WILLIS, Texas – Jerry Hoblit has memories of his father, but he last saw him when he was 16 years old as his dad boarded a transport plane flight from an Air Force base in Washington state bound for Alaska.
That was 61 years ago, and now, Hoblit hopes his father will finally be brought home.
Col. Noel Hoblit was a dentist stationed at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked. He helped triage the injured: determining who should be treated and who was too injured to save. Jerry Hoblit was a 5-year-old, an Air Force brat living in military housing, that morning in 1941.
“I look straight into an airplane pointing straight at me and the shingles are flying off the house next door,” he said of the vivid memories of a Japanese fighter strafing the building next door.
Hoblit didn’t see much of his dad after that until the war was over.
“Well the first thing I remember is missing him so badly in WWII,” said Hoblit, now 77 and a resident of Willis in Montgomery County.
Then in 1952, he would miss him forever.
Col. Noel Hoblit was one of 52 people on board a C-124 transport plane traveling from McChord Air Force base near Seattle to Elmendorf AFB near Anchorage, Alaska. It crashed on approach into 8,000 foot Mt. Gannett. There were no survivors. Jerry Noblit was 16 years old when the chaplain greeted his mother at their front door.
“They said Virginia we don’t expect to find anybody living,” he said of the chaplain’s conversation with his mom. “Nobody could have survived the crash much less spend the night up there and be alive in the morning.”
The crash site, high on an Alaskan glacier, was found within days. But at an extremely difficult location to reach in 1952, recovery of remains wasn’t immediately undertaken. Snow buried the site quickly and remains were never recovered. The crash site didn’t surface again, miles down the glacier from its original location, until June of last year – a full 60 years later.
The Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, which coordinates recovery of U.S. military crash sites throughout the world, visited the site last summer and is now trying to identify as many of the victims as possible.
“I’m glad about it. I appreciate it,” Hoblit said. “It’s good to live in a country where the military is taken care of like that. They care. They don’t leave people on the battlefield.”
And Jerry Hoblit would have his own battlefields. He became decorated Air Force pilot. He flew dangerous missions over Vietnam and received multiple commendations including three Silver Stars and three Distinguished Flying crosses.
His father’s crash changed the course of his life. His father wanted him to be a doctor.
“That’s what I would have done had he lived. And the world was spared a bad doctor I’ll tell you that right now,” he said with a laugh breaking the tension of recounting 61 years of painful memories.
The POW/MIA Accounting Command says it could be a three year process to determine whose remains they have found on the glacier. Hoblit understands that after all this time there are no promises that his father’s remains will be among those of the 52 victims.
The odds are difficult for every family in this crash, but Hoblit has always known where his father died.
Now he hopes that his father’s remains can be interred at Arlington National Cemetery where there is already a marker in place in his memory.