ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Robert Nesmith never expected to see his fighter plane again after he crash-landed it on Attu Island during World War II, when he was 20 years old.
Fifty five years later, the 75-year-old Nesmith was in Anchorage Wednesday to attend a ceremony featuring the restored Lockheed P-38G Lightning. The shiny green plane was dedicated as a memorial to the late Lt. Gen. David J. McCloud, commander of the military in Alaska, who was killed in July 1998 when his private airplane, a Russian-made Yak-54, crashed on Fort Richardson.
The occasion marked the first time Nesmith returned to Alaska since the end of the war.
Nesmith said he figured the Lockheed was still sitting in a snowy valley, where it crashed in 1945 while on a training flight.
The restored plane will be permanently displayed on Elmendorf Air Force Base in the McCloud Memorial Park, adjacent to 3rd Wing Headquarters.
Earlier this week, Nesmith stood reunited with the renovated P-38 and couldn't help congratulating the restoration workers, calling them ''the real heroes.''
Nesmith, who lives in Wheaton, Ill., with his wife, Betty, is by no means proud of the crash, he said. But he lived and, through restoration efforts, so has the P-38.
The plane looks just as it once did, right down to the paint job, Nesmith said. As he recounted his days of flying with the 54th Fighter Squadron, he marveled at what the project's key restorer had done.
''I think Don Delk did a hell of a job,'' he said.
Delk, 56, died Tuesday morning at Providence Alaska Medical Center, where he was recovering from recent surgery, according to Ed Lamm, one of the aircraft's restorers.
The restoration of the P-38 was a joint effort of the 3rd Wing and the McCloud Memorial Foundation, which is made up of volunteers who used shop space and tooling provided by the 3rd Wing.
The project has involved countless hours of hunting down, repairing and even fabricating parts for the plane. The P-38 -- one of fewer than 30 that have survived -- was disassembled and flown to Anchorage in June 1999 for its methodical restoration.
Lamm said the project was bogged down by bureaucratic holdups when he and Delk began their planning in the early 1990s.
''It went downhill until McCloud came along,'' Lamm said. It was McCloud who cleared the way to recover the plane from the Aleutians, he said.
Others familiar with the project were saddened by the news of Delk's death. Staff Sgt. Jim Fisher, a public affairs officer with the 3rd Wing, recalled speaking with Delk about his philosophy of craftsmanship.
''Nobody played a bigger role in this thing, and it couldn't have been done without him,'' Fisher told the Anchorage Daily News. ''He was a very sharp guy, and he was very practical and very humble.''
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