My Uncle Robert, was born in Woburn, Massachusetts on February 13, 1921. He was my mother’s brother. He was the fourth child of five in the Harron family, my mother being the baby, and, the fifth sibling, of the Harron family.
To me, this biography reads like a script from an old black and white World War II movie, but, then, that’s the era it takes place in, the “Golly” “Gee-Whiz” generation that fought and died in that great war.
He was born in the house at 23 Flagg Street in Woburn, Massachusetts, the same house that my Mom would be born in, a year and a half after Uncle Robert.
He attended School during his grade school years in the Woburn school system. But, he graduated from Junior High school and Senior High School from the Lexington, Massachusetts school system, graduating from Jr. High on June 20th 1935, and High School on June 15th 1938. He attended Lexington Jr. and Sr. High School because they were thought to have, at the time, a little higher caliber educational system than the Woburn school system.
After his High School graduation, and before enlisting in the U.S. Army Air Corp. for WW II. He was employed at the Wesco Waterpaints Company in Boston Massachusetts. I can’t determine what his actual position with this firm was, but it seems he enjoyed his employment there, and was happy with the job.
My Aunt Edna, his sister, second child in the Harron family, told me, that in order for him to enter the Air Corp, he went to a hospital in Boston for some sort of operation. She said, that her, and her sister, oldest child in the Harron family, Dora, went to the hospital to be with him, and that after the operation, he was bleeding profusely from his nose. The only thing I can surmise about this is, that back at that time, it was common, in order to qualify for certain types of duty, such as aircrews, and submariner crews, to have an operation to have your adenoids removed, in order to be able to stand the great differences in air pressure involved with these types of jobs.
This just goes to show, how much determination he had, in order to pass the physical, and obtain flight status in the U.S. Army Air Corp.
He enlisted on February 16th 1942. Just three days after his 21st birthday, and just a little over two months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and America’s entrance into WW II.
Upon embarking on his Air Corp enlistment, he had a photo scrap book that he took with him, on the back of this photo album, he wrote in pen a list of his assignments in their sequential order, there are no specific dates on this list, but it contains a synopsis of his assignments, from his first day, to the date he arrived at the 577th Bomb Squadron.
1. Atlantic City, New Jersey
2. Reading, Pennsylvania
3. Nashville, Tennessee-November 1943
4. Selman Field, Louisiana
5. Harlingen, Texas
6. Ellington Field, Texas
7. Westover Field, Massachusetts
8. Charleston Army Air Base, South Carolina
9. Mitchell Field, Hempstead, New York
10. Kilmer Field, New Jersey (P.C.E.)
11. Stone, England U.K.(Arrived: November 3rd 1944)
12. Wendling A.A.F. England U.K.
Crew 437, 577th Bomb Squadron, 392nd Bombardment
Group(Heavy)”The Crusaders”, 14th Combat Bomb
Wing, 2nd Air Division, 8th Air Force.
He graduated from Air Forces Advanced Navigation School at Ellington Field Texas with class: 44-11, on August 26th 1944. On that date, by Special Order number 205, he was promoted to Flight Officer(serial # T131738). Which, in today’s military, is equivalent to a Warrant Officer.
Two and a half years training, and a dozen moves, in all that time, to finally arrive at the 577th at Wendling.
He departed on a troop ship in late October 1944 for England. His mother, my grandmother, and his girl-friend at the time, Lillian, accompanied him by train to New York, to see him off. In one of his letters home after his arrival, he said that he crossed the ocean on the ocean-liner “Queen Mary”.
Sometime shortly after his arrival in England, he obtained a little pocket zodiac dairy, this was eventually returned with his personal affects after his death, because of that fact I believe he never took this little dairy on any of his missions, and just wrote in it after the completion of each mission. This is where I found the exact arrival date, as he circled his arrival date, and then started scratching off dates after that, in weekly increments. But, most importantly, this diary contained a record of his combat missions.
This record of his combat missions states: the dates, objectives/targets, flying time/accumulated combat hours.
