MONTPELIER, Vt. — The two remaining rescuers of a man stranded by the 1944 crash of an Army bomber on a Vermont mountain reconnected Friday with the children of the man whose life they saved.
Peter Mason and Rolland Lafayette were high school students and members of the Civil Air Patrol when they were pulled out of class to look for the wreckage of a B-24 bomber that had crashed on Camels Hump.
It was 41 hours before the first rescuers arrived. It was mid-October and there was snow just below the summit of the 4,083-foot mountain. James Wilson, then a 19-year-crew member, had been sleeping in the back of the plane when it clipped the mountain during a routine night training mission. He was the only survivor of the 10-man crew.
“Jimmy Wilson gave a call, which was a wonderful thing because he was very badly hurt and couldn’t help himself,” said Mason, now 86, of Pasadena, California, a retired scientist.
It was Mason’s father, the wing commander of the Vermont Civil Air Patrol, who pulled five cadets out of Waterbury High School to help in the search. The rescuers used parachutes and other items they pulled from the plane to keep Wilson warm. They melted snow with their hands to give him something to drink, according to a history of the rescue written by Brian Lindner of Waterbury, who has researched the crash extensively.
For their work to save Wilson, Mason and Lafayette were presented with the state police’s search and rescue award during the organization’s annual promotion and award ceremony held in the Vermont House chamber.
“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,” said the commendation that was read before Mason and Lafayette were presented the award.
The ceremony was an opportunity for the rescuers to catch up with Wilson’s two children, Polly and Jeff.
Wilson, who grew up in Florida, lost both hands and feet after the crash. He hadn’t finished high school before joining the Army, but he went on to become a lawyer in Denver where he lived and worked until he died in 2000 at 75, said Polly Wilson.