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Mount Rainier's greatest tragedy commemorated with hike

Local Marines take to the hills

Junior enlisted U.S. Marines present the history of the 32 fallen Marines from a December 1946 plane crash during the commemorative hike on Mount Rainier. Photo credit: Talysa Lloyd McCall, JBLM Public Affairs

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JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD - On Oct. 8, the Combat Logistics Battalion 23, Combat Logistics Regiment 4, 4th Marine Logistics Group from Joint Base Lewis-McChord participated in a three-hour, 7.75-mile hike on Mount Rainier's foothills to commemorate the deaths of 32 Marines from a plane crash that occurred in December 1946.

"The Marine Corps is really big on history," said U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Kevin Fontenot, inspector-instructor with the CLB-23, CLR-4, 4th MLG. "Within our history are the battles we've won, the lives that have been given and the sacrifices that were made, which are things that help define who we are as Marines."

The unit provides operational logistics in support to Marine Air-Ground Task Forces. Its primary mission is to support the training and deployment of the battalions.

The day started with an accountability briefing at 8 a.m. in the drill hall at the Marine unit building. With limited parking available at the monument site, the group of 26 Marines and one U.S. Navy officer decided to carpool for the hourlong trip to Mount Rainier.

"When we do these types of things, it gives us a mindset to continue to be a part of this warfighting community," Fontenot said. "When you have a mindset that is focused in that area, it changes the desire in people's hearts to want to do more for the institution, for each other and for the unit."

Upon arrival at Mount Rainier, the buddy system was implemented, and the uphill hike began. Across muddy puddles, loose gravel and sharp rocks, the service members hiked up 1,100 feet of elevation to the stone memorial site.

Some wore hiking boots and warm weather gear, while others opted for tennis shoes and T-shirts. Some brought food and water, while others brought Bluetooth speakers and energy drinks.

The entrance of the memorial is marked by a simple sign that reads, "Marine Memorial" and is accompanied by a few stair steps to the landing. When viewing the monument, visitors can see the glacier in the distance where the plane crashed.

Once all service members had been accounted for, the junior enlisted Marines gave a presentation on the history of the crash. The last presenter read off the names of the 32 fallen Marines, who are permanently entombed on Mount Rainier and listed on the monument. A moment of silence followed.

"Thinking about all the other Marines and hikers who come to honor our fallen pushed me," said U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Benjamin Miller, supply administrative specialist with the CLB-23, CLR-4, 4th MLG, who was one of the history presenters. "No matter where we are, there is some sort of sacrifice that has been made, and that is something we have to honor them for."

The time spent traveling back to the bottom of the foothill was a lot livelier with Marine Corps cadences heard every-so-often over the joyful conversations about weekend plans. After a brief safety discussion, the Marines were released to enjoy the holiday weekend.

Editor's Note: This is the first of a two-part series on the plane crash that took place on Dec. 10, 1946, killing 32 Marines.

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