Quote of the Day: Dear Mrs. Mattie Forrester

 

Here are the exact words that my grandmother, Mattie Forrester, received in a Western Union Telegram on December 1, 1944.

The Secretary of War
Desires me to express
His deep regret
That your son Walter
Was killed in action.
Letter to follow.

Reading that telegram must have been like a blow to grandma’s heart. A devout woman, Grandma must have prayed at night that her son Walter would survive the war and return to his hometown of Wanette, OK. But not even his remains would return. Walter was buried in a military cemetery in Italy.

My dad, who once rode horses bareback with his brother Walter on the dirt streets of the small town of Wanette, was 53 years old when he tracked down his brother’s gravestone in Italy and wept over it.

Postscript: That is a photo of Walter’s actual Purple Heart, which, along with the telegram mentioned in my post, is framed and hangs in our living room.

Walter was a ball-turret gunner on a B-17 (the Flying Fortress) on a mission to bomb a munitions factory in Austria when his plane was shot down by heavy artillery fire. Curled up in the ball turret attached to the belly of the plane, he must have known he was going to die as he watched a curtain of anti-aircraft shells rise from the ground and explode into flak all about him

I never knew Walter Forrester but I am terribly proud that he was a part of our family. He won’t be forgotten soon. I will pass on to my son Uncle Walter’s Purple Heart and the Western Union telegraph that my grandmother received.

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  1. Hang On Member
    Hang On
    @HangOn

    Heart rending. RIP.

    • #1
  2. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    My son has one of those from Iraq, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen it.  He did say he was going to wear it every time he went to a bar so that he’d never have to buy a drink again.

    • #2
  3. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    What is quoted in the Quote of the Day has a great range in time, place, and subject matter. If you have something that you would like to share as a Quote of the Day, you can sign up here.

    • #3
  4. She Member
    She
    @She

    KentForrester:

    I never knew Walter Forrester, but I am terribly proud that he was a part of our family. He won’t be forgotten soon. I will pass on to my son Uncle Walter’s Purple Heart and the Western Union telegraph that my grandmother received. 

    And now he’s part of all our families.  Thank you for this inspirational and heartbreaking post.  

    I didn’t know what a ball-turret gunner was until I got to college and we read The Death of the Ball-Turret Gunner, in a poetry class. (Randall Jarrell was too old for combat, but served as a navigator and pilot instructor during the war.)  Thank God for men like Walter Forrester and all those who are the reason that we’re here safe and prospering (even with a bump or two in the road along the way) today.

     

    • #4
  5. KentForrester Coolidge
    KentForrester
    @KentForrester

    She (View Comment):

    KentForrester:

    I never knew Walter Forrester, but I am terribly proud that he was a part of our family. He won’t be forgotten soon. I will pass on to my son Uncle Walter’s Purple Heart and the Western Union telegraph that my grandmother received.

    And now he’s part of all our families. Thank you for this inspirational and heartbreaking post.

    I didn’t know what a ball-turret gunner was until I got to college and we read The Death of the Ball-Turret Gunner, in a poetry class. (Randall Jarrell was too old for combat, but served as a navigator and pilot instructor during the war.) Thank God for men like Walter Forrester and all those who are the reason that we’re here safe and prospering (even with a bump or two in the road along the way) today.

     

    She, that line in the Jarrell poem, “When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose,” always got to me when I would read the poem to my classes.

    • #5
  6. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    I remember reading an account of a B-17 coming in for a belly landing because its wheels wouldn’t go down, and the ball gunner was trapped in his turret, knowing what was coming.

    • #6
  7. KentForrester Coolidge
    KentForrester
    @KentForrester

    Randy Webster (View Comment):

    I remember reading an account of a B-17 coming in for a belly landing because its wheels wouldn’t go down, and the ball gunner was trapped in his turret, knowing what was coming.

    Randy, I’ve never heard of that, but I imagine it happened more than once.  At any rate, during a crash landing, the ball turret gunner would be able to clearly see the ground rushing up to meet the plane. 

    • #7
  8. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    Randy Webster (View Comment):

    I remember reading an account of a B-17 coming in for a belly landing because its wheels wouldn’t go down, and the ball gunner was trapped in his turret, knowing what was coming.

    Randy, I’ve never heard of that, but I imagine it happened more than once. At any rate, during a crash landing, the ball turret gunner would be able to clearly see the ground rushing up to meet the plane.

    That’s the horrifying part of it.

