Medallion Honors Marines
Killed in Mt. Rainier Crash
In December of 1946, a C-46 transport plane carrying 32 Marines crashed into the South Tahoma Glacier high up on Mount Rainer’s southern slope, killing all those on board. The Marines, mostly fresh-faced young men straight out of boot camp at Camp Pendleton, were traveling from San Diego to Seattle to await reassignment when the tragic accident occurred.
Because these men weren’t lost in combat or during a war, should their sacrifice be regarded as any less important or their service any less heroic?
Of course, the answer to that question is no.
Honoring those warriors lost in combat is something Americans take very seriously. Every Veterans Day and Memorial Day, government officials, military personnel, and grateful civilians gather together in communities across the country in solemn remembrance of these courageous men and women.
But what about the men and women in uniform who, because of an accident of history or some other circumstance beyond their control, never serve in a combat zone or fight on the front lines in a war?
Certainly, they are just as deserving of the respect and admiration accorded to their brethren lost on the battlefield.
In that spirit, Northwest Territorial Mint, America’s foremost manufacturer of custom coins for the U.S. Military, recently created a commemorative medallion to mark the 60th anniversary of the tragic death of 32 U.S. Marines on Mount Rainier.
Pushed off course by driving snow, thick fog, and winds gusting up to 70 miles per hour, their plane slammed into Rainier’s wind-swept slopes, killing all 32 men on board.
Though search parties were able to locate the wreckage the following day and confirm the death of the passengers, treacherous weather conditions prevented recovery of the bodies for burial. Never forgotten, the 32 Marines lost on Mount Rainier in 1946 have been honored in an annual ceremony sponsored by a local chapter of the Marine Corps League.
At this year’s event, held August 26 at Veterans Memorial Park in Enumclaw, Washington, family members of those who died were presented with the special medallions created by Northwest Territorial Mint to honor the occasion.
These exceptionally detailed antique bronze medallions feature the distinctive globe and anchor emblem of the U.S. Marine Corps front and center on the obverse (heads) side. A rendering of Mount Rainier occupies the background of the image, her steep slopes illuminated by an arc of 32 stars, each representing one of the men who died in the crash.
Engraved on the reverse is a moving epitaph honoring these men, which reads in part: “The flight has ended. They are now in Thy keeping.”
The memorial service was attended by prominent political figures and high-ranking U.S. Military commanders, including Major Gen. Michael Lehnert, Commanding General of Marine Corps Installations West, who delivered the keynote address to the crowd gathered near the stone monument honoring the 32 men.
The creation of the monument at Veterans Memorial Park in Enumclaw is one of a number of ways in which the members of the Mount Rainier Marine Corps League (Detachment 989) have sought to show respect for the men who died.
Additionally, in an attempt to have these Marines and their families honored at the national level, they have participated in an ongoing effort to prompt the federal government to issue a medal to the next of kin of anyone accidentally killed while on active-duty.
So far, the campaign to have the official medal created has been unsuccessful. But, for the time being, the members of the Mount Rainier Marine Corps League take heart from the fact that a medallion commemorating the tragedy is now in the hands of family members and close friends who remember their loved ones with fondness and an abiding sense of pride.