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My prayer is that this story will not glamorize the event of war. Words can never express the feelings families have when their young men are sent out to kill or be killed... no matter how noble the cause may seem to be; for there is no winner as the cream of that generation dies. Only by living through this period can anyone really feel the pains of war:
- A son missing for a year, constant hope that he'll be found.
- Asking for help from the Red Cross to find information and then having their reply blocked just prior to reaching you.
- Needing your other son to hold as you grieve for the lost one, but not being able to do so.
- Knowing your son would never have been flying and possibly would still be alive had you never signed parental permission papers.
- Replacing the little flag in the window, which had two blue stars (two sons in the service) for two flags... one blue star and one gold star (killed in action).
- A baby who never would know her father.
- A body returned six years after death with only officials stating he was your son.
- Many years of watching movies made, glorifying war and not being able to watch them because the pain was still so real.
These things are so private, yet we must convey them to our sons and daughters, for only through Jesus Christ can we have life, and that abundantly!
John James (Jack) Wall was born in Vincennes, Indiana on February 17, 1922. He was the second of three living children. In 1930, the family moved to Bridgeport Illinois; about 14 miles west of Vincennes. His dad, George Wall, managed an A&P grocery store there. IN 1935, George opened his own store, the Happy Hour Grocery, featuring the Happy Hour brand of canned goods. As they grew up, Jack and his older brother, Phillip, worked on a part-time basis for their dad. Jack also delivered daily newspapers for a while.
Jack graduated from Bridgeport Township High School in June 1940. In July, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps at Chanute Field, Rantoul, Illinois. After basic training, he was sent to Barksdale Field at Shreveport, Louisiana. His next assignment was at Kirkland AirField, Albuquerque, New Mexico. There he met and married Corrine Sanchez. A daughter, Margaret Ann, was born in August, 1942.While stationed there, he applied for and was accepted into pilot training.
One year after being listed as missing in action, he was officially declared dead. His body was returned to the States at the request of his dad, in the fall of 1950. His internment is in the cemetery at Vincennes.
Mrs. Corrine (Wall) Sanchez remembers her husband
I first met Jack in Albuquerque, New Mexico; my hometown. It was just a little desert town in the summer of 1941, but people were real friendly there. I haven't been back for years and I hear it's grown up some. Most of my family has moved out to California since then.
His folks called him Jack, but I called him John until I met his mom, dad and sister. I had just gotten out of high school and was working in a drug store. A girlfriend of mine was going out with one of the soldiers in town. My mom and dad used to tell me:" Keep away from those young men! You shouldn't be going out anyway." I remember one day, my friend tapped me on the shoulder;" Hey, I see a bunch of fellows over there!" She went over to chat for a while and when she came back she said:" Oh, they're very nice and they just bought a car. Why don't you come over with me?" I was thinking it over and she said:" Well, come on!" So I did.
Those guys had been around before, but I had no idea they were looking us over. Jack told me:" I saw you before, that's why I asked you out." It was a blind date, sort of.
Jack wasn't a pilot then, just a sergeant who had worked his way up the ranks. He was at Kirkland Airfield and had just applied for pilot's training. He wasn't old enough to fly, so he had to get permission from his family. They weren't too hot on the idea, but Jack told them:" I want to do it." They signed the papers and he was eventually sent to Blackburn Field in Waco, Texas. He got his wings on June 26, 1943.
In the meantime, we had gotten married there in Albuquerque. After we learned we were going to have a family, Jack changed his mind about flying; but it was too late...the papers had already been processed. My daughter, Margaret, was born in August of 1942.
Mom used to really like Jack. She didn't speak a lot of English, but they got on real well. She used to say:" Wow, he's so easy going...you always get your way!" Of course we were very young at the time, he was nineteen. Gosh, it seems like a dream sometimes; I remember that whatever I said went. He made me feel like I was the boss; but when he was with the enlisted fellows from the crew, I thought he was much older than them. It must have been the way he carried himself that made me think that.
For about two years, there was a lot of coming and going, so we weren't together for a long time. While Jack was in officers' school, my mom decided to go out to California. She was divorced and Mom wanted to get away.
My sister's husband was overseas, and she had a little girl too. We both ended up moving in with my mom. She helped raise our kids. We both got jobs and started working; it was nice. You'd go out the movies and once in a while, I'd go out with friends. My mom was strict. She'd say:" You be home at ten o'clock. You're married! You have a little girl." And that's the way it went. I was a real momma's girl and she protected me even though I was grown up. The other girl's used to say:" Well, I'm eighteen and I'm going to move out." I'd think to myself:" Gee, I want to get my own place someday." Mom said:" Nope, you're going to stay here and I'll help you raise your child!" And she did a wonderful job, too. Things were different then.
Jack got sent to Davis-Monthan, and I went to join him. Gosh, it was hot out there, and I remember the town was full of soldiers and cowboys. He was originally with another crew but somehow he got teamed up with Leo Ofenstein (the pilot). We met the rest of his crew, there. When we stayed in Tucson, a couple of the fellows would visit with us from time to time. Jack was a second lieutenant by then, but he used to pal around with both the officers and enlisted men. He wouldn't put on any airs. We lived in a motel for five or six weeks because good housing was hard to find.
I returned to LA and went back with my mom. In August, the crew was stationed at Blythe, so Jack could stay with us. The crew got a week off and all the officers came out here and stayed in the Ambassador Hotel. They were really going to live it up! Dave Purner (navigator) wasn't married and so he visited with us, but Marie Buzzi (bombardier Harold Buzzi) was there; and Lucy Ofenstein.
