Kevin Riordan: A shared sense of duty finds WWII crash, and widow it left

Phil Cohen embraces Florence Mitchell as they leave after meeting with brothers Paul Huber and Randall Huber to view the name of 1st Lt. Charles Adams on the WWII Memorial in Knight Park in Collingswood. (Tom Gralish / Staff Photographer)

An Arizona adventurer and two World War II buffs from South Jersey are shining fresh light on a U.S. Army plane crash in northeastern India that has been remote from public view for nearly 66 years.

In November, Clayton Kuhles, the founder of a nonprofit organization called MIA Recoveries, trekked up the mountainside where Lt. Charles Martin Adams died on Sept. 17, 1944. A native of Camden and a resident of Collingswood, Adams was only 25 when he was killed, and the two other members of the C-46 cargo plane's crew also perished.

At the time, the Army surveyed the site by air; Adams' widow was told that the 11,000-foot elevation, the dense jungle, and the ongoing war precluded the dispatch of a ground party.

"It's about four days' trek from Kayi Ligok, the nearest village," Kuhles says from his home in Prescott, Ariz. "The aircraft is in amazingly large sections. The number on the tail is still visible."

He photographed the site and observed a number of personal effects, but no human remains were apparent. Recently, word of his expedition reached Phil Cohen, a Pennsauken resident whose website (www.dvrbs.com) showcases local veterans and history.

Cohen knew a bit about Adams but had no idea where his relatives might be. "So," he says, "I called the queen of Collingswood." That would be Florence "Floss" Mitchell, 84, who, like Cohen, is deeply patriotic. "I'll do anything for the veterans, especially the World War II veterans," she says. "It's my life's work."

Mitchell also grew up in Camden and remembered the brother of Adams' widow, Katherine "Honey" Huber. She found a Paul G. Huber in the phone book.

A Haddon Township accountant, he turns out to be Katherine's nephew and grew up in Camden hearing stories about Lt. Adams. "Everybody would talk about him, and it would be a sad moment," he recalls.

Paul's brother, Randall, has similar memories, and he recently called up his Aunt Honey in Florida.

When I do the same, Katherine H. Byrd is as gracious as her memory is sharp.

"Honey" Huber was a 20-year-old Camden girl who loved to dance when she married the athletic, affable Adams in 1942. Their son, Charles Jr., was born in September 1943 but died of leukemia seven months later at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

Byrd still has the telegram advising her of her husband's fate, which came to her home on 36th Street in East Camden. A letter followed in early 1945.

"It said he must have been killed instantly on the side of a mountain, and that they would keep trying to go there," she says. "They said it was impassable jungle."

"I would have liked to have him brought home and buried in Arlington," adds Byrd, whose second husband died in 1959. "And give him some kind of honors."

Honor is very much on the minds of Cohen, Mitchell, and the Huber brothers when I meet them in Knight Park, where Adams' name is chiseled into the marble of Collingswood's World War II memorial.

"It's nice to be able to let his widow know that we care," says Cohen, 54. "I hope to find members of Lt. Adams' family, too - to let them know we still remember."

Our little gathering is like a reunion of sorts; there are hugs all around. And a palpable sense of pride in a fellow American we never knew. Until now.

 


Contact Kevin Riordan at 856-779-3845 or kriordan@phillynews.com.