Pair of fallen heroes remembered

Memorial: Fifty years after two Civil Air Patrol members' deaths while on a search for a downed jet, officers and relatives recall their bravery and sacrifice.

April 04, 2004|By Erika Hobbs | Erika Hobbs,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

A Civil Air Patrol pilot and chaplain whose plane plunged into the Chesapeake Bay's mudflats in 1954 while searching for a missing Air Force jet were honored yesterday in Havre de Grace, 50 years after their deaths.

Capt. Anthony J. Synodinos, the pilot, and chaplain 1st Lt. Edward G. Conrad were members of the East Baltimore Squadron of the Maryland Wing of the Civil Air Patrol, a volunteer, civilian-based search-and-rescue branch of the Air Force.

They had been part of what was the largest Air Force search-and-rescue mission of the time - to locate a military jet that had gone down along the Eastern seaboard.

But during the flight on April 6, 1954 - long before the sophisticated radar in standard use today - a fog enshrouded the bay, darkening an otherwise-clear afternoon.

The open-cockpit propeller plane spiraled into the water about three-quarters of a mile off Penn's Beach Marina, near the Concord Point lighthouse.

The Civil Air Patrol men's bodies were recovered by sunset. The jet and its pilot, however, were never found.

Yesterday, state and local officials, Civil Air Patrol members and the men's relatives gathered at St. Patrick Hall in Havre de Grace to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the ill-fated rescue mission.

"These men are truly heroes who gave their ultimate sacrifice," said Col. Lawrence Trick, commander of the Maryland Wing.

Plaque rededicated

The Harford Composite Squadron of the Civil Air Patrol rededicated a plaque to the men, which will be placed in the War Memorial Plaza in Tydings Memorial Park in Havre de Grace.

The original, an in-ground version that is now covered by years of growth of tufted grass, misspelled Synodinos' name.

The men were squadron legends, Harford Squadron spokesman Philip Szczepanski said, but the squadron discovered the original plaque only about a year ago, after a letter by Havre de Grace Mayor David Craig that mentioned it appeared in a local newspaper. It had been largely forgotten.

About 100 people attended yesterday's 90-minute ceremony, at which a band from Aberdeen Proving Ground played military marches and the choir from Aisquith Presbyterian Church in Parkville - where Conrad had been a minister - sang hymns. A cadet performed "Taps."

A symbolic fly-over by the Harford squadron and a wreath-dropping over the water by the U.S. Army National Guard were canceled because of the weather.

"My father, for me, is not dead," said Edward Conrad, 58, a professor at the University of Wisconsin at Parkside, after the ceremony. "He is a large part of who I am. He is here with me, with us, right now."

James Synodinos, 63, was 13 when he took the call that notified him of his father's death. He can't recall who called, but said that everything else is clear.

"It's as if it just happened," said the vintage-car collector and retired electrical contractor from Towson. "It's amazing how things from 50 years ago - when I can't even remember yesterday - are brought out so clearly."

Recalling the search

According to news reports from 1954, an Air Force jet piloted by Col. William H. Council, vanished en route from Farmingdale, N.Y., to Langley Field, Va. on April 5, during a military mission.

At a monthly squadron meeting that night, Synodinos, 52, and Conrad, 49, learned about the downed T-33 jet and planned to join the national search the next day. Conrad had delivered the invocation that night.

The next day, the men met at Harbor Field in Baltimore, where Synodinos kept his Ryan PT-22. They left just after noon to fly over the Upper Chesapeake toward the Susquehanna River.

The rumblings of the little plane were heard in Havre de Grace.

Local residents chatted with a mail carrier at the time, Harry Lingenfelter, about the plane circling in the fog overhead.

Lingenfelter, who did not attend the event, left some recollections to be read aloud during the ceremony.

He wrote that one elderly woman on Pink Lane whispered to him that "something evil happened" out over the water. Lingenfelter finished his route, returned to the post office, and found that the plane had crashed shortly after 1 p.m.

Bad weather

The area is infamous for its quick-forming fog, Szczepanski said.

"Air, like the sea, can be unpredictable and unforgiving," Brig. Gen. Charles Morgan, the Maryland Air National Guard assistant adjutant general for air, said at the ceremony. "And when the sea fog rolls in" conditions can be hazardous.

By 2 p.m., 30--mph winds had dissipated the fog. Residents, the Coast Guard and local officials began the search, dragging the bed with chains. Rough and muddied waters slowed their efforts, although the water was less than 14 feet deep.

By 5 p.m., the team hoisted the wreckage from the water, the bodies of the men still in the cockpit.

Synodinos, a native of Greece, became a naturalized American citizen in 1923. The Baltimorean owned North Grill at North Avenue and Gay Street and later ran a restaurant at Monument and Kresson streets. He was a member of the Greek Orthodox Church.

Synodinos, who was a newlywed at the time, was known as a gentle man who loved to work with cadets.

Conrad, news reports said, was a native Baltimorean, and ordained Presbyterian minister. He served as editor of The Presbyterian, a weekly church newspaper in Philadelphia, before returning to Maryland.

`The worst part'

His daughter, Betty Baker, 68, of Hamilton, remembers him as a fun-loving, easy-going man, a man who loved to fish with her, to tie his own flies and who hated to eat the fish he caught.

He was to have officiated at her wedding that summer, she said.

"The worst part," she said, "is you don't get to tell him all the things you wanted him to hear."

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