Melvin Baney: Just trying to do the right thing…

Sgt. Melvin Baney was headed for a new assignment in Europe. He had recently re-enlisted and was promoted with a new assignment. He was slowly moving up in ranks as a career military man. It could have been a happy time, a time of new adventures, new employment, new lands and a new start, but it wasn’t a happy time for he or his wife or their children.

Melvin could not imagine how he could look for suitable off-base housing in a foreign country with a wife and five small children in tow.

Marjorie felt strongly that they should all travel to the new assignment as a family. She and Melvin had lived in Germany before so it was not entirely new. It was just a gut feeling. Like a premonition. They should wait and all go together.

Melvin and Marjorie were at a deadlock and it was downhill from there. Both were certain about the right thing to do.

Sgt. Baney never returned. Flight 923 was forced to ditch in the raging North Atlantic, some 500 miles off the west coast of Ireland. His body was never recovered. Marjorie was devastated that he went against her wishes and internal anguish. Soon after she had the first of a long series of nervous breakdowns. It would be the start of her fall into a lifetime of severe mental illness.

First Days Waiting for News

The first days after the ditching at sea, in September of 1962, when nothing was known about the fate of passengers, life at the Baney household was more or less as it might be expected to be.  Friends and relatives gathered. Everyone was tense, prayerful, and grief-stricken simply by not knowing what had happened and where he was. Here is how the local New Hampshire newspaper reported the loss:

“Hope continued to fade today for a Pelham serviceman and 15 others still missing following the crash of the Flying Tiger Line Super-Constellation that went down in the Atlantic Sunday night.

“Still missing at sea is Staff Sgt. Melvin H. Baney, a Korean War veteran who was enroute to a duty assignment in Europe. Unlike some of the military personnel aboard the ill-fated aircraft, Baney had left his wife and children behind.

“Baney’s wife Marjorie is presently living with her parents, Mr. And Mrs. Herman Carter of Castle Hill Road.”

Marjorie had a very caring and supportive family. Her siblings were there for her throughout this time and even today the children remember that they did everything they could to help

In a follow up story that same week, Marjorie Baney told reporters that she was just waiting. All of the relatives were at the Carter home. “We’re just praying Mel will be all right.”

Piecing the Facts Together 50 Years Later

Only recently, within the past two or three years, have the children seriously begun an attempt to piece together information about their father and the ditching of Flight 923.

Oldest son Jim Baney was only six years old at the time of the disaster. He had an older sister, Linda, who was 7, and two twin brothers, Michael and Timothy, both age 3, and a newborn brother, Eugene. They had all grown up knowing almost nothing about their father or his death.

Jim Baney’s wife, Joan, who is a corporate research specialist, took charge of the recent search for information and summarizes what was found:

“The Baney family was living on an army base in Missouri. Jim doesn’t know which base, but remembers that the housing on the base was newly built when they first arrived– there was not yet grass in the back yard, it was all mud. And there was a ball field at the end of the neighborhood. He is not sure how long they lived there, but it was at least a year.

“Melvin received orders to transfer to Germany, after a one month furlough.

“During this time, James remembers a terrible fight between his parents on a normal afternoon. They were discussing the trip to Germany. It was a heated argument unlike anything he had witnessed between his parents.

“There was yelling, punctuated by angry shoving of furniture. Jim and his sister hid in the bathroom. Their parents had never fought in front of the children before.

“Afterwards, Jim’s mother told him that Melvin wanted to fly out alone, ahead of the family to find a suitable place for them to live instead of the standard living quarters for families. Marjorie was insistent that he wait and that they all fly out together. Jim says his mom was subject to gut feelings and premonitions and she was furious that he would go unnecessarily against her wishes – she just did not feel good about it.

“The Baney family stopped to visit Melvin’s relatives ( in MO) for a few days and then continued on to Pelham, NH to spend the rest of the furlough with Marjorie’s father. (Her mother had passed away in 1956.)

Jim Gets Called Out of School

“Jim was in school in Pelham when his teacher gave him a gold star and announced to the class, “Jim will be leaving now.” The teacher was crying. Jim had no idea what was going on. Jim’s grandfather came and brought him home. Marjorie took Jim and Linda into the bedroom and told them their father was lost at sea from a plane crash. Jim says, “I was too young to really understand that he was gone forever.”