From his arrival at Wendling, he flew practice missions every few day, around England, getting orientated with his crew and their plane, a B-24 Liberator. Serial number # 42-50868. It was probably a “D” or “J” model liberator. They probably would have started flying combat missions earlier than they did, but, their co-pilot became ill, and was kept in the base hospital for 10 days to two weeks. After he was released, they started flying combat.
Although such statistics were not circulated among U.S. Army Air Forces crews at the time, but, after the war, when statistics became available, the average life expectancy of an Eighth Air Force crews mission completion rate in 1943/1944, was only 11 missions. From other records compiled after WW II, in contrast to the B-17, the B-24 Liberator was not as able to take as much punishment. This was due to it’s complex construction, in particular, the wing, was relatively weak, and in many cases, if hit in the crucial places, it gave way completely. Photographic records of WW II show B-24’s plummeting from the sky with two wings folded upward like those of a butterfly. The sturdiness of the B-17 was almost unbelievable, sometimes returning to base with major components, tail-sections, engines, even wings, very badly damaged, and even on occasion partly missing.
Over 28,000 American air crews gave their lives flying from bases in England during the war.
He flew his first combat mission on Christmas Eve(day), December 24th 1944. He got in the habit of sending home Stars & Stripes newspaper clippings of all his missions, except mission number three. These clippings, which he sent along with letters back to his family, along with his little pocket dairy. You combine the letters, clipping, and diary, and you get a telling story of the air war. The reason, I suppose that his pocket diary wasn’t taken on missions, was that he didn’t ever want it found on him if he ever had to bail out over enemy territory. Plus, I think that he probably thought that, if anything bad ever happened to him, that it would be sent home to his family. Which it was.
The first mission, in the newspaper clipping, he underlined, “Marshaling yards and rail centers near Trier”(Germany) In his pocket diary he wrote: “Rower” “Flak light, No fighters” “5:50 Flying hours”(combat). Click here to see the cliping
Mission number two was flown on December 27th 1944. Objective/Target: Homburg. Pocket diary comment: “Medium Flak-Very Accurate-G knocked out-No fighters” “5:30 Flying hours”(combat). Click here to see the cliping
“G” must mean that a gun position on the plane was knocked out. The newspaper clipping about this mission has Homburg underlined. He wrote a letter home to his sister Edna that evening after the mission.
“Dear Edna, Flew # 2 today and that is why I’m so tired. However I’m still O.K. and hoping for the best, with my fingers crossed. Boy, it’s no fun, believe me.”
Mission number three, December 30th 1944. Objective/Target: Ludendorf Bridge. Pocket diary comment: “No Ball” Probably meaning that the ball turret gun was not operating on the mission that day ? “5:30 Flying hours”(combat). There was no newspaper clipping for this mission. In a letter to his sister Edna, dated December 31st 1944, the day after the mission, he wrote:
“You asked me how many missions I have to do here. Well I don’t know if I’m violating any censorship rules or not, but, it’s suppose to be 35. Speaking of missions, I made the 3rd one yesterday, though I can’t say to where. Send you a clipping later. Maybe you don’t think the little old prayers don’t come out when you’re over the target and the sky is loaded with flak, oh boy, it’s no picnic, and this high altitude business where you must use oxygen certainly requires plenty of sleep and rest. Boy, it knocks it out of you and what I mean. Oh well, 32 to go, if I’m lucky. If I’m not so lucky. I’ll never know the difference, as it’s a quick exit, so that’s some consolation at least.”
Mission number four, January 7th 1945. Newspaper clipping: Achern, southwest of Karlsruhe, underlined. The pocket diary: “Landau” “No flak-no fighters” “6:25 Flying hours”(combat). Click here to see the cliping
Mission number five, January 13th 1945. Newspaper clipping: Kaiserslautern. Pocket diary: “Kaiserslautern marshaling yds.” “Moderate flak” “7:00 flying hours”(combat). Another letter home to his sister Edna, dated January 13th 1945 same day as the mission.
“Flew for 7 hours today. My 5th mission, and I’m dead tired. I’m so tired in fact that I’m making this letter very short, because I’m going to bed pronto.”