Marie was an Italian girl from back east; dark hair and features. She was real nice and we became friends; but Lucy was the mother figure for all of us. She was quite a girl and I learned a lot from her.
Leo and Lucy were the only other ones with children; Lucy had a little boy. She was a tall attractive woman...real pretty and I thought she was from Texas. The other girls were a little older, or maybe it just seemed that way to me. To put it bluntly, I was real green. I was not used to high living and big city ways. Lucy was the model and she said:" We're going to live it up.. so why don't we do this or that?" I said:" Fine!" I remember going out and getting a new dress. We went out for dinner and danced at the Paladium. Quite a new experience for a small town girl like me! The next day, I figured we could go out shopping again; but no! Lucy knew where to go and what to do in the big city! We had a ball.
In November, they sent the crew to Topeka, Kansas; we knew they were getting ready to go overseas. Marie, Lucy and I would correspond and we kept in touch. For years, Lucy wrote all of us. Marie and I would exchange Christmas cards.
Dave Purner and his wife were newly weds in Topeka. I remember all the boys chipped in to help him out...it was like a family. We met Louise there and she was a proper type of gal from the south. I remember how she'd wear her hats and all; real cute! I was glad to meet her.
Back then you were thrown together with other gals and there were lots of contrasts...we were from different places, some with simple ways; some fancy, but we were all so young and didn't know what was ahead for us. Right after the crew left, I came back to California. One morning, I went to the beach and met a fortuneteller. She didn't seem to have the answers.
At Topeka, the boys took us up to the field and showed us their new plane. It looked so big to us at the time. We went up to the doorway...it didn't seem very comfortable inside. Since the pilot was from Texas, he called the plane " The San Antonio Rose", like the song. They named each one of the engines with our names:" That one's Lucille, that one's Corrine, and those two are Marie and Louise". They left and that was it.
We had time for a few letters. Just before he went on his last mission, Jack told me he was having sinus trouble. He was going to be sent home!
On June 12, 1944, we got word that the ship had gone down (April 29) and the crew was missing in action. When the news came about Jack, Mr. Wall told me:" Corrine, I will take care of all these matters." The Army wrote to my father-in-law in Bridgeport, Illinois. He would get all the news first, then send it along to me in California; that's the way he wanted it.
I don't know how many planes went down that day, but it was supposed to be one of the real bad ones. I thought all the boys went down together and were prisoners in the same place over there. In truth, I never knew too much about what happened to the crew. That year, I spent a lot of time going back and forth between California and Illinois. Jack's family was good to me and I'd spend two or three months at a time there. They were missing in action for two years and then on December 7, 1945 they were declared...
We gals continued to correspond for years, until, eventually it was longer and longer between letters. We had become real good friends. For example, Lucy would tell me she was papering her bedroom and little things like that. Really, we didn't know what to talk about.
I guess, for all of us, time had moved on. We were all young and wanted something out of life, so we started over. Having a good family has meant so much to my daughter and I.
Vit Krushas remembers his co-pilot, 2nd Lt. John Wall
Picture this base, set up right amongst the village. They'll be Nissan huts and then houses, gardens, streets and civilians walking around. I'm out walking and I run into Johnny Wall and some friend of his. John says:" Hey, I've been looking for you. I need an engineer for the take-off and landing test. There's one scheduled for 3 p.m. this afternoon." The climate was getting to me and I was anxious to get back to work.
It was another grey day, but the airfield was bristling with activity. I checked out John's plane with Oliver Schmelzle (ball turret, eng.), then John showed up with his instructor pilot. My normal take-off position was to stand between the pilot and co-pilot seats on the command deck. John had the left seat and the instructor was quietly shuffling some papers on his lap.
We're going to start the engines up, so Schmelzle positioned himself under the left wing with a fire extinguisher. We've fired the inboard right side engine first...that's number three, where the hydraulic pump is. We fire the left inboard next, and when it starts...VAVOOM!!! All this fire starts flaming back. Schmelzle is jumping all around with that extinguisher and I'm crying out: "Number two on fire sir!" Johnny's got his window open and is about to reach over and shut off the switch for that engine. The instructor yells out:" Hold it. Keep it going. Don't use that fire extinguisher!"
I signal to Schmelzle:" It's OK...it's OK" Me and Johnny are looking at this guy;" What the hell's the story?" So he says:" That number two engine always catches on fire when you start it... it goes out when you take off." Who ever heard of such a thing? We start the outboards, number one and four. John taxi's out and that engine's cooking up pretty good now. I must say John was pretty steady handed about the whole thing; but my throat was getting drier by the moment. Poor Oliver was just standing there, wide eyed with that extinguisher, as we rolled down the runway.
After we get airborne, the instructor puts down his paperwork and glances over at the number two engine:" Well, what did I tell you?... no more fire!" It seemed to me that Johnny's wiry little frame eased back into his seat some and I thought I heard him clear his throat. Now, smaller guys could handle the B-17 easier than the B-24, because they had electrically operated controls. We had hydraulics. We also had less lift, which meant we needed more speed to get airborne; and you land a lot faster.
What John had to do, that afternoon, was to come down on a short runway. His instructions were to come around right at the head of the strip, make a clockwise bank with his right wing down and then just drop in. Well, little John comes sliding in, sliding in...he gets to the edge of the runway real nice, drops down... but crunch! He puts us down on the gravel beside the runway. By the time we've used up half our runway and dropped our speed, the left main landing gear blows...BLAM! The instructor makes some kind of a snide remark like:" Not bad, but let's go around and at least hit the runway this time." We've got a flat now and there really isn't time for another try. Not much time and a lot to learn!