50-year flashback to friend who died too soon

  • Updated: February 9, 2013 - 4:28 PM

Just about 50 years ago, a headline jolted George Bodem when he picked up his Minneapolis Morning Tribune: "43 DIE IN NWA JET CRASH."

The Feb. 13, 1963, front page featured photos of six of the eight Minneapolis-based crew members who died when their plane crashed 42 miles southwest of Miami's airport, breaking apart as it flew into a storm over the Everglades.

The black and white image of 25-year-old flight attendant Virginia Lee Younkin didn't reflect her cobalt-blue eyes. But 50 years later, those eyes still haunt Bodem.

Seven summers earlier, back home from Dartmouth College, Bodem had stopped by the soda fountain at Clancy Drug at the corner of 50th and Halifax in Edina, where Younkin worked at the time and grabbed his attention immediately.

"It was one of those moments -- bam!" he recalled.

They dated a few times -- nothing too serious -- as Younkin's charismatic beauty landed her the title of Miss Edina. She rode as royalty in the Aquatennial parade and was named the queen of something called the Gopher State Timing Association hot rod and custom car show.

Younkin, known as Lee, majored in Spanish at the University of Minnesota and planned to use her language skills in government work.

The daughter of a Honeywell executive, she lived in a Richfield apartment after her father was transferred to Dallas. After the crash, her parents requested no memorials or flowers.

"Just like that," Bodem said, "it was as if her life was thrown away."

By the time of the crash, he was climbing the academic ladder as an organic chemist and was engaged to his wife, Mary. They'll celebrate their 50th anniversary in 2014, and have two grown kids and a couple of grandchildren. George spent 25 years as a chemist in the Kodak Research Lab in Rochester, N.Y., working on dyes and instant photography.

After retirement, he and Mary returned to south Minneapolis. When he stops by the Starbucks near where Clancy's once stood, he flashes back to Younkin. He remembers going up to her door at 49th and Maple near where the US Bank now stands.

With the 50th anniversary of her death approaching, Bodem has found a blog about Northwest Flight 705 -- www.tinyurl.com/flight705 -- prepared by family members of one of the victims. He's traded e-mails with some of Younkin's 1954 high school classmates from Monrovia, Calif. He's collected some newspaper clippings about Younkin and the crash, which prompted the airline industry to upgrade cockpit instruments and radar equipment. Safer procedures were developed for pilots flying into storms and turbulence.

One newspaper blogger at the Sun Sentinel in Florida, called it an "air disaster worth remembering" (tinyurl.com/47yztru).

Bodem couldn't agree more. On the 50th anniversary, he'll remember his vivacious friend Lee's blue eyes.

CURT BROWN

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