A 1944 Army plane crash left James Wilson, a 19-year-old crew member who was asleep in the back, stranded and severely injured. He surely would have died with the rest of the passengers if it wasn’t for the courage of two high school Civil Air Patrol members who were pulled out of class to search the wreckage.
The crash occurred on Camel’s Hump, the odd-shaped mountain featured on Vermont’s commemorative quarter. Conditions were freezing and brutal but Peter Mason and Rolland Lafayette were determined to rescue any who had survived.
“We got there about sundown. We looked and saw the wreckage. We were mulling around wondering what to do,” Mason, now 86, of Pasadena, California, said. “Jimmy Wilson gave a call, which was a wonderful thing because he was very badly hurt and couldn’t help himself,”
The young cadets reportedly used parachutes and other items from the planes wreckage to keep James Wilson warm until they could get him down the mountain.Wilson ended up losing both hands and both feet from the accident, but went on to become a successful Denver lawyer until he died in 2000 at the age of 75.
The ceremony provided an opportunity for the rescuers to connect with James Wilson’s two children, Polly and Jeff.
Mason and Rolland were honored and were presented with the state police’s Search and Rescue award during the ceremony. A commendation was read before the awards were presented that stated,
“None of the cadets were dressed or equipped to spend the night on the mountain, let alone care for a severely injured airman, yet they did the best they could and it proved to be enough to save Wilson.”
The children of James Wilson remain grateful for the efforts of Mason and Lafayette.
“There’s no question, Jim dies if they don’t find him. He would not have made it another night,” said Polly Wilson’s husband, Randy.
“It’s an amazing story,” he said. “My projection is that he was living his life for the other nine guys.”
Polly Wilson carries around one sentiment, and surely will for the rest of her life.
“We wouldn’t be here…”, she said.
What a courageous story.
Image via Wikimedia Commons