During World War II, Pendleton was a training site for bomber crews supporting the war effort in the South Pacific. A pair of crashes killed 14 men and injured two more on March 16, 1942, when B-17 Flying Fortress bombers went down between Pendleton and Boise, Idaho, during separate routine night training exercises from the Pendleton air base. A second crash happened just 10 days later, but all 10 crewmen parachuted to safety.
One of the B-17s crashed three miles southwest of Gowen Field, near Boise, at approximately 2:30 a.m. on March 16. Four men were killed in the crash, and two men were seriously injured. One of the flyers killed in the crash was 2nd Lt. Charles Hosford III, of Butler, Pennsylvania, the pilot of the bomber. The 25-year-old Hosford had been married just a month before in the Pendleton base’s chapel to Helen Pruitt of Pendleton, and celebrated his birthday the day before the crash took his life.
The second bomber crashed 20 miles south of Pendleton in the Blue Mountains, and salvage crews struggled through the snow to recover the wreckage and the bodies of the 10 crew members, who all perished instantly in the crash. The wreckage was strewn over a mile-wide area after the plane hit one ridge and then caromed across the canyon to the other side. Only parts of the tail and one wing were found intact.
A third Flying Fortress crashed shortly after takeoff on March 26, landing a half mile from the home of Jack Shafer, who owned a ranch six miles northeast of Pendleton, near Adams. Shafer first caught sight of the plane traveling at about 5,000 feet with smoke trailing from its motors. A few moments later the 10-man crew bailed out and parachuted safely to the ground. The plane then went into a left spiral and crashed to earth “like a ball of flame,” according to Shafer, strewing wreckage over a half-mile area. The first Army men to reach the crash site were six African American privates from an infantry division stationed at Walla Walla, who were en route to Walla Walla from Pendleton when the crash occurred. They took charge of the scene and stood guard duty until the crash crews could arrive from Pendleton Field.
On a lighter note, one of the sergeants involved in the March 26 crash complained, “With all that territory to land in, I had to light on a barbed wire fence and tear my pants.”