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Airmen unite at Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum event

May 26, 2014, Hamilton, Ont. - Seventy years after his friend and fellow airman went missing behind enemy lines, Fraser Muir got his wish.


May 26, 2014
By CBC News

At a ceremony at the Canada Warplane Heritage Museum in Hamilton, the
Second World War veteran finally met the family of John McLea, a local
man and Royal Canadian Air Force tailgunner who disappeared in November
1944 when his Halifax bomber crashed in Germany.

The Sunday event, which saw Muir, 89, help to dedicate a frosted glass
plaque in his fallen friend’s honour, culminates a decades-long search
to find and meet with McLea’s relatives.

“It’s an answer to a prayer,” said Muir, who met McLea at basic
training in P.E.I. when the two were still in their teens. “I feel on
top of the world.”

 

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McLea, Muir said, bragged about Hamilton and spoke often about how much he looked forward to returning to his hometown.

 

So in the years since McLea’s disappearance, "I would ask everybody
from Hamilton if they knew John or knew of the family," said Muir, a
resident of Wasaga Beach.

 

But nobody did — until this year. 

 

A back-and-forth over email with staff at the Hamilton Military
Museum led Muir to learn of one of McLea’s nephews, Air Canada pilot and
Warplane Heritage museum volunteer John McClenaghan.

 

Three months ago, Muir rang up the 60-year-old up and told him about
his search for McLea’s family and the time in 1999 when he sprinkled
soil from the Hamilton Mountain by the gravestone in Germany
engraved with the missing man’s name.

 

In the hour-and-half call, McClenaghan, of Etobicoke, spoke of his
own research on what became of his namesake uncle, whom he never met.

The two men met face-to-face for the first time at the plaque dedication
on Sunday, and McClenaghan treated the 50 or so people in attendance to
a presentation on McLea’s life.

“It’s pretty special,” said McClenaghan. “I’m having trouble just not breaking down when I talk about.”

He estimated that most of the people who came out were either
relatives of his — some close, some he didn't recognize — or history
buffs who learned about Muir's story from the news.

 

McLea’s last surviving sibling, Ancaster’s Margaret Stephenson, was
on hand at the ceremony. She said she was 14 when a telegram arrived at
her house notifying the McLea family about her brother’s disappearance.

 

“It makes me feel kind of teary-eyed,” Stephenson said of Muir’s story. "And I'm trying not to do that."

 

But she noted the heartbreak and uncertainty of having a sibling,
child or spouse disappear overseas was a common experience during the
Second World War.

 

“So many families had someone go missing."