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A Tribute to Dad

Submitted by jmlangford on 2002-08-15

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Memorial Plaque on top of Mt. POW/MIAA Tribute to Dad
This is the plaque Doug placed on top of Mt. POW/MIA.

Doug Widdis’s father was shot down over Laos in 1969, and was missing in action until the Department of Defense declared him dead on August 8, 1978. The Widdis family had a memorial service then, and thought they finally had closure.

In 1995, while deployed to Italy for OPERATION DENY FLIGHT, Doug received a phone call telling him that human remains had been found in LAOS at his dad's crash site, and they were bringing them back to identify...

In the meantime, he went to Saudi Arabia for Southern Watch (third time in two years) in May of 1996, and on June 25th, some terrorists exploded a 25,000 pound bomb just outside his barracks, the Khobar Towers. It killed 19 of his fellow airmen and injured hundreds, including Doug. During the aftermath of this horrible attack, Doug repeatedly refused medical treatment for himself while he performed rescues and administered first aid to others. He received a Purple Heart and a Valor Medal of Achievement for his actions.

Then when he got home from Saudi Arabia in July, his dad’s remains were identified, along with the remains of his co-pilot. Doug and his brother, a Navy Lt. Commander, escorted the remains from the Port Mortuary at Travis AFB in California to the USAF Academy in Colorado Springs.They then had a real funeral with full military honors. At that time, Doug took his father’s bronze marker from the memorial service and set it in his mom's garage.

Doug’s mom was cleaning the garage in 2001 and came across the bronze marker. She asked Doug what to do with it and an idea occurred to him later that year. In Alaska, there is the only official USGS place in the United States named for those who have fallen...Mt. POW/MIA. Doug asked his mom to send it to him and he would climb this peak and put the plaque on top in remembrance of him.

Doug doesn’t own a GPS, so using a topo map he found what seemed to be the shortest line up the peak, starting at about 400 feet above sea level, to the summit of POW/MIA at approximately 4400 ft. above sea level. He figured if he followed a stream bed he would gain the elevation most rapidly and with the least amount of trouble. He also made several inquiries and no one knew of any trails up the peak, though there have been several ascents, and the POW/MIA flag and a table are supposed to be on top.

August 8, 2002 twenty-four years to the day after Doug's father had been officially declared dead, dawned foggy and rainy. Doug figured he had about a 5 or 6 mile hike, with some serious elevation gain up and down, but nothing too serious. His route would go up the south side of the peak from Eklutna Reservoir Road, since the shorter approach from Old Glenn Highway to the west would hit some chossy rock bands at 2000 and 4000 feet.

He drove along the road looking for the place where the stream crossed under the road, which looked to be about 8000 meters up the road from the Power Plant. The cloud deck was only 200 feet above his head, so he could not see his objective peak, so he had to guess as to where it was. He finally saw a little rivulet of water running through a culvert under the road, and figured that must be it since he had driven about 5 or 6 miles up the road.

He parked his truck, loaded the 40 pound, 1 foot by 3 foot hunk of bronze into his pack with a still camera and a video camera, and headed up the slope to his left into the rain. The trees were thick, alder and devil's club(an absolutely nasty thicket) on a pretty steep slope. Doug though that at least the dense trees were keeping the rain off him. He gained elevation rapidly, but the rain, clouds and trees prevented him from viewing his objective.

He finally got above tree line at about 2500 feet, but the fog and clouds around him were thick enough that he could not see more than 100 feet. At least the blueberries were ripe! He ate them on his rest stops, which were every 50 feet or so, as the slope was so steep he had to use his trekking pole to keep himself from sliding down the slick tundra shrubbery.

At last, below him the clouds broke and he could see where he came from. As the wind picked up, the rain picked up, but soon the clouds parted, and he was able to see one of the Twin Peaks due north of his the wrong place of course!

POW/MIA is SW of the Twin Peaks, so he started to cross the steep terrain, his downhill (left) ankle and knee were starting to hurt, but he was on a mission. The clouds finally parted to the west, and he could see the long flat profile of POW/MIA, over a mile and a half across a little valley...he was on the wrong peak!

After 2 more hours of slippery sidestepping, and screaming ankle and knee joints, Doug arrived at the connecting ridge between the Twin Peaks ridge he was on, and the ridge leading to the summit of POW/MIA. He hunkered down under a leaning boulder (at last above the brush/tundra line), drank some water, and tried to peer through the mist toward where he had seen the flag flapping from 1000 feet below and a mile away.

Then the snow and ice pellets began to fall, he was ill prepared for that, just a lightweight shell and sweatpants. He was kind of irritated at himself, so close, but not wanting to freeze he waited in the dry spot in his wet clothes.The final ridge...

He was warm again, and the snow and ice had stopped, so he kept going.

After passing a couple of frustrating false summits, he scrambled up a rise and saw the black and white POW/MIA flag flapping in the stiff breeze in front of him.POW/MIA flag and memorial marker. The table had apparently blown down slope about 100 feet east, but was upside down at the edge of a 50 foot cliff. He took off his heavy pack, and the clouds parted enough that he could see where he came from 4000 feet below, along with the West Twin hulking tower, in the right place this time.

He took out the plaque and placed it against the boulder pile that held up the flag pole, shot a couple of pictures, and then sat down and had a nice talk with his dad.

Just as he was having his talk with his dad, an eagle flew directly up the ridge toward him, riding the wind wave coming up the west side of the peak. He could see the dall sheep on the floor of the valley below him, and the trail of a bear through the tundra/meadow where he was enjoying the same berries that Doug had. Doug had hoped he would not need his pepper spray, and only saw some minor bear signs on the way up.

He was beginning to get cold again, so he said his goodbyes, watched the eagle disappear into the rebuilding clouds, hoisted his pack on , and headed down a scree slope between two buttresses on the side of the peak. He could see his "streambed" from above, he had missed it by a mile on the way in, so he headed down the 2000 foot slope to the meadow where it started. Some scree sliding, cliff scrambling, and game trail following prowess enabled him to get down out of the worsening weather to the meadow in about 30 minutes.

He followed the streambed down towards the road, as the rain got worse, and the trees closed in around him. Because of the rain, the stream was turning into a little bit more than a stream, but since he was soaked to the bone, he did not really care. Doug came across a ten foot waterfall, and had to literally climb the trees up the side of the gully he was in to get up and around it.

The rocks were getting slick on the bottom of the burgeoning river, and the sound of the rain on the "jungle" above and around him was getting louder. He could not get out of the "canyon" he was in because the brush and Devil's Club were so thick. He was committed to going this way, wishing he hadn't picked it. Conversely, the trip up had been pretty bad too, and he didn't want to try and glissade down vertical bushes and cliffbands.

After what must have been two hours of struggle through knee high water, and trees that threw branches out two to three feet above the ground, he popped out onto the road. So a nice long level hike up a mile of dirt road ended the day for him.

He found his keys, hopped into his trusty 1991 Ford Ranger and warmed up. He then ate all the candy and crackers he had left from the hike, and called his wife to let her know he was okay. He then thanked GOD for keeping him safe from bears, rocks, snow, rain, hail, and death by drowning or hypothermia...and headed for home.


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