BATTLE CREEK, MICH. - Seventy-one years after he died, funeral services will be held Saturday in Battle Creek for a World War II flyer.
First Lt. Frederick W. Langhorst, 24, of Yonkers, N.Y. was co-pilot of a C-109 aircraft that was carrying a load of about 2,900 gallons of aviation fuel when it crashed July 17, 1945, in the Himalaya Mountains on a flight from Jorhat, India, to Hsinching, China.
On Saturday Langhorst's daughter, Gail Hladky, 73, of Ceresco, will take the cremated remains of her father with her after an 11 a.m. funeral at Baxter Funeral Home in Battle Creek.
"I am going to keep his ashes," she said Friday. "Right now I want him with me."
Hladky was 22 months old when her father's plane crashed. Family members, including her mother and his parents, always wanted answers about what happened.
"They all wanted to know what and where and why, because that has to do with the where," she said. "I wanted to know more about him because I never met him, so to speak."
Hladky and her husband Harold first learned that her father's plane might be found in 2007 after a Prescott, Ariz., businessman, Clayton Kuhles, discovered aircraft wreckage near the village of Bismarknagar, India, in a deep ravine at high altitude. Kuhles had searched for years for wreckage of aircraft lost in the war and had located at least a dozen crash sites.
He found some bone fragments in the wreckage and notified the United States military. It sent in its own team and added that investigation to many others.
The Hladkys learned over the internet in 2009 that the crash site might have been discovered, just as they were preparing for the funeral of her mother, the widow of Lt. Langhorst.
Confirmation of the remains through DNA was not made until last fall. Earlier this month, Langhorst was returned with military honors to Grand Rapids and then to Battle Creek for the funeral.
The couple have researched the history of her father's flight and others during the war.
Harold Hladky said the wreckage was scattered over 600 feet.The plane was a B-24 bomber that was fitted for cargo and frequently crashed. More than 600 planes crashed and 1,000 airmen died among the 15,000-foot mountains known as the Hump.
They flew in bad weather and without communication for more than 300 miles of the trip. Below them was jungle and hills. The plane was 40 to 50 miles off course when it crashed.
According to log books the couple has seen, the last flight for Langhorst was his only flight in a C-109.
An extensive search was conducted after the crash but a year later the crew of four was declared dead and their remains considered non-recoverable.
Kuhles identified the plane that carried Langhorst through a serial number found on a panel in the plane's nose cone. Official search operations were delayed by weather.
Hladky said her family never stopped talking about her missing father, even after her mother remarried in 1950. Her grandmother didn't give up hope Langhorst was alive until the 1970s.
"He was always a part of my life," Hladky said. "It was never a taboo subject. We had stuff around the house. He had sent me a little pair of wings on my first birthday card and I wore those occasionally."
Hladky said she has pictures of her mother and father on their wedding day. "You could not have seen anyone happier," she said. The couple met at a USO dance.
She has heard the stories about pets he had like snapping turtles and a pet alligator he took to school and kept until it was four feet long.
"He was nine when he pointed up and said 'I am going to be a pilot,' and he never changed his mind," she said.
Gail Hladky said she remains saddened by the number of other missing service members.
The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency said missing military members total 82,647 people, including 73,117 members from World War II; 7,780 from Korean War; 1,618 from Vietnam and 132 from the Cold War, Iraq and other conflicts.
For Hladky, the the funeral won't be a final chapter.
"I am taking him home, so it is like a continuance. He has been gone all this time and now he is home. He is with me."
She and her husband talked about what to do with the remains, because his parents are buried in New Jersey, Harold Hladky is from Kansas and the couple now live near Battle Creek. For now he won't be buried anywhere.
"I decided I wanted him to be with me for a while."
Battle Creek Enquirer