After Pearl Harbor, we began a phase in history that saw a massive buildup and moving of allied aircraft into Europe. The flights were in stages; Greenland was one of the refueling stops.
This second of many flights to come would become known as “The Lost Squadron”.
Two Boeing B-17s and two squads of P-38s, the fastest aircraft in the world at that time, were flying over Greenland when a heavy blanket of clouds formed, and temperatures dropped to -10 degrees. The pilots’ feet were so cold they barely felt the rudder pedals.
With ice forming on the wings and the P-38s struggling to maintain contact with the B-17s and running low on fuel, they had to land.
The first P-38 landed on an icecap with wheels down. The front landing gear buckled and crashed through the ice and the plane flipped over. The pilot was safe.
The next P-38 landed with landing gear up and made a smooth stop. All other planes landed one at a time. It was the largest forced landing in Air Force history, even until today.
After three days on the ice, two C-42 transport planes dropped supplies, and much later the Coast Guard Cutter Northland arrived to take the crew back to the U.S.
All aircraft on the icecap were found, except one P-38.
In 1947, after I reenlisted in the Army Air Corps at Langley Field, Va., in the 9th Air Force Air Sea Rescue Service as a crew chief on an L-5 aircraft, I was one of the first of hundreds of men who would look for the last P-38 in the next 50 years.
The P-38 was found in 1992 in a glacier 268 feet inside the ice. The plane was brought back to Kentucky, restored, and put in a museum, and named “Glacier Girl”.
I was told they have a record of the hundreds of men who looked for the plane, and my name was near the top of the first page.
When the museum closed, a pilot bought the plane and it is now in Texas, appearing in air shows.
While training as a B-17 crewmember in early 1946, I would hear the older guys talking about all this and I thought they were kidding me. All this was classified for years.
I found out much later that the rescue mission I went on in Greenland was actually to search for “Glacier Girl”.
I was told after all this was declassified that German U-boats were in the area trying to find out what was happening, and sent a message back to Germany that they thought the U.S. had a secret weapon.
In December, 1947, I was with two rescue crews that went to Greenland for three days. We found nothing, and I’ve never been that cold in my life.
The U.S. did not want the rest of the world to know about the Lost Squadron, and it was a secret for years.
At least one of the crewmembers that I trained with in March 1946 at Scott Field, Ill., was with the Lost Squadron in 1942 in Greenland.
Contributing writer Everett Vanover lives in Fairfield, Calif.