2016-08-13 / Front Page

At long last, a soldier is laid to rest

WWII casualty from Biddeford buried 74 years after death
By ALAN BENNETT
Staff Writer


The remains of 2nd Lt. Kenneth Donahue, who perished in a plane crash in Nevada on Jan. 16, 1942, are laid to rest at St. Mary’s Cemetery in Biddeford on Friday. His remains were discovered by hikers on the side of Potosi Mountain outside Las Vegas where the plane crashed, and where they were thought to have been lost. They were returned to Biddeford earlier this week. 
ALAN BENNETT/Journal Tribune The remains of 2nd Lt. Kenneth Donahue, who perished in a plane crash in Nevada on Jan. 16, 1942, are laid to rest at St. Mary’s Cemetery in Biddeford on Friday. His remains were discovered by hikers on the side of Potosi Mountain outside Las Vegas where the plane crashed, and where they were thought to have been lost. They were returned to Biddeford earlier this week. ALAN BENNETT/Journal Tribune BIDDEFORD — “Taps” could be heard ringing throughout St. Mary’s Cemetery on Friday as the family of 2nd Lt. Kenneth Donahue gathered to lay his body to rest – 74 years after his death.

Donahue was killed on Jan. 16, 1942, when the plane in which he was flying, Transcontinental & Western Air Flight 3, crashed into the side of Potosi Mountain, an 8,500- foot-tall crest of rock about 30 miles outside Las Vegas.

Most of Donahue’s remains remained on the side of that mountain, thought to be lost to the desert sand. But earlier this week, about 65 percent made their way back to Biddeford after weeks of delays and were at last given a proper burial.

DonahueDonahue“I’ve been following him for so long. I looked at that picture over and over again,” said Maureen Green, Donahue’s niece, as she gestured toward the portrait tilted against his alabaster casket. “We’ve always had it in the house.”

“It was like it was meant to be,” she said. “That he would return home.”

On that long ago night, TWA Flight 3 was traveling from New York to Burbank, California. Before arriving in Las Vegas, it stopped in Indianapolis, Indiana, where famed actress Carole Lombard boarded as part of her national effort to sell war bonds.

In Las Vegas, running late and with irate passengers, the plane’s pilots lost control of the craft as it reached its cruising altitude, plummeting into the side of Potosi Mountain about 7,700 feet above the desert floor.


Family members watch as U.S. soldiers fold a flag as part of a burial ceremony for 2nd Lt. Kenneth Donahue, who died in 1942 in a plane crash outside Las Vegas, Nevada, and whose remains were thought to be lost before being positively identified in 2015. 
ALAN BENNETT/Journal Tribune Family members watch as U.S. soldiers fold a flag as part of a burial ceremony for 2nd Lt. Kenneth Donahue, who died in 1942 in a plane crash outside Las Vegas, Nevada, and whose remains were thought to be lost before being positively identified in 2015. ALAN BENNETT/Journal Tribune All aboard were killed.

Green, 63, of Waterboro, knew her uncle’s story, and it was widely shared among family members. She never thought she would get to meet him.

But in February 2015, the remarkable happened: Green received a call from the Clark County, Nevada, coroner’s office saying Donahue’s remains had been found.

Green said a group of mountain hikers who ascended to the crash site found the remains and called the coroner’s office, where one investigator took a particular liking to Donahue – or, as Felicia Borla calls him, “Ken.”

“I kind of started calling him Ken, and he kind of lived in my office for the last two years. But for a good year and a half, I didn’t know he was Ken,” Borla said.

Borla, who traveled from Las Vegas to Biddeford for Donahue’s burial, said she had to rely on existing mortuary records to determine which of the crash victims had been buried or cremated. She was able to pinpoint the family and arrange for local police departments to swab their mouths to collect DNA for testing at the coroner’s office.

It was a match.

“It was very unique for the FBI to do, because they weren’t going to put it in the regular data bank because it wasn’t a regular search on a (John) Doe,” Borla said at the funeral. “This DNA’s only going to be compared to one Doe, and if it’s not, it’s not.

“This is just amazing to do, that everything was actually able to come together. There’s so much else going on in the military with the replacement of people that he wasn’t urgent, and we understood that ... he would’ve just ended up being a John Doe and ended up being buried in our cemetery out in Vegas.”

Bonita “Bonnie” Pothier, Scarborough regional representative for U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, also attended the funeral, both as a friend to Green and on behalf of the senator. Before reading a note from King posthumously thanking Donahue for his service and hailing all U.S. soldiers as heroes, Pothier spoke personally to the family.

“I want to say how honored I am that the family extended an invitation to be here,” Pothier said. “This is really what family is all about, and this is why we’re so fortunate to live in this country, because of the sacrifices of men like Kenneth who step forward to protect us and allow us to live like we have for the last 70 years since his passing.”

Green, who shed tears during the flag-folding ritual, said the ceremony offered closure for her and her family – even those who are no longer living.

“I was thinking of my mother” during the ceremony, Green said. “She’s buried behind (Donahue), and she was the one who I think was most affected by it. It kind of felt good for me that he’s home for her.”

— Staff Writer Alan Bennett can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 329 or abennett@journaltribune.com.

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