“Don’t you worry about me, Mom, I’ll be back,” Eddie smiled at his mother and straightened – actually, tilted – his lieutenant’s cap while his mother and little sister looked on. His mother frowned, knowing that her firstborn son was headed back out to war, even if he did call it “a cushy job.” It was all the same to her – war.
Giving his mother a kiss and his sister a playful squeeze, Eddie strode out the door, letting the screen slam behind him. His mother winced at the ominous sound, and she bit her trembling lip.
Yes, his navigator’s job on the PBY was a cushy job, compared to flying the Burma-India hump. He had many missions over the hump, and had just finished a brief time of leave to visit his family before he headed out to the Pacific. This time, he was navigating a plane to rescue downed pilots.
He arrived in Iwo Jima in July and quickly set up camp. Soon, he wrote a letter home, “The sand here is black, but fine. Our tents are on the top of one of the mountains overlooking the airstrip.” Again, he reassured his mother, “don’t worry about me; I’ll be fine.”
When Eddie and his crew reported for duty the 13th of August, they received word that a pilot had gone down in the Sea of Japan. Within minutes, their unarmed PBY and their two escort P-51s were in the air, headed for the coordinates they had been given.
What happened next has been the subject of conjecture for the past fifty years. It is a known fact that the PBY found no pilot or wreckage in the area they were told to go to; the escort planes must have gone ahead in search of him, thinking perhaps they had been given incorrect information. Regardless of what happened, by the time they got back to the PBY, it was down, sinking quickly, and surrounded by burning fuel.
Eddie was never coming home.
Word reached his sister and parents not long after the war was over. Usually a very reserved and quiet man, Eddie’s father immediately went down to the basement in hopes that no one would hear his loud sobs. His mother went right to her room, while his sister stood frozen in the kitchen. The wails, sobs, and cries coming from the basement pierced her soul. She would never be the same again, and neither would her parents.
This story was told to me personally by the young girl, who is my mother. Eddie is the uncle I never knew. Her brother, Eddie, was shot down only two days before the war was over, and it affected her – all of us - the rest of our lives.
Eddie never got to finish his engineering degree at Purdue University. He never got to rub noses with his own baby. Once he went overseas, he never again got to enjoy American soil. He gave all so we could be free.
To those who have given so much for our country, I know that “Thank you” could never really be enough, but it is still spoken with a heartfelt gratitude and reverence for your sacrifice.
To all veterans and their families….thank you.