. January 18, 1970: p. A-6.
--Jayme L. Job