Another letter, dated January 14th 1945, the day after the 5th mission.
“This is just a note because I’m enclosing a clipping of yesterday’s mission. It was my 5th. So only 30 more to go. What a life !!” Click here to see the cliping
Mission number six, January 16th 1945. Newspaper clipping, underlined, “The heavies selected as their main target a synthetic oil plant at Ruhland near Dresden.” Pocket diary: “Ruhland-Oil Works” In large capital letters “ROUGH” “8:15 flying hours”(combat). In another letter to his sister Edna, dated January 17th 1945, the day after the mission. Click here to see the cliping
“Here I am again ! Flew mission number six yesterday, but didn’t get back to the base here till this afternoon. Surprised ! Well we had to land in France for reasons I can’t disclose. However everything was all right. No trouble with anything but had to land there for other reasons. Let me tell you about it. I stayed about 40 miles from Paris. Had a pretty good time there. We all had quite a party and the “Champagne” and “Cognac” flowed quite freely at the officers club there. We had been flying 9 hours on our mission, so I’ll hope you will excuse the fact that the party was enjoyed quite liberally by all. Fact is I’ve brought back a quart of Champagne and am keeping it locked up till Feb. 13th, my birthday.”
In another letter to Edna, dated, January 20th 1945 he wrote:
“That last mission I flew gives me the Air Medal although I haven’t received it as yet.”
This mission number six, was a big question, as to why did they land in France ? In his letter home, it sounded, as if, it was just my uncles plane that was the only one that landed there. I had visions that my uncles plane was singled out to land there on some type of Top Secret mission, to transport maybe a spy, or some type of secret item, or some diplomatic correspondence back to England. But, I contacted the U.S. Air Force Historical office at Wright-Patterson A.F.B.. in Ohio.
Records show, that the whole group was ordered to land on their way back from the mission, because of severe snow storms around all their home base in England. A look at the official records show, that the snow storm was just starting as they took off that morning.
Mission number seven, January 28th 1945. Objective/Target: Dortmund, Germany. Group mission # 231, Field Order # 548. This date was the third anniversary of 8th Air Force’s combat operations in the ETO(European Theater of Operations). The following is from the group’s history records:
Another lengthy stand down period was necessitated for poor weather, both locally and over the target areas. Thus, a number of “Alamogordos” were heard by the crews and ground maintenance/ordnance personnel. Weather finally permitted a mission. This raid was against the coke oven facilities three and one-half miles northeast of Dortmund. A secondary target of the Munster marshaling yards was assigned also. General briefings for 30 crews were held at 0445 and 0600 hours, but, the relatively good weather for takeoff did not hold as forecasted. At 0805 hours, group bombers began take-off, but a heavy snow squall hit suddenly which caused 8 Liberators to abort on the ground. After a few bombers returned early due to malfunctions, the remaining 17 went in over the target, bombing the primary with excellent results. The crews released a total of 228 500Lb. GP’s(General Purpose) bombs on target with 93 percent impacting within a 2000 foot radius of the aiming point. Fighters were not encountered, but AA fire(flak) was heavy and accurate around bomb release time of 1203 hours. As a direct result, two bombers and aircrews were lost on this mission, and 3 other crewmembers from the 576th Bomb Squadron’s aircraft were wounded. From the 577th Bomb Squadron, Lieutenant Dodd’s crew in serial number 42-95164, nose art name: “Lady Eve” was hit by AA fire in the wing and swerved into serial number 42-50868, no nose art name, flown by Lieutenant Schuster’s crew. This was my uncle Robert’s plane, he was the assigned navigator. His bomber lost a wing in this collision and both planes went down in a dive, exploding as they plummeted downward with a reported 4 parachutes being seen from other planes in the formation, but, in the heat of battle, these parachute reports are often inaccurate. It was not certain from which ship the chutes had egressed from. Seven other bombers returned with battle damage, but all remaining planes did manage to recover safely at Wendling around 1435 hours. Both my uncle Robert’s plane and the other bomber crashed at opposite ends of the town of Garbeck Germany. He was KIA (Killed In Action) that day. He had been in the ETO for only a total of 86 days. And, he was only 99 days away from the end of the war when Germany surrended on May 7th 1945. Did the original crash/collision kill him, did the inevitable explosion kill him, or was he trapped by the centrifugal force of the planes downward motion, scary thoughts.