    • #8
  9. She Member
    She
    @She

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    She (View Comment):

    KentForrester:

    I never knew Walter Forrester, but I am terribly proud that he was a part of our family. He won’t be forgotten soon. I will pass on to my son Uncle Walter’s Purple Heart and the Western Union telegraph that my grandmother received.

    And now he’s part of all our families. Thank you for this inspirational and heartbreaking post.

    I didn’t know what a ball-turret gunner was until I got to college and we read The Death of the Ball-Turret Gunner, in a poetry class. (Randall Jarrell was too old for combat, but served as a navigator and pilot instructor during the war.) Thank God for men like Walter Forrester and all those who are the reason that we’re here safe and prospering (even with a bump or two in the road along the way) today.

     

    She, that line in the Jarrell poem, “When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose,” always got to me when I would read the poem to my classes.

    It’s unforgettable.  The other thing I vividly remember from that poem was the teacher (whom I later married) pointing out that the line “And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze,” scans like machine gun, or anti-aircraft fire: “Rat-a-tat, Rat-a-tat-tat, Rat-a-tat. Tat. Tat.”  

    KentForrester: Curled up in the ball turret attached to the belly of the plane, he must have known he was going to die as he watched a curtain of anti-aircraft shells rise from the ground and explode into flak all about him 

    Yes.  RIP, Uncle Walter.

    • #9
  10. PHCheese Inactive
    PHCheese
    @PHCheese

    The B17 was called the Flying Fortress.The B-24 was the Liberator. My uncle was a pilot of a B-24.

    • #10
  11. KentForrester Coolidge
    KentForrester
    @KentForrester

    PHCheese (View Comment):

    The B17 was called the Flying Fortress.The B-24 was the Liberator. My uncle was a pilot of a B-24.

    You’re right, Cheese. My uncle was in a B-117. I thought that plane was called the Liberator. 

    • #11
  12. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    Have you been overseas to the gravesite yourself?

    The ABMC cemeteries in Europe are amazing places. Immaculately tended.  My brothers and I toured several WWI/WWII sites in Europe a few years ago.  At one of them as we were reading about how after the war families were given the choice of having remains returned home or left for permanent interment, one of my brothers said that if it were him, he’d rather be buried in one of these cemeteries than just be a random semi-forgotten grave in a private cemetary at home.

    • #12
  13. KentForrester Coolidge
    KentForrester
    @KentForrester

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):

    Have you been overseas to the gravesite yourself?

    The ABMC cemeteries in Europe are amazing places. Immaculately tended. My brothers and I toured several WWI/WWII sites in Europe a few years ago. At one of them as we were reading about how after the war families were given the choice of having remains returned home or left for permanent interment, one of my brothers said that if it were him, he’d rather be buried in one of these cemeteries than just be a random semi-forgotten grave in a private cemetary at home.

    Mr. Miffed, I never knew if grandma was given that choice.  Now I know.  I guess she chose to leave his remains undisturbed.  I think I would have too. 

    I visited the cemetery in France associated with the Normandy Invasion and my tears began to flow, even before I got to the cemetery, as I walked through the Invasion museum on my way to the entrance to the cemetery. Then when I stepped out of the museum’s door and was confronted by rows and rows of the gravestones of the American dead, the experience was one I’ll never forget. 

    • #13
  14. David Foster Member
    David Foster
    @DavidFoster

    Jarrell wrote quite a few poems focused on the AAF in World War II.  Here’s an excerpt from “Losses”..

    We read our mail and counted up our missions–
    In bombers named for girls, we burned
    The cities we had learned about in school–
    Till our lives wore out; our bodies lay among
    The people we had killed and never seen.
    When we lasted long enough they gave us medals;
    When we died they said, ‘Our casualties were low.’

    They said, ‘Here are the maps’; we burned the cities.

     

    https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/losses/

    • #14
  15. JustmeinAZ Member
    JustmeinAZ
    @JustmeinAZ

    Why are y’all making me cry on Mother’s day?

    • #15
  16. KentForrester Coolidge
    KentForrester
    @KentForrester

    JustmeinAZ (View Comment):

    Why are y’all making me cry on Mother’s day?

    Justmein, it’s a good day for a cry.

    • #16
  17. PHCheese Inactive
    PHCheese
    @PHCheese

    The casualty rate was 50% for these planes. Every other trip would be your last. My uncle flew 23 missions before being relieved to go to the States for his brother’s funeral. His brother was killed the last day of flight training at Wright Patterson in a flying accident. It was practice for a flyover for the graduation ceremony. My grandma witnessed the accident.

    • #17
  18. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    For raids like Schweinfurt and Regansburg the casualty rates were 10%.  If