Remembering Sacrifices

On Memorial Day, we remember and honor those who gave their lives in military service. I’ve never had the inclination to grill out, throw a pool party, or go to the lake, as it seems those are the most popular explanations of “what we did for Memorial Day”. To be honest, growing up, my Memorial Day’s were usually spent at some soccer complex for some “Memorial Day Cup” with my teammates and parents, as were most weekends that people were doing fun things. I don’t regret that, but it has an impact on what I do with this day in my future.

After completing my graduate project, I have a newfound respect for those men who never made it home to see their families in war. For the 362nd Fighter Group, I saw the names and faces of these boys-turned-men as I searched through books, papers, photographs, and webpages, and I was saddened by how many did not make it home.

I was especially saddened when I saw how many men my grandfather knew and flew with personally that didn’t make it back. To know how close he was with them and how much they meant to him, I can get some inclination of how he felt to lose them.

So for this Memorial Day, in honor of the men of the 362nd who gave their lives, I want to list them here. This list is from the first couple of pages of “Mogins Maulers – the 362nd Fighter Group’s History of WWII.” The authors (a few of the men themselves and their families) make sure to note that this may not be a comprehensive list, that some may have been forgotten or lost. For now, these men are listed in their squadrons, in the order their lives were lost.

362nd Fighter Group Headquarters Personnel

Capt. Clough F. Gee, III
Major Berry Chandler

377th Fighter Squadron

Lt. Homer V. Waits
Capt. John E. Moist
Lt. Raymond J. Shea
Lt. John E. Hayden
Lt. Ralph D. Day
Lt. Walter J. Booth
Lt. Donald R. Gipple
Lt. Emory A. Riggs
Lt. Burleigh E. Curtis
Lt. Richard M. Hoff
Lt. Ralph E. Phillips
Lt. James P. Harris
P.F.C. John E. Goodale
Lt. Jack D. Conatser
Lt. Elroy M. Nangle
Lt. William H. Ort
Lt. Roy D. Christian
Lt. James G. Newman
Lt. Fred C. Ford
Lt. Robert E. Daw
Capt. Roy L. Barker
Lt. Archie E. Billings
Lt. Willard Nagelstadt
Capt. Darden W. McCollum
Lt. Asa W. Shuler
Lt. Cecil M. Gurganus
Lt. Virgil P. Kirkham
Lt. John B. Fisher
Capt. Kenneth Caldwell
Lt. Merrill E. Holland
Lt. Robert V. Mendenhall

378th Fighter Squadron

Lt. Burdick
Lt. Charles Armstrong
Lt. Richard Huber
Lt. William F. Hall
Lt. Maynard L. Cowles
Lt. Daniel A. Sipe, Jr.
Pvt. Robert Taft
Lt. Kevin Gough
Lt. Craig A. Gilbert
Lt. Leon R. Bentley
Lt. Alva D. Bessey
Capt. Harry R. Stroh
Capt. Leon Bilstin
Lt. Andrew Sunter
Lt. Richard Heyne
Lt. Alvin A. Johnson
Lt. Richard K. Grant
Lt. Joseph J. Maucini, Jr.
Lt. Robert W. Snell
Lt. Gordon J. McGrath
Lt. Vernon A. Post
Lt. Edward E. Smith
Lt. George F. Robinson
Lt. James W. Noland

379th Fighter Squadron

Lt. George S. Palmer
Lt. Kenneth K. Kitts
Capt. Hugh F. Houghton
Lt. Theodore D. Jensen
Capt. George W. Rarey
Lt. Robert G. Barnes
Lt. I. L. Taylor
T/Sgt. Arthur L. Hartman
Lt. Harold D. Wood
Lt. Harold Wellek
Lt. Warner H. Marsh, Jr.
Lt. Donald H. Wilson
Lt. Joseph T. Price
Capt. Raymond A. Mitchell
Lt. Louis A. Bauer
Maj. Carroll A. Peterson
Lt. Chester B. Kusi
Lt. John K. McMahon
Lt. Robert A. Sovern
Lt. Donald J. Kueffner
Lt. James H. Sheets
Lt. Philip P. Heelan
Lt. Jack C. Taylor
Capt. Timothy F. Ruane, Jr.

