Airmen honor fallen MIA

By Senior Airman Jacob Jimenez on May 19, 2016

A ceremonial guardsman wearing white gloves raises his hand to render a salute as a white sedan pulls up to the curb. He proceeds to the vehicle where he respectfully retrieves an urn containing the remains of a fellow comrade.

The urn holds the remains of Airman 2nd Class Conrad Sprague, which were presented to his family during an honors ceremony May 10, at Tahoma National Cemetery in Kent, Washington.  

Sprague was one of 11 crewmembers and 41 passengers aboard a C-124 Globemaster II that crashed into Mount Gannet, Alaska, while en route to Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, from McChord AFB, Nov. 22, 1952.

For the last 63 years, Sprague was considered missing in action until earlier this year when his remains were identified by the Armed Forces Medical Examiner at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware.

"The last thing I remember is seeing him the day he got on the plane," said retired Army Sgt. 1st Class Denis Sprague, surviving son of Airman 2nd Class Conrad Sprague. "For all this time he has been MIA, we never got an official ceremony."

Since the crash of the aircraft, no servicemembers from the flight were recovered until after June 2012, when an Alaska National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk crew spotted aircraft wreckage and debris while conducting a training mission over Colony Glacier, immediately west of Mount Gannett.

Since being discovered, recovery operations have taken place every summer, resulting in the recovery of 17 airmen's remains, including Sprague's.

"We heard the news in 2013 and were asked to provide DNA samples," said Denis. "I got notified six months ago that they had uncovered three pieces of my father's remains."

Medical examiners from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System used testing conducted by the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory, along with other forensic evidence, in the identification of Sprague's remains.

"All I've ever had to hold onto was a piece of the plane that was recovered," said Denis. "That's as close as I've been able to come to it."

Because Sprague died while serving, he was given a ceremony with full military honors. The ceremony included a firing party, a flag-folding ceremony, presentation of the colors and the playing of "Taps".

"The reason this was special is because we got to bring a fellow airman home," said Tech. Sgt. Justin Nolan, McChord Field Honor Guard NCO in charge. "It shows the Air Force does care. After decades missing, he was brought back - to me, that's special."

"This was something he deserved - it's a right he earned for his service," said Senior Airman Matthew Feigum, McChord Field Honor Guard ceremonial guardsmen. "I hope this provided them a little more closure than they had before."

For Denis, the ceremony was a long-anticipated event that provided a conclusion to that point in his family's history.

"The closure is the most important thing," said Denis. "I wanted some closure on this part of my life that was left wide open for so long. I had some recollection of what happened, but was never able to say goodbye."

A Washington native, Airman 2nd Class Conrad Sprague was survived by his wife Dorothy Jean and his three children Denis, Christopher and Constance. Sprague is no stranger to the community and is related to one of the city of Tacoma's founders - Medal of Honor recipient Brig. General John Sprague.

To Conrad Sprague's family, he died a hero and deserved the honor he received.   

"He was a true hero because he died doing what he thought was right - just like we all are willing to do who put on the uniform," said Denis.