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Military Honors held for crew of World War II B-24 Liberator

Taps reverberates across the wild grass and sagebrush as family and friends honor the crew of a B-24J Liberator during a memorial ceremony held at the crash site south of Casper, Wyoming, July 24, 2021. The crash site has been lost since the initial cleanup 76 years ago. A team of six soldiers from the Wyoming Army National Guard Military Funeral Honors Program made a full honors presentation.

Eight United States Army Air Forces B-24J Liberators took off from Casper Army Air Base (CAAB) on a cold afternoon on Jan. 1, 1945. Due to sustained winds and icy weather, only one plane returned to the CAAB. Six others landed at alternate safe locations; however, one became lost with no communications.

A Civil Air Patrol pilot found the downed plane on Jan. 3, 1945, but because of weather and snow, no one was able to reach the crash site until Jan. 5, 1945. Unfortunately, nothing could be done for the six-person crew.

The crew included: 2nd Lt. Robert E. Murchison, pilot, 2nd Lt. Harold B Paulk, co-pilot, 2nd Lt. Reed L Bludworth, navigator, 2nd Lt. Reuben J Clark, bombardier, Cpl. Eugene J. Opala, engineer, and Cpl. Robert S Hilliard, operator.

The Army Air Forces report of the crash suggests that the crew became disoriented in the weather and thought they were descending toward Casper but were much farther south, and closer to the ground.

Then they crashed into a rise and slid down a snowy hill for 1500 feet before stopping at Bates Creek.

“The importance of a mission is not dependent on the proximity to where the greatest action is,” said Chaplain Lt. Col. Rob Peterson during his memorial address. “We owe a debt of gratitude to this crew of six that went down 76 years ago, they gave us the last full measure of their devotion, their sacrifice here will not be forgotten.”

The Murchison crash is one of three lost historical crash sites in Wyoming that the Friends of the Wyoming Veterans Memorial Museum, a nonprofit organization that works with the Wyoming Veterans Memorial Museum, identified along with the Colorado Aviation Historical Society.

The two organizations are researching other historical crash sites in the area. They plan to place roadside information boards at rest stations near the sites that provide crash details and honors the sacrifice of their crews. “It is important for these lost stories to be remembered,” said Joe MacGuire, president of the Friends of the Wyoming Veterans Memorial Museum.

The sign for the Murchison crash will be placed at the Shirley Basin Rest Area. For more information visit the Wyoming Veterans Memorial Museum website or call 307-472-1857.

Military Honors held for crew of World War II B-24 Liberator