These men of the 362nd paid the ultimate price for their country and our freedom. They are just a small list among thousands, but they are important to me. The least I can do is remember them and their sacrifice.

Thank you, gentlemen.

Searching through storage

The hunt for primary sources continued yesterday and the day before, but this time, in Tulsa, OK.  Two rather large storage units have housed most of my grandparents’ stories for a few years now, the result of downsizing from a very large 4 bedroom house to the two bedroom studio apartment my grandmother now lives in. There were some items that have already been passed on to her children and grandchildren, like furniture, china, and memorabilia, but the bulk of it sits in the units, waiting for the time when it must be dealt with.

I was not sure what was in there. My uncle, who is in charge of the estate, did not think there was anything of use to me in the units, but then again, I don’t think he understands exactly what I’m doing. Honestly, sometimes I feel the same way. But it was a 4 1/2 hour drive that I was unsure would bring about anything new, let alone everything of interest.

My father accompanied me on this trip, to help me make sense of what I was going through and also because we were not exactly sure my uncle would help if he did not show up. I’ll let you all make of that what you will, but nonetheless, I was very thankful he was with me. It could almost have felt like a vacation, except for moving around dusty boxes, cabinets, and bags of bedding. Considering my dad had the flu earlier in the week, he was a real trooper to stick with me through the combined 7 hours of rummaging through items.

It was completely worth it.  It seems I’m not the only sentimental on my father’s side of the family. There were memories from my grandmother’s teenage years, my grandfather’s childhood, and his family as far back as 1864. A bag marked “Asst photos of Lena Lyle” was the most precious thing I came across. Although it held nothing of note for my project, it gave me a glimpse of my great-great grandmother and her family, I think as far back as my great-great-great grandparents (I have to consult a family tree to be sure). Tintypes, newspapers, and memory booklets with the most beautiful handwriting I’ve ever seen were all housed inside this treasure trove of family history. I was standing there telling me dad I wanted dibs on this (as if I have a say at the moment). I definitely want to rehouse those items in something a little more durable, which I hope to do around Thanksgiving when I am up there again.

As for what I could use in this project (and beyond), there was an absolute treasure trove of items. A filing cabinet held dozens of folders with emails, pictures, and mementos of my grandfather, the 362nd, and his fellow fighter pilots. In the boxes that we were able to get to and go through, childhood and college photos, letters to and from my grandfather, and the Laughlin family rations booklets of WWII made me absolutely gleeful.  My grandparents cared about their history as much as I do (or as my dad kept saying, they like to hoard stuff). In either case, it was everything I had wished I could find but had not held out hope for.

It was far too much stuff to go through in the under 48 hours that my father and I spent in Tulsa. Thankfully, my uncle had already said we could take what we wanted; he just wanted us to bring it back. Thank God, because there is such a trove of information to go through, I most definitely will need some time with it. I will also be rehousing some of it since the boxes are coming apart. I don’t think acid-free folders and boxes will do any good going back in the unit with the other old folders and boxes, but some better protection is definitely warranted for those items.  I also do not think I will be getting through everything in the 2 weeks I have until my graduate project is due, but I’ll get to what I can and continue on even after. I definitely have plenty to work with.

The moral to this story is the same as the last entry:  search through everything that you possibly can, even if you don’t think you will find anything. I sure didn’t, but I found a piece of my grandfather’s history that I can’t wait to share with the world.

The Project: Omeka and Wordpress

This project will endeavor to publicize the military career of Colonel Joseph L. Laughlin. For the short term, and for my graduate project, it will focus on his WWII career as an officer and commander in the Army Air Corps. After graduation, I hope to continue this project to explore his post-war career in the United States Air Force.

