Leaves rustle in the wind along a rolling slope off Triplett Boulevard.
The quiet bluff, which overlooks Akron Fulton International Airport and the Akron Airdock to the east, bears no noticeable scars of the trauma it once endured.
There is no memorial to the deadliest air crash in Summit County. It’s almost as if it never happened.
But 70 years ago, a gentle hill exploded into a hellish inferno that haunted witnesses for the rest of their lives.
Seven young pilots were killed Oct. 3, 1942, when a twin-engine bomber crashed shortly after takeoff on a routine training mission during World War II. Two of the aviators were local men, whose loved ones watched in horror as the tragedy unfolded.
At least they got to say goodbye.
The Martin B-26B Marauder arrived at Akron Municipal Airport that Saturday afternoon from Baer Field in Fort Wayne, Ind. While the bomb-less plane refueled for the return flight to Indiana, the 442nd Bomber Squadron crew decided to get some chow during the 90-minute delay.
Army Air Corps 1st Lt. Claude R. Jackson, 22, of Akron, hoped to surprise his father by dropping in unannounced at the family home at 839 Ardmore Ave., a couple of doors down from the residence of Dr. Bob Smith, co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous.
However, Akron Fire Capt. R. Lawson Jackson turned the tables on his son during the happy reunion.
“Dad had some steaks all in the icebox ready for him when he’d come home next,” sister Joyce Jackson, 18, told the Beacon Journal in 1942. “He said he had a feeling he’d visit us again this weekend.”
Claude Jackson was a Buchtel High School graduate who attended the University of Akron for two years before joining the military. As a boy, he built model airplanes. Now he was flying real ones.
“Either I will come back in one piece or not at all,” the pilot often told his family.
He brought home three uniformed buddies for supper that afternoon: 2nd Lt. William S. Holm, 26, of Minneapolis; 2nd Lt. Thomas F. Schofield, 25, of Providence, R.I.; and 2nd Lt. Albert L. Spickers, 25, of Midland Park, N.J.
After enjoying a home-cooked meal and good-natured banter, the pilots returned to Akron Municipal Airport for the flight back.
Also boarding the bomber were Staff Sgt. James T. Golby, 22, of Mauch Chunk, Pa.; Sgt. John T. McDonald, 20, of New York City; and Lt. Ralph C. Shrigley, 23, of Rootstown.
Shrigley, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Ralph J. Shrigley, was a Rootstown High School graduate who attended Kent State University for three years before being drafted. He wasn’t a member of the bomber’s crew, but Jackson invited him to Akron so he could visit his folks.
“He always said he wanted to get overseas and to bomb Hitler,” Shrigley’s father said.
Jackson sat in the cockpit and prepared for takeoff while his father and sister watched from the tarmac.
“We saw Claude reach out a hand and wave goodbye,” Joyce Jackson recalled. “All of them waved.”
After several sputtering attempts, the engines roared to life and the bomber began to roll. The plane picked up speed as it traveled west on the runway about 6:30 p.m.
Akron bystander Roy Walker knew something was wrong almost immediately.
“I am in the habit of watching the transports take off and I noticed how slow this one was in getting off the ground,” he told the Beacon Journal.
“It went clear to the end of the runway and I remarked to a man next to me, ‘My God, if he doesn’t lift soon, he will hit that hill.’ I had hardly got the words out of my mouth when I heard the engines on the plane cut off.”
The 24,000-pound bomber began to turn upside-down while hurtling toward the grassy slope below the Guggenheim Airship Institute and Thomastown Elementary School.
Witness Henry Beltz, a police officer at Goodyear Aircraft, said the Marauder wasn’t far off the ground when its right motor stalled.
“Then the wing dipped and the plane turned over on its back,” he said. “It hit the ground on its back and then you could see the flames shoot up.”
Onlookers gasped in horror as the impact shook the earth. The fuel tank ruptured and exploded, creating a fireball that incinerated the underbrush.
Goodyear and airport workers rushed to the wreckage in a desperate attempt to save the crew. Searing flames silhouetted the rescuers while the sun dipped beneath the horizon.
“I knew there was a door at the rear in the bottom and I kept yelling to someone to try to open it for I couldn’t yank it open alone,” Pittsburgh visitor Dave McAninch recalled. “Instead, they kept hacking at the bulkheads with axes. They couldn’t break those open. It was four or five minutes before they finally heard me and got the door open.”
All attempts were futile. The aviators could not be saved from the raging fire.
Joyce Jackson and her father ran toward the wreckage, but were held back by police. The elder Jackson, a fire captain, was powerless to stop the worst blaze he had ever encountered.
“Up there in the darkness, we ran into Mr. Shrigley,” Joyce Jackson told a reporter. “He said, ‘My son was on that plane, too.’ ”
U.S. troops cordoned off the scene. More than 100 men guarded the charred debris overnight, refusing to allow curious onlookers to take photos because of wartime secrecy.
Crews began the grim recovery of remains. Jackson’s family identified his body by a ring on his finger. Schofield was identified by a wristwatch that stopped at 6:32 p.m.
The next day, military aides loaded the wreckage onto a truck bound for Dayton’s Wright Field, where investigators would search for the cause of the deadly crash.
Military escorts flew to Akron for two funerals. Jackson was buried at Glendale Cemetery, and Shrigley was buried at Rootstown Cemetery.
The remains of the other five pilots were flown to their hometowns for military burials. Three of the men left behind young widows.
Nature eventually reclaimed the site where the Akron disaster occurred. Grass, underbrush and trees took over the scorched hillside until there was no trace of a crash.
According to military historian Victor C. Tannehill, technicians determined that a faulty rubber seal in the impeller shaft was to blame for the deadly crash. When overheated, the seal shrank and allowed high-octane gasoline to pass, causing the engine to stall.
The U.S. military ordered all B-26 mechanics to replace the rubber seals with heat-resistant nylon. Through swift action, no similar crash was reported.
That is the silver lining to the darkest of clouds.
In an ironic twist, Akron’s terrible disaster helped save the lives of countless other aviators during World War II.
Beacon Journal copy editor Mark J. Price is the author of The Rest Is History: True Tales From Akron’s Vibrant Past, a book from the University of Akron Press. He can be reached at 330-996-3850 or firstname.lastname@example.org.