Springtime Tears: Remembering the Oregon Air National Guard's first postwar losses

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Terrence G. Popravak, Jr., USAF (Retired) and Chief Master Sgt. Gene Thomas, Oregon Air National Guard (Retired),
  • 142nd Fighter Wing History Office
It was two weeks before Memorial Day, 1948, when the searchers found them. More than a month had passed in the spring of 1948 since three Oregon Air National Guard Airmen had gone missing in one of the 142nd Fighter Group's Douglas A-26 Invader light bombers. Capt. Alexander J. McCorkel, 26, Master Sgt. John W. Shaylor, 30, and Private First Class Jack T. Tofte, 18, were returning to Portland Air Base, Portland, Ore., from McChord Air Force Base, Wash., in an A-26B aircraft on Friday, April 9, 1948.

"They went up (McChord A.F.B.) to get aircraft parts," remembers Chief Master Sergeant Jack Klein, Oregon Air National Guard (Ret.), a member of the 142nd Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron at the time. The last communications received with the aircraft to the Portland Air Base was at 8:15 pm. (2015 hours), roughly 11 miles north of Portland, at 11,000 feet. The aircraft wasabout to let down through the weather to 5,000 feet and expected to arrive at the base 14 minutes later. But the crew aboard the A-26 never arrived.

In the days that followed, Air National Guard aircraft flew hundreds of hours searching for the missing aircraft; Klein was on one of the early search missions. The day after the A-26 went missing; he was an aerial observer aboard an Oregon Air National Guard Douglas C-47 transport.

"We flew up the Columbia River, east to The Dalles, Ore., searching the south bank, then back along the north shore, looking for the downed aircraft," but to no avail, remembers Klein.
Local residents who heard the sound of an aircraft that day helped refine the search area; Chief Klein went out with three other Air National Guardsmen on a ground search party in a 3/4 ton weapons carrier truck, but only "poked around in the rain" on a road along the Kalama River in Washington. At one point the search was called off, proving fruitless.

But on May 15, 1948, Master Sgt. John Shaylor's body was found a few hundred yards from the Weyerhauser Timber Company's logging railroad line near Baird Mountain, some 25 miles east of Castle Rock, Wash. It lay near his partially-opened parachute; he apparently bailed out and successfully cleared the A-26, but was too close to the ground for his parachute to fully open.

With this discovery, searchers renewed their efforts, and the very next day, Paul Sanger, manager of the Kelso, Washington Airport, spotted the wreckage of the bomber on the south side of Baird Mountain, while flying his Aeronca aircraft as part of the search effort. Searchers on the ground soon confirmed the loss of the other two Oregon Air National Guardcrewmembers aboard the demolished A-26 airplane.

Capt. McCorkel, a World War II veteran, was remembered as "Very professional, a good leader, and highly thought of as the base detachment commander," said Col. John Barden, Oregon Air National Guard (Ret.). Serving as an administrative clerk in 1948, Barden worked in the Oregon Air National Guard Headquarters at the time. Capt. McCorkel was the Base Detachment Commander for the full-time Oregon Air National Guard employees at the base, the "Caretakers," known as Air Technicians today. The Caretaker unit started out with 18 people in 1947, according to Col. Barden.

"What a fine man, an excellent pilot," said Klein about Capt. McCorkel.

Master Sgt. John "Jack" Shaylor was an original member of the Oregon National Guard's original aviation unit, the 123rd Observation Squadron, formed in April of 1941. He stayed with the squadron as an aircraft mechanic and crew chief throughoutthe unit's World War II service, including his overseas assignment in China.

T/Sgt Fred Parish, another founding member of the 123rd, recollects that Shaylor, "always seemed to be upbeat and had a good sense of humor."

Col. Barden recalls Master Sgt. Shaylor, whom he described as Capt. McCorkel's right-hand man, as a "likeable guy."Chief Klein remembers Shaylor as probably the "senior flight engineer on the base, and a wonderful mechanic."

Remembering Private First Class Tofte, Barden said he was,"a very eager young recruit. He was a service-type man, liked the military, and loved airplanes."

The sudden loss of these three Oregon Air Guardsmen was a "tremendous blow, totally unexpected," said Barden.

"We were very sad," Klein recalls. This unfortunate event was followed shortly afterward by the catastrophic flooding of Portland Air Base by the Columbia River; these twin tragedies had a significant impact on the Oregon Air National Guard. But the pioneering spirit of the early Oregon Air Guardsmen enabled them to overcome these dual setbacks, continue on with the mission, and develop the organization into the first-class operation it remains today.

On this Memorial Day, we honor the service and sacrifice of all the servicemen and women of our armed forces. On this day, weremember these three Oregon Air National Guardsmen aboard the A-26 and other Citizen Airmen of Oregon, who have been lost in the line of duty.