MORNING READ: Ron Grubbs returns to his dad's 1950 plane crash to learn what happened

Discussion in 'Post-War' started by syscom3, Jul 7, 2009.

  1. syscom3

    syscom3 Pacific Historian

    Jun 4, 2005
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    Thursday, July 2, 2009

    The Orange County Register

    'Dad, I'm standing where you died'
    MORNING READ: Ron Grubbs returns to his dad's 1950 plane crash to learn what happened
    The Orange County Register
    Comments 5| Recommend 1

    It was a funeral, so naturally there was talk of death.

    Someone asked Rob Grubbs how his father died.

    "Military accident," said Grubbs, 62, of St. Louis. "West Coast, during the Korean War."



    The man suddenly perked up, as if he knew something: "Where was he flying out of?"

    "El Toro."

    What Grubbs heard next made his jaw drop. It had been 59 years since his father's military plane crashed into the Santa Ana Mountains.

    Ron was only 3 at the time, but he still remembers his family moving into the old El Toro Marine base that summer of 1950. Still remembers dad taking him to Laguna Beach to splash in the waves and to the El Toro airfield to watch planes land.

    Then one day, Dad was gone – forever.

    "I worshipped a man who was a memory," he says. "A man who was a picture on the wall and lot of stories. He's someone I always missed."

    Grubbs' wife Aileen used to tell Ron he was tortured by the loss.

    Which explains why Ron's jaw dropped in February when someone said of his father's 1950 crash:

    "I just read about him."


    The Santa Ana Mountains have never been kind to pilots.

    The 35-mile range has swallowed more than 70 planes in the last century. And on Nov. 18, 1950, its apex – Santiago Peak – lay shrouded in rain clouds.

    Hurtling straight toward it were four El Toro Marines on a routine training mission. They'd departed El Centro about 1 p.m. in a twin-engine, Beechcraft SNB-5 and began their approach into El Toro at 2 p.m.

    It was about this time that Bernice Grubbs stepped on her back porch in the shadows of the peak. A Marine wife next door called over: "Where's Bill – off flying?"

    "Yeah, I'm a widow today," Bernice replied, casually indicating 1st Lt. Bill Grubbs was flying again.

    Bernice had no way of knowing that her husband's plane had safely passed Santiago Peak once. No way of knowing it was ordered to circle because of a problem on the ground. No way of knowing that when the plane finally was ordered to descend, it was flying away from the base.

    At 2:25 p.m. the plane dropped below 5,000 feet – in thick clouds. The 5,687-foot Santiago Peak was waiting. As was Bernice. And the tower.

    But no word was ever heard from the four men again.


    How, Ron wanted to know.

    How could anyone in 2009 have just read about his father's crash in 1950?

    Ron had tried for years to find out about the crash but heard little: Just that it was bad weather and bad luck. Ron even contacted Marines who knew his dad but never learned just where the plane hit; how it hit; or if anyone survived the initial impact.

    "It left a huge hole in my life," he says, "and in my heart."

    Ron's mom always wondered about the three days it took to find the plane. Did Bill call her name? Did he suffer? How did his life end?

    No one seemed to have any answers. Until February, at a funeral, when Ron learned about a website that told of his father's crash. When Ron got home that night, he was shocked by what he saw online.

    "There was still debris from plane there," Ron says. "I never would have dreamed, after 59 years, there was anything left up there.

    Better still, there was a man who'd been to the crash site. Three times. An aircraft archeologist who could lead Ron to the exact spot his father died – to see for himself. To feel for himself what happened that day. And finally, to say good-bye to his hero.

    Ron turned to his wife: "I have to visit that site."

    She answered: "I'm going with you."


    Pat Macha, 63, of Mission Viejo, is the Indiana Jones of plane wrecks.

    He's fallen off mountain ledges; outrun bears; eluded rattlesnakes; even led a helicopter expedition into the high Sierras to recover a rare World War II fighter plane.

    The retired history teacher has identified 3,700 plane crash sites in California and visited more than 800 of them.

    "I'm probably the oldest person doing this," Macha says, "and maybe the first person to do this."

    He often brings next-of-kin to old military crashes – and never charges.

    "I feel it's my duty as a grateful citizen of the republic," he says.

    Macha had last visited Bill Grubbs' crash site in 2008, which resulted in the online story. He offered to take Ron there in May.

    "To be where my dad gave his lifeblood for his country," says Ron, "it was important to me."

    Before leaving St. Louis, Ron bought new boots and gloves. He carefully packed a letter he'd written to his dad. He slipped on his dad's ring and wristwatch. Then he packed a small, gold-plated vial he'd saved for years – just in case something like this ever happened.


    The crash site felt almost mystical to Ron.

    "A sheer wonder," he says, "to have this stuff laying around after all these years."

    Among the chaparral and wildflowers lay the skeletal remains of his father's plane. And then someone found a seatbelt buckle; a piece of parachute rigging; a brass belt buckle – twisted and gnarled.

    There, at the site of impact, it became clear that the men on board died instantly. Ron's mom, if she were here, could rest easily now.

    Ron opened the small vial he'd carried up and sprinkled her ashes around. Most had been spread behind her home when she died in 2001, but Ron had always saved some. Now it felt as if the three of them were reunited.

    Ron had one last thing to do. He opened his letter and read aloud: "Dad, I'm standing where you died," he began.

    And after 59 years – overlooking their old home and the Pacific Ocean below – he got to say goodbye to his father.

    Contact the writer: 714-796-6979 [email protected]

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  2. GrauGeist

    GrauGeist Well-Known Member

    Aug 29, 2008
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    We used to explore all over Saddleback and the Santa Ana mountains. Found plane wrecks, old gold silver mining sites and even an old Spanish saber (it's at the Bower's Museum now).

    Thanks for the post, sys!
  3. RabidAlien

    RabidAlien Active Member

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    Amazing story! Thanks for posting!
  4. Aaron Brooks Wolters

    Aaron Brooks Wolters Well-Known Member

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