It was latter determined after the end of the war, that only two parachutes egressed that day, and they were the two waist gunners on Lt. Dodd’s plane. They were most likely involuntarily ejected during the collision. None of my uncle Robert’s crewmember were able to parachute to safety, all perished with their aircraft.
The crew roster of both aircraft follow:
2nd Lt.(Pilot) William N. Schuster KIA Garden City, Michigan
2nd Lt.(Co-Pilot) Thomas V. Dougherty Jr. KIA Hazelton, PA.
Flight Officer(Navigator) Robert John Harron KIA Burlington, Mass.
Sgt.(Top-Turrat Gunner) Raymond W. Pellecchia KIA Corona, New York
Sgt.(Radio) Frank A. Kohn KIA Monclova, Ohio
Sgt.(Right Waist Gunner) Louis C. Englebrecht KIA Baltimore, Maryland
S/sgt.(Left Waist Gunner) Nicolas R. Marinelli KIA Philadelphia, PA.
Sgt.(Tail Gunner) Paul Sablitz KIA Colchester, Conn.
Sgt.(Nose Gunner) Angelo A. Maccarone KIA Boston. Mass.
S/sgt.(Lower Sperry Ball Gunner) Frank G. Bleickardt KIA Rutland, Vermont
2nd Lt.(Pilot) James R. Dodd KIA Oklahoma City, OK.
2nd Lt.(Co-Pilot) Carl T. Sholander KIA Turlock, California
2nd Lt.(Navigator) Kenneth V. Fleming KIA Sharpsburg, Kentucky
Sgt.(Top-Turret Gunner) Robert R. Hartong KIA Girard, Kansas
Sgt.(Radio) Morris Epstein KIA Brooklyn, New York
Sgt.(Right Waist Gunner) John J. Muka POW Chicago, Illinois
Cpl.(Left Waist Gunner) Maclovio Olivas POW Cuba, New Mexico
Sgt.(Tail Gunner) Leonard D. Hulbert KIA Racine, Wisconsin
Sgt.(Nose Gunner) Robert E. Page KIA Vallejo, California
S/sgt.(Bottom Sperry Ball Gunner) Matthew A. Bartnowski KIA Clifton, New Jersey
The official cause for the loss of both planes: Flak/Collision.
Between my uncles letters home and his pocket diary, there seems to be a discrepancy of 45 minutes in his combat flying hours. He stated in one of his letters that they had been flying for 9 hours, but in the pocket diary, he wrote 8 hours and 15 minutes. Maybe he just rounded off the time in the letter home. Maybe it was just 8 Hrs 15 Mins flying time up to landing in France, and then just 45 minutes flying time back to England the next day ? Irregadless, his total combat flying hours came to either, 38 hours and 35 minutes or, 39 hours and 20 minutes. Of course the time flown on the date of his death doesn’t become considered, because, you have to successfully complete a mission by returning to your base, to have the combat hours added to your record.
As stated in the official history records of the group. They took off at 0805 Hrs. and his plane became in the collision after the bomb run which was at 1203 Hrs. So, the crew accumulated 4 more combat hours that were not credited. And, that was just at the turn point, so it would have been another 4 hours back to the base, which would have resulted in about another 8 hours of flying time.
Speculation, but you just have to ask, about the quirk’s of fate, that happen in war, you have to think about, the big “IF”......
