Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day - 2010

For too many years I’ve been just like everyone else…Memorial Day was simply an opportunity to add a few vacation days and extend my time off from work. In doing some recent reading about the Army Air Corps of WWII, I’ve encountered many poignant stories of young men who flew the bombers from England against Hitler’s fortress Europe. If you have ever heard a WWII veteran say that the real heroes are the ones who didn’t come home, these were some of the young men to whom those veterans were referring.

Charles was a high potential young man from Casper, Wyoming. Shortly after he graduated from high school his father passed away leaving Charles’ kid sister and mother alone. Charles had won an appointment to West Point and despite the trauma of losing his father, accepted his appointment. He went on to become a member of the USMA Class of 1939.

In keeping with tradition, his roommate wrote a short description of Charles for the West Point yearbook, noting that Charles had the patience of Job, a subtle sense of humor, and was a good dancer. After graduation and his commissioning as a second lieutenant, Charles volunteered for the Air Corps and undertook pilot training as the United States began its build up prior to WWII. Just after Pearl Harbor Charles served for several months in Australia and Java against the Japanese.

West Point graduates formed the professional core of many of the bomb groups based in England and pilots like Charles who had a few years of service before WWII were well on their way to achieving higher rank than most of the cadet airmen that followed them. By 1943 Charles was a 28-year old lieutenant colonel, the deputy group commander, and a B-17 command pilot.

In January 1944, the target was the machine and munitions works at Brunswick and Charles was scheduled to lead the group of 35-planes. However, his plane developed engine trouble and he returned to the base for a replacement. Unable to catch up with his own group he joined another group that was trailing behind his own.

Near Rehburg a Luftwaffe JU-88 flown by Bruno Rupp slipped in behind Charles’ B-17 and launched a rocket. Reports told of seeing his stricken plane dive 5000’ in flames before 4 parachutes were seen, then the plane exploded. However, only 2 men survived to become prisoners, and Charles was not one of them.

At the time his plane went down, Charles had been in training for his position nearly 9-years. That fateful January 1944 mission was his second and last in the ETO. For the past 66-years Charles has rested beside 5,328 others in the Ardennes American Cemetery, Neupre, Belgium. His mother died in 1948 and what became of his kid sister isn’t known. There was no one left to bring him home.

A recipient of 2 Silver Stars, a DFC, and a Purple Heart, Charles is but one of the young men we honor on Memorial Day.

Note: Within 1-week of my inquiry for assistance in getting an actual picture of Charles' grave in the Ardennes American Cemetery, a fine gentleman living near the cemetery sent this photograph to me. Thank you, André.

Treasure peace, fight tyranny, never forget those who fought.

a paix au trésor, de la tyrannie se battre, ne jamais oublier ceux qui ont combattu.

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