Sunday, May 29, 2016
I remember the moment we first met like it was yesterday. Actually, eleven years ago now—but I suppose time has little meaning for you these days. You reached out and touched my shoulder as I held your West Point ring in my hand that day. It was a mysterious and magical moment. I've told others about the feeling, but how could anyone ever really comprehend? The journey you set in motion that day, for an amazing number of people, has no parallel in the world that I know. Through meeting your relatives, friends and others like us that you've inspired, my wife Doris and I found a warm and caring 416th family that immediately took us under wing. The search to know more about you became an adventure and a common desire to honor not only your memory and sacrifice, but that of your comrades as well.
When I first saw your picture in the June-1943 West Point yearbook it was heartbreaking. What must your mom and Marnelle have felt back in Auburn when they received that dreaded telegram? Your young Godchild, Judy, was there as well—out of school for Easter vacation—and recounted the painful story for me from a child's perspective. The children of your brother Bob and sister Ruth have spoken to me often about the years of silence afterward. None could bear to talk about you without breaking down in tears.
The comments beneath your yearbook photo talked about your exceptional ability to "drag pro". I had no idea what that meant until I met your USMAY classmate and 671st squadron pal Dick Wheeler. When Dick explained that it meant to date the loveliest of the young ladies that attended Academy social events, I was not surprised. Nor was I surprised when Bob Basnett told me all about the double-dates that you and he had with Dee Rogers and Clemie Smith in New York. The wheels were turning faster than I could ever have imagined and I have little doubt that I was being spoon fed from a spiritual source. You led me to Dee shortly before she passed away and through her I learned about the love between you that had blossomed at the Academy while you were there. What a trail of broken hearts the price of freedom leaves.
In the aftermath of your tragedy, you may have wondered how so many things could have gone wrong on that fateful day. With your guiding hand, answers are now starting to surface. The 416th Bomb Group family is growing today in size and in unity while many other WWII veteran groups are disbanding. 416th veterans, living and departed, are being recognized worldwide for their wartime accomplishments. The search for 9699 is still very much alive and one day we expect to pay our respects at that war grave.
On this Memorial Day, 2016, I salute your sense of Duty, Honor and Country.