His plane was not directly hit by flak that day, but the plane that was in formation next to his was, it was hit in the wing, which caused it to swerve into my uncles aircraft. What if, Dodd’s plane had been hit in the opposite wing that day, would his plane have swerved in the other direction, away from my uncles plane, swerving in that opposite direction, would it crash into another different plane in the formation ? What if, the construction of the wing assemblies on the B-24’s were stronger, would both planes have survived the collision ? What if, the Co-Pilot of my uncles airplane hadn’t spent that time in the base hospital at the beginning of their tour, would this had been their 10th mission instead of their 7th. What if, they were one of the crews that had aborted that morning back at the base, on the ground or shortly after take-off, returning back to base. What if, the flying hours, the experience of this crew, especially the pilot’s had more air time, would that have helped ? Statistics state that the average age of the World War II G.I. was 25 to 26 years old. The average flying experience of aircrews was less than 200 hours, and most of that was in training in the United States. What if, my uncle had made it back from this mission, how many more mission would he have flown and completed, would he have survived to the end of the war, which was so close at hand, only about 3 months away. What if, he had bailed out, survived the bail-out, became a POW ?
What if, the question asked in time immortal of every war ever fought.
He was just 23 years old, only 17 days away from his 24th birthday. Like the old saying’s goes,“War is a young man’s game.”“Where have all the young men gone?”
War’s are usually started by old fat politicians, arguing over something, usually something stupid, and then they send out the young men to finish the dispute. And, usually, a lot of these young men don’t return. “Only the dead have seen the last of war.” Because, it seems that every generation(every 25 years) has it’s own war thrust upon them.
My uncle had almost a total of 3 years on active duty. I remember my Grandmother telling me that he enjoyed the Air Corp., and enjoyed flying, and that he probably would have made the military a career after the war was over.
In one of his other letters home he mentioned that the paperwork for his promotion to 2nd Lieutenant, he was so looking forward to receiving that promotion. What if ?
There are two more ironic heart-wrenching thoughts of my uncle. Another letter, to his mother, my grandmother, wrote on, January 28th 1945. Yes. The date of his death. Can you believe this un-believable spooky scenario. During the war, it took anywhere from two to three weeks for a letter to get back to the U.S. What arrived first, this letter or the notification telegram ? This letter read:
“Dear Ma, A few lines to you this evening to let you know that I’m well. Rec’d your Pkg. with chocolates. Thanks very much. Certainly came in handy and I enjoy them to the fullest. Spent a couple of days in London returning last night. Shall write you about it tomorrow night. It’s 1 AM now Ma and I may be up in 2 or 3 hours to fly so I’m closing now. Shall write you a nice long letter tomorrow. Love Bob”
No, I am not making this up. I’m just putting into chronological order the events as I have researched them. The second part of this irony is a story that my Dad told me. My Dad was home because the previous August(1944) he was discharged from the U.S. Navy because of a back accident, having served over two years on active duty.
He drove my mother down to the Western Union office, which was located at O’Brien’s Drug Store, on the corner of Main and Campbell street’s in Woburn, Massachusetts. My Mom was the first one to get the news that her brother was actually first listed as MIA(Missing In Action), because they could not account for who’s parachutes were seen leaving which plane. So, there was a glimmer of hope. My Dad said that the news was just devastating, and my Mom and the whole family just really broke down. I just can’t imagine the agony that my Mom felt all the way home to her Mom’s house, and the pain she had to go through telling her family the sad news.
These two acts, the letter arrival and the telegram arrival, happening around the same time. This, and everything else I’ve reported, is, why, in the beginning, I said that this reads like an old WW II B & W movie script. But, it’s all just the way it happened.
My Aunt Edna immediately started a letter writing campaign to senators, congressmen, the Army Air Corp., the Red Cross, to anybody that she could think of to find out if her brother had survived by parachuting from the aircraft to safety. I’m sure that it took from a few weeks to a month or so before the names of the POW crew members were releast by the international Red Cross.
All the family found out that day my Mom brought home the telegram, all except one, my uncle William, Robert’s older brother, the third child in the Harron family. He was a Private, in the infantry, on the ground with the U.S. Army, Hq. Co. 54th Armored Infantry Battalion, 10th Armored Division. Invading Germany from southern France and Austria. Imagine his pain also, and with the fighting all around him, and other important things to worry about, like staying alive himself, and, also being closer than any other family member, but un-able to do anything, but, then, what was there to do. There was more he could and would do after the war ended. When the shooting finally stopped, he got permission to take leave to Garbeck, Germany.
