Man finds closure at Huckleberry Knob
For most of his life, Dan Moede didn’t think it was possible to visit the scene of his father’s death. But as time passed, it became more important to him. After 67 years, the time had come to finally make the trip.
Moede was only a few months old when his father was killed on a routine training mission from Berry Field in Nashville to McGee Tyson Airport in Knoxville.
Captain Don Moede, of the 187th Fighter Squadron with the Wyoming Air Guard, was barely halfway into his April 27, 1952 mission when he and another plane being piloted by Captain Howard B. Smith got caught in dense fog near Robbinsville.
At 7:40 p.m., he flew his F-51, an improved version of a P-51 mustang, into the side of Big Huckleberry Knob, killing him instantly. His plane uprooted the beech trees when it hit, and parts of his plane were thrown over 400 feet.
Meanwhile, back at home in Wyoming, Captain Moede had a wife, Rose and young son, named Dan. Dan’s birth presented many complications, and he was in the hospital for the first few months of his life. When it was finally time to go home, his dad would not be there, but would be preparing for his training through the Appalachian Mountains.
After only a few days at home, Rose got the news of her husband’s tragic death.
Sixty-seven years later in 2019, Dan was headed to the Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. He knew that he would be close to the site of his father’s death, but put it off, as he thought a visit would be impossible.
However, he soon decided to try to get in contact with someone who could bring him to the site. Dan contacted Graham County native Marshall McClung to find out if he knew anything about the crash. Dan soon discovered that he had contacted the right person for this mission. McClung is very familiar with the trails of Graham County, including Hooper Bald, Oak Knob, Little Huckleberry Knob, and to Moede’s surprise, Big Huckleberry Knob, the site of his father’s death.
On July 22, Dan met with Marshall McClung and Hoot Gibbs to scale the mountain. As they reached the peak, dense fog set in, much like the fog that obstructed Captain Moede’s vision on that fateful night.
The men had some difficulty finding the wreckage, but they did finally come across it. After years of the mangled fighter sitting on top of the mountain, most of the parts were stolen by people visiting the peak. All that remains of Captain Moede’s plane is the propeller and various debris that has been buried over time.
While it was fairly easy for the three men to hike up to the Knob, it was no small task for the team who set out to retrieve Captain Moede’s body.
The accident happened before the Cherohala Skyway was in place, so they could not simply drive part of the way. The crew had to land an H-19 Helicopter on Hooper Bald and make a 4-hour trek to and from Big Huckleberry.
They took a moment as a group to observe the wreckage and pay their respects. After a few minutes, McClung and Gibbs left Moede with the remains of his father’s plane to finally say a proper goodbye. A photograph of Captain Moede was permanently placed by the wreckage. When they met up again, Moede told them that he felt different.
After 67 long years of simply accepting his father’s tragic fate, he finally had closure.