SALISBURY — The Dyer family plot in the West Salisbury Cemetery hosts a simple headstone in memory of Bobby Dyer, the prodigal son who left small-town life and his own budding motorcycle business more than six decades ago to serve his country during the Korean War.
That headstone has, to date, served as but a symbolic marker for Bobby, who with 51 others lost his life in a military plane crash on a remote Alaskan glacier during a ferocious storm on Nov. 22, 1952. Their remains had been selfishly vaulted and guarded by layers of snow and ice.
But a hospitable thaw in the Alaskan landscape and a fortuitous sighting from eyes above recently uncovered the frigid resting place of Bobby Dyer and the other passengers who perished on that fateful day almost 62 years ago. So Salisbury residents on Aug. 15 will finally be able to welcome Bobby home and lay him to rest under a gravestone with its purpose finally fulfilled.
Carroll Robert “Bobby” Dyer was born on May 24, 1930. He and his dad ran Dyer’s Motorcycle Shop, dealing in Indian brand bikes, in what is now the Salisbury Post Office building. The family, which included Bobby’s sisters, June and Jean, lived in a home behind the shop.
When Bobby’s dad, Carroll Francis Dyer, died in a motorcycle crash in 1945, Bobby took over the small enterprise at the tender age of 15.
“He did quite a business there,” recalled former Middlebury resident Walt Sears, one of Bobby’s friends. “He was a great lad. We both had motorcycles.”
The young Dyer was a skilled mechanic and an adept motorcycle rider, who was also endowed with a keen sense of humor, recalled Nick Cassarino, a Weybridge resident and another one of Bobby’s old pals.
Cassarino recalled visiting Bobby at his shop one Sunday morning during the late 1940s. Another motorcyclist had come in wanting Bobby to check how fast his bike would go. Bobby left on the guy’s bike to take what they all thought would be a high-velocity run along a Route 7 south straightaway to hit a top speed that would be recorded by a red arrow on the Indian’s speedometer.
Bobby returned from his ride with the bike’s speedometer arrow pointing to a jaw dropping speed that most other guys in the shop knew was impossible. But the customer bought the reading — even though Dyer had used his trusty screwdriver to manipulate the speedometer arrow.
Bobby’s younger sister June lived at Walt Sears’ house during the school year so that she could attend Middlebury High School. As a result, Bobby was around the Sears house quite a bit.
“I’d do something and my mom would give me holy hell; Bobby would do the same thing and it she thought it was quite all right,” Sears said with a chuckle.
Dyer enjoyed managing his motorcycle shop, but felt the tug of military service as the Korean War raged. So a year or two out of high school, Bobby enlisted in the United States Air Force.
“When he went into the service, I left my motorcycle at his shop for him to sell,” Cassarino said.
Alas, Bobby Dyer would never have a chance to sell that motorcycle, as Dyer’s first military mission would be his last, with his name added to a heart-wrenching roll call of U.S. service men and women lost in the maw of nature’s elements while in service to their country.
THE AIRPLANE CRASH
Airman 1st Class Dyer, age 22, was one of 11 crewmen and 41 passengers on board a C-124 Globemaster aircraft that left McChord Air Force Base in Washington state on Nov. 22, 1952, bound for Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, Alaska.
The Globemaster flew out during what military officials believed was a break in some nasty Alaskan weather. But the elements closed in on the aircraft, prompting a distress call received by the pilot of a commercial airliner in the vicinity. The pilot, according to official accounts of the incident, made out one line from the Globemaster pilot’s transmission: “As long as we have to land, we might as well land here.”
When the Globemaster failed to arrive at Elmendorf as scheduled, military officials organized a search. But bad weather delayed that search for three days. On Nov. 28, 1952, Terris Moore of the Fairbanks Civil Air Patrol and Lt. Thomas Sullivan from the 10th Air Rescue Squadron spotted a tail section of the C-124 sticking out of the snow around 8,100 feet from the summit of Mount Gannett.
“Adverse weather conditions precluded immediate recovery attempts,” reads a press release issued last month by the U.S. Department of Defense. “In late November and early December 1952, search parties were unable to locate and recover any of the service members.”
The crash debris and human remains were by that point enveloped in a glacier.
But on June 9, 2012, an Alaska National Guard UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter crew spotted aircraft wreckage and debris while conducting a training mission over the Colony Glacier, immediately west of Mount Gannett — roughly 12 miles from the original crash site.
Three days later, another helicopter team landed at the site to photograph the area and found artifacts at the site linked to the wreckage of the C-124 Globemaster. Later that month, the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command and Joint Task Force team conducted a recovery operation at the site and recommended it to be monitored for possible future recovery operations.
DoD scientists from the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory subsequently used forensic tools and circumstantial evidence to identify 17 service members — including Bobby Dyer. The remaining personnel have yet to be recovered and the crash site will continue to be monitored for future possible recovery, according to DoD officials.
BRINGING BOBBY HOME
June (Dyer) Nadeau learned of the recovery of her brother’s remains this summer.
“I’m relieved; it gives us a sense of closure,” she said on Tuesday from her camp in Bridport. “(Bobby) and I were very close, so I am glad I will have him nearby.”
Bobby was 13 months older than June. News of the crash shook the family back in 1952. She takes small solace in the fact that his death was probably swift.
“I still miss him,” June Nadeau said. “He was a wonderful brother who looked out for his baby sister all the time.”
June Nadeau, her older sister Jean Baehr, Sears and Cassarino, now all in their 80s, will be at Bobby Dyer’s belated funeral service on Aug. 15 at 11 a.m. So will various town leaders and U.S. military officials, who will give Bobby the homecoming and sendoff he so richly deserves after having been lost, literally and metaphorically, after more than six decades.
Tom Scanlon is a Salisbury selectman and adjutant of American Legion Post 27 in Middlebury.
“The remains of any service member should be given the respect and handled with the utmost dignity,” he said. “As a nation and as a community we should never forget those that have served and died for this great nation. After many decades, Bobby Dyer is coming home to Salisbury where he will rest for an eternity. He gave his all and should be appropriately remembered for his supreme sacrifice.”
Salisbury Selectwoman and town cemetery committee member Martha Sullivan has helped coordinate Dyer’s impending funeral services with federal military officials.
“So many of us are happy, after all these years, that this is coming to a resolution,” Sullivan said. “We are happy our airman is coming home to stay.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]
FORMER MIDDLEBURY RESIDENT Walt Sears (standing) and the late Carroll “Bobby” Dyer (in Air Force uniform, second from right) visit with a friend recovering from a motorcycle accident in this undated photo circa 1950. Sears is among those planning to attend an Aug. 15 ceremony at the West Salisbury Cemetery during which Dyer’s remains — recently located at a military airplane crash site in Alaska — will finally be interred almost 62 years after the tragic accident.
Photo courtesy of Walt Sears