Clarence C. Fridley – Aviation Machinist’s Mate, United States Navy

Clarence C. Fridley

  • Aviation Machinist’s Mate, Second Class, U.S. Navy
  • 03775592
  • United States Naval Reserve
  • Entered the Service from: California
  • Died: January 16, 1946
  • Missing in Action or Buried at Sea
  • Tablets of the Missing at Honolulu Memorial
  • Honolulu, Hawaii
  • Awards: Purple Heart

A seven-man crew left Attu Island, Alaska, on a World War II bomber plane, heading for enemy targets in the Kurile Islands of Japan.The plane hit a storm, and the crewmen were never seen or heard from again.

One of those men was Clarence “Digs” Fridley, who spent part of his childhood in Manhattan. The military listed him and the others as POW/MIA, but nobody knew for sure what had happened to them.

That is, until a few weeks ago.

The military, after finding the crashed plane on the coast of Russia in 2000, has finally identified the remains of Fridley and the other crewmen using DNA testing.

And in November, the airmen were buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

It is rare for POW/MIAs to be identified six decades after a war, said Lieutenant Mike Sullivan, public affairs officer with the Naval Reserve Center in Helena.

“I’ve been the public affairs officer for four years, and this is the first identification-of-remains news release I’ve seen — let alone with someone from Montana,” Sullivan said.

Although Fridley may have listed Manhattan as his hometown in military records, little is known about his life here because he moved away when he was still a boy. Attempts to contact his cousins who live in the Gallatin Valley were unsuccessful.

But O. Wendell Townsend, a lifetime Manhattan resident and member of local veterans groups, said he remembers Fridley and helped the military track down his relatives.

“He was a school boy here,” Townsend said. “They left here in 1927 in a Model T Ford. They called him Digs because he like to go out and dig in the dirt.”

Military officials contacted Townsend after a Russian citizen reported that he had discovered the wrecked plane on Russia’s Kamatchka Peninsula nearly 40 years earlier.

Investigators visited the crash site, and found bones and identification that suggested the remains belonged to the missing crewmen.

With Townsend’s help, military officials found members of Fridley’s immediate family. The family’s participation was necessary for scientists at the military’s Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii to perform DNA testing on the remains.

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  • DATE OF BIRTH: 01/03/1919
  • DATE OF DEATH: 03/25/1944
  • DATE OF INTERMENT: 11/20/2003

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