“Marjorie bought a small house in Hudson, NH (the town next to Pelham), apparently using the proceeds of a small insurance policy and what meager savings they might have had. She did the best she could to raise them, but Marjorie never came to terms with Melvin’s death.

“As time went on she began to show more serious signs of mental issues and irrational behavior, and had three nervous breakdowns over the following 3-4 years. She worried about neighbors climbing trees and looking in the windows. During these times, the children were temporarily split up among relatives; returning home when she had stabilized.

“Jim remembers that his mom tried her best to raise the kids in a normal way, but her illogical behavior was at times confusing, frightening and sad for five children. Throughout her life, Jim recalls her constant references to her “woman’s intuition,” “clairvoyance” and “premonitions.” And while Jim felt these things were symptomatic of her mental illness, he recalls just as many times when the things she predicted or warned of, came true.

“As the kids grew into adults, they eagerly left home to get away from the mental and emotional abuse that Marjorie’s mental illness brought. The younger children kept in contact with her until her death, although the children have gone their separate ways and have little contact with each other.

“Sadly, in her last decade, Jim attempted to visit his mother but his resemblance to his father was too upsetting for his mother and so he chose to spare her the anguish. She had distanced herself from her family and people in general.

“Unfortunately, with the loss of Melvin affecting Marjorie in such a dramatic way, the children also lost their heritage. Marjorie inadvertently isolated her children from the outside world – from outside family. Lost were the stories of who Melvin Baney was, since Marjorie avoided speaking of him. Thus, the children never knew anything about Melvin, about his family, his death – lost were the stories that let kids know where they came from. And somehow the children understood not to ask.

“In the winter of 2008, during an ice storm, Jim received a phone call that his mother was in the hospital due to an internal abdominal rupture. She lived at that time in an assisted living duplex.

“Marjorie told the EMTs that she opened her front door to find an alien. The alien thing shot her in the stomach with a ray gun and she fell backward into the foyer, where she laid for hours. She was on morphine when Jim arrived and unconscious. There was nothing they could do.

“Coincidentally or not, when she passed away, the entire east coast lost power for a week.”

 [Editorial Note: There was virtually no press about Melvin Baney, the man, as was the case with most of the soldiers, especially those from less educated and poor families. There was a lot of competition for news space at the time: The Cuban Missile Crisis was coming to a head, the East Germans with Soviet aid began reinforcing their 866 mile long death zone barrier along the entire East German border. In that same week another military air craft crashed in the Pacific off the Alaskan coast, killing all 100 crew and military passengers.

In the process of gathering documents, Jim and Joan came upon a report of the “incident” in Sgt. Baney’s personnel file. It was very typically military. It contained this interesting official notation.

His records were adjusted to record his period of absence from duty.

The Baney family received the typical terse telegram noting that Melvin was in the disaster and they would be notified when details were learned. Later, they were notified when two military men came to the door to tell them he was dead. And that was it. Case closed.]

About Fred Caruso

Survivor of the crash of Flying Tiger 923. at night, at sea, 500 miles off the west coast of Ireland, with 28 deaths and 48 survivors, September 23, 1962.
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3 Responses to Melvin Baney: Just trying to do the right thing…

  1. Patricia Leonard says:

    Isn’t it true? Every family has a story. Marjorie, a young mother with five little mouths to feed, and overnight – no husband, no income. What would any of us have done in the same situation?

  2. lyricspinner says:

    Mine is the miracle story that no one has ever heard
    I was eight years old at the time
    My mother had arrived at Mcguire Air Force Base 10 minutes late for flight 923. It was my four-year-old brother and six-month old sister and I with her and she explained to the guard at the gate that she needed to board the plane. He told her that he could not let her get on the plane that it was getting ready for takeoff and that she would have to take the next flight out. That plane ladies and gentleman is the one that I was supposed to be on. My father already heard the news as he was waiting for us at the reception at Rhine Main Air Force Base in Frankfurt Germany. Please if there is anyone out there that was on that flight please contact me. Can call me direct at 703-376-1274 or email me thank you

  3. Dianne (Hauntsman) Sperre says:

    Melvin was my uncle, my mother Shirley, was Marjorie’s sister. I was only 2 when this tragedy occurred, so obviously I don’t remember any of the details. My mother and aunt Marjorie were very close, so my family spent a lot of time with the Baney family. I commend Joan and Jim for being so open in their narrative. In reading this article I got my first view of my uncle Red. Wow, Jim and Gene really look like him.

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