I will do my best to remain objective, and I have professors who will ensure that I remain so.  This project will be combining my three areas of study: Information Science, History, and Management.  Using Omeka, I will be able to have an online archive, where I can make these records accessible yet unchangeable.  The exhibits will be presented as an online museum, guiding you through his 30 years of service, pointing to his leadership positions in management situations and how he handled them. I hope that in some small way this project will bring to light the long and incredible career of Colonel Joseph L. Laughlin in a way that has not yet been presented.

I will also use this blog to narrate my trials, failures, and successes in my quest to find and present these records. Already, I have found some channels work better than others for archives and repositories, and I have discovered that some of the best material is actually right under my nose.  Writing about my experiences, I hope to provide insight to those like me looking to do a similar project, hopefully not under time constraints.

But perhaps the most important thing I should mention is that Colonel Joseph L. Laughlin was my grandfather. As such, I am privy to family possessions and records that others would not have, but that is also why I think this project is so important.  He left an indelible mark on everyone he met, and I hope this project can show why that occurred.

I think a project like this was always something I wanted to do after hearing him referred to as a hero and a great leader from the men he flew with. One veteran personally pulled me aside at a reunion to tell me how my grandfather saved his life. Other veterans shared their war stories with my family and I, usually involving my grandpa, and always he would be sitting behind them yelling, “oh, stop making that crap up!”

His stories were almost always never really about him. He would talk about how honored he was to know the men who flew with him, emphasizing the teamwork they would utilize to beat back the enemy and get the job done. He never spoke to me of certain times or places or events, it was always general. When pushed by others, he would give a few more details, but generally I remember he remained humble, nostalgic, and with a hint of sadness.

Of course, these are the memories (mostly) of a child and teenager.  How he really spoke of them could have been wildly different, but I wasn’t really listening to Colonel Joseph L. Laughlin. I was listening to Grandpa Laughlin.  For the first 16 years of my life, that was all I really saw him as:  my stocky, hug-loving, softy grandpa who loved bacon for breakfast and having all of the family around the table at Thanksgiving.

Then, in November 2005, we traveled to Tampa, FL, for the 362nd Fighter Groups’ reunion. It was not something that the family usually went to, but my grandfather had made plans with us all to renew his vows to my grandmother, to her surprise. It was a memorable weekend. Not only did I get to witness my grandparents’ 60th anniversary and vow renewals, I began to view my grandpa as his squadron did, as Colonel Joe.

Unfortunately, I did not know how precious little time I had left with him. That was the last time I saw him in person. Excepting phone calls on Christmas Day and New Years Day, I did not get to speak with him again. More importantly to this project, I didn’t get to ask him about his service in WWII, how it affected him, and how he wanted to be remembered.  That is my biggest regret.

On Friday, February 17, 2006, my grandpa was taken from us. It is never easy to lose a beloved family member; it is even harder to lose a hero you were just starting to appreciate.  It still hurts to talk about it. Even now, almost 10 years later, I have tears rolling down my cheeks. At the memorial my family found out the truth:  he had been diagnosed with terminal cancer just before Tampa and had been given 6 months. He told only my uncle (and my grandma, of course), not wanting to worry the rest of us with the short time he had left. I remember feeling very angry at him for this, almost resentful. I didn’t get the time I wanted with him, and for a few months, I blamed him for that.

Then we found out something incredible: my grandpa had been in talks with the Air Force Museum in Dayton, OH because they wanted to do a refurbished P-47D with his emblem. The opening was not until late 2016, so my grandpa knew he wouldn’t be seeing it. I like to think he kept this a secret to lessen the blow of his death, or to allow us time to mourn and celebrate him and he wouldn’t have to be there yelling at us, “oh stop making that crap up!”

As I would continue to learn, that was how Colonel Joe was, and that was why so many of his men respected and followed him.  He did not want to add stress and worry to those he cared about; he would get the job done so they wouldn’t have to. That was Colonel Joseph L. Laughlin, my grandpa, my hero.