My Uncle William (Bill) arrived at the crash site on July 2nd 1945. He learned that the crew had a been buried in a mass grave in a small cemetery behind the catholic church in town. Before entering the service my uncle Bill lived and worked in Montreal Canada, where he learned French almost fluently, he was a great asset when his unit was moving up through France. Since arriving in Germany, he was learning to speak German fairly well also. With his knowledge of the German language he had learned, he made friends with the burgermeister’s daughter, who had studied English. Through his instructions to her he had the town make up a nice big white cross and a big wooden plaque sign to go at the base of the cross. He had a list of both crews names, he obtained through channels before he started for Garbeck. All of the crews names were entered on the plaque/sign. He talked to the priest of the church, and found that the names had been entered in the church diary or daily log book. Uncle Bill only had two days in Garbeck, but, he also had the town plant flowers around and near the grave, before he left to return to his unit. When he got back to his unit, he notified U.S. Army Graves Registration Unit as to to exact location, even though he surmised that they knew the general area. He supplied them with the exact coordinates. Eventually my uncle Robert’s body and all the rest of the bodies, were removed to a U.S. Military cemetery in Belgium, were it remained for a few years, until it was finally repatriated back to the United States. He was finally laid to rest 4 years and 4 months after his death, on May 18th 1949, at Woodbrook Cemetery in Woburn, Massachusetts.
Another ironic twist to this movie script story, my uncle Bill, who could have rotated home with his CIB(Combat Infantryman’s Badge). Decided to re-enlist, and stay on in Germany with the occupation forces. He was promoted to Staff Sergeant.
And was assigned as a MP. Driving a jeep on duty one day he was involved in an accident, and he died on September 23rd 1947, in Munich Germany. He had just turned 30 years old. His body was airlifted back to the United States, and buried at Woodbrook Cemetery, Woburn, Massachusetts. He was buried at the family plot almost a year and a half before his brother Robert was returned, now both brothers rest side by side.
I myself was stationed in Germany for two years, from December 1967 to December 1969, with the U.S. Air Force at Ramstein A.B. I finally had the opportunity to take leave,shortly before I was to leave Germany, in November 1969, to go to visit Garbeck myself. I took the train from Ramstein to Garbeck. After arriving at the station on the outskirts of town I walked into the village, and found the only Gasthaus(Hotel/Resturant/Bar) and without having prior reservations, lucked out in getting a room for the next couple of nights. Being a little backwater town, it was a nice little out of the way village far from G.I. camp towns and off the beaten tourist track, located in the North Rhine Westphalia state of Germany. Using my small vocabulary of German, the innkeeper introduced me to a German man in the bar area of the gasthaus that could speak some English. This individual and the innkeeper, and other people in town were very very helpful, it was, as if I was some sort of minor celebrity, I don’t believe they had seen an American G.I. since my uncle Bill was there about 24 years prior. I wasn’t in uniform, I only wore civilian clothes since I was on leave. The English speaking German gentleman became my guide around the town, when I told him the story of my uncles plane crashing there during the war, he told me that he remembered it very well, he was about 10 years old when it happened. He showed me the two different areas where the planes impacted. Both were in fields in the outskirts around the town. My guide, I can not recall his name after all this time, he told me a story about that period of time, towards the end of the war, how that essential items were hard to come by, and after they removed and buried the crews from the planes, that he and other towns-people, removed the thick rubber fuel bladder bags from the wings of the aircraft, to use as soles for their worn-out shoes. Interesting, how, out of one tragedy, the plane crash, comes an element of hope, rubber soles of shoes, for others. Another one of those strange fates of war. My guide took me to meet the priest of the catholic church in town, where the crew was buried during the war, and where my uncle Bill had the cross and plaque placed after the war. The priest spoke fairly good English also, he showed me the handwritten dairy/records from the time of the crash, and it told about the burial, and a list of the crews names, these were probably obtained from the dog tags, because it was incomplete, but another page had a listing That my uncle Bill had given to the burgermeister’s daughter. Back in 1969, there were not that many xerox machines available outside of big office buildings, so, there was no way to obtain a copy, but, before I left, the priest had a typed page on church stationary type for me and presented to me, of course, it was all in German, but it was real nice of him, and the church, and the people of Garbeck. They sure made me feel welcome. Even though Garbeck was just a little village, in the Gasthaus were I stayed, they had picture post cards of the town. I bought two(2 different views) and mailed one from the town bundespost(post office) to my Aunt and Grandmother, then living in Florida, and I kept the other for myself. My Aunt and Grandmother have both past on, and among all their belongings I now have that card that I mailed over 30 years ago.
Since I got started on doing my families genealogical history in 1994, I have been collecting information, and obtaining items from my family member’s, especially my Mom and my Aunt Edna. In 1996 my Aunt Edna gave me the letters that I have used in this biography, and my Mom gave me my uncle Robert’s dress uniform, that was more than likely send back home with his personal belongings. Both my Mom and my Aunt coverted these item’s all these many years, I was honored to be given them. After going through all the letters, my own military training caused me to take a second look at my uncle’s uniform, on the uniform was two ribbon’s, one was the European Theather Campaign Ribbon and the ribbon for the Purple Heart medal. I’m suspect that the G.I.’s in his outfit or the orderly room put these ribbons on his uniform, as he wouldn’t have purchased a purple heart ribbon for himself, or even the European Campaign ribbon either, as his tour wasn’t even half way over. But I did notice the absence of the Air Medal, that he had mentioned in one of his letters home, that he had obtained enough combat flying hours to qualify for this medal. But, since this was mentioned in a letter after his 5th mission, and he never returned from his 7th mission, being that he flew mission number five on January 13th 1945 and his last mission on January 28th, 1945, a period of just 15 days, I imagine that the paperwork that probably had been submitted for his Air Medal, got pushed to the side, in the orderly room, after it became more imperative at the time to send out the Notification to the Next of Kin Telegram on the status of your relative.
So, in late 1996 I started writing letters to the US Air Force, in order to have my uncle’s Air Medal finally awarded to him, posthumously. After about a year of writing letters, I finally got a favorable response, in November 1997. The Air Force agreed to award my uncle his medal. Since this medal is authorized to be presented to the recipient.
The Air Force told me that I had three options in accepting the medal.
1. I could have it mailed to me.
2. I could pick it up at the nearest personnel office at the nearest military base.
3. Or, I could have it formally presented to me by a ranking officer at the nearest military base.
I wanted to have either my Mom or my Aunt to receive the medal in a formal ceremony, but they both declined that, as they both were handicapped with hip operations, and they don’t go in for big flashy ceremonies, plus, most of all, they don’t like to be reminded of the loss of their brother’s in the war. They both suggested that I accept the medal whatever way I think would be best.
After discussing the options with the personnel office and the liaison/protocol officer at Luke A.F.B. Arizona, I requested that the Wing Commander present the medal to me in person.
On December 23rd 1997, at the Wing Commander’s office on Luke A.F.B. Arizona at about 1 P.M. Brigader General Howard “Howie” Chandler, Commander of the 56th Fighter Wing presented me with the Air Medal for valor for my uncle Robert’s action’s during WW II.
This was just about one month short of the 53rd year anniversary of his death.
Another strange coincidence. My brother Bill passed away in October 1997. After the funeral graveside service in Woodbrook cemetery in Woburn, Massachusetts, my cousin Shirley Perrett and her husband Tom(WW II Vet) asked me to show them were my Grandmother and my uncle’s grave’s were located, as they wanted to go and pay their respects there also. When we arrived there, Tom was reading the engraving on the tombstone, and he mentioned to both me and his wife, that he could not believe the date of uncle Robert’s death. He said, that, that date was his date of baptism under fire, his first day(time) in combat. He was in the infantry in Germany at the same exact time, a date, that no doubt, a man never forgets, his first day in combat. In that date in history, my uncle was meeting his fate in the skies above Germany, on the ground, in Germany, my cousin’s husband was fighting to stay alive, fighting for his life. One day, different fate’s, crossed family path’s.