PENSACOLA, Fla. — Debbie Harris knew the military dog tag and small metal emblem of a Navy fighter squadron she recently found in the sand near her home on an Alabama beach belonged to a Blue Angels pilot who was killed when his jet crashed there a half-century ago.
But she wanted to find out more about Cmdr. Robert Nicholls Glasgow and what happened , so she turned to her aunt and uncle, who live in Pensacola, home of the National Museum of Naval Aviation. Their search led them to the museum's director, Bob Rasmussen, a retired Navy captain and once a member of the famed flight demonstration team.
"I said to myself, 'Isn't that a coincidence,' " Rasmussen mused. "Of all the people that they might have brought this to, it happened to be the person who was flying with him the morning he was killed in that crash."
That's not the only coincidence, Harris said Friday, when she went to the museum to show Rasmussen what she had found.
Harris, 56, of Fort Morgan, Ala., said she came upon the fire-scorched emblem from Fighter Squadron 191, one of Glasgow's previous units, in mid-October. It was nearly 50 years to the day after the Oct. 14, 1958 crash.
The emblem probably had been on a Zippo cigarette lighter, Rasmussen said. She also found a small piece of metal shaped like a W, but Rasmussen couldn't identify it.
Harris then found the dog tag, bent but with the pilot's name clearly visible, on Feb. 17 — Glasgow's birthday. He was born on that date in 1922.
"It's like he's — I don't know," Harris said. "It's spooky."
Harris thinks hurricanes that swept through the area in recent years may have uncovered the items.
She wants to give them to Glasgow's family, but she's been unable to find any relatives through her research on the Internet. An Oct. 15, 1958, article on the crash in the Pensacola News Journal indicated Glasgow had a wife and four children and that his parents lived in El Monte, Calif.
Rasmussen said he'll try to help her search, although he hardly knew Glasgow. Glasgow had reported for duty at Pensacola Naval Air Station as the Blue Angels new leader just a few days before his first flight in one of the team's F-11 Tigers ended in tragedy.
The outgoing Blue Angels commander, Ed Holley, had asked Rasmussen, one of the team's most experienced air show pilots, to take Glasgow on an orientation flight. They took off in separate jets on a clear, cloudless day and headed for the Blue Angels' practice area over the Gulf of Mexico just off the Alabama coast.
Rasmussen's No. 4 jet had just had its radio identification device replaced and he needed to fly to a higher altitude over Mobile, Ala., to test it, something Glasgow had been briefed on before they took off. Holley also told Rasmussen they could try some maneuvers at high altitude but nothing low.
"I dropped him off at the site and said, 'Just orbit here until I get back. I'll be back in three or four minutes,'" Rasmussen recalled.
It was their last communication.
"I went up there, checked out the equipment, came back on the radio, called him and he was already gone," Rasmussen said.
Rasmussen didn't see Glasgow's jet crash into a vacant house at Fort Morgan and then explode — only the aftermath.
"I could see the smoke and a big black mark on the beach," Rasmussen said. "Flying lower I could see some blue pieces of metal and it was pretty obvious what had happened."
Witnesses on the ground said the jet crashed while attempting a loop.
"I'm always looking for things there," said Harris, a retired aircraft company employee who works the night shift at a Wal-Mart. "I grew up knowing about the crash."
She said she found the squadron emblem no more than 200 feet from the crash site, now covered with sand and sea oats. She then did some research and found out the pilot's name before seeing it on the dog tag she spotted along a path between her house and the water.
"I was walking along there and looked down and I saw this and went, 'Um, oh my gosh,' " Harris said, her voice dropping to a whisper.
"It was like one of those magical moments," she said. "I stood there and the sun was setting and I held this in my hand and I said, 'No one has touched this since it was around his neck, and I'm touching it.' It was real emotional."
What an interesting piece of history! To think that on the same beach I've walked numerous times would be found artifacts such as these boggles the mind! Good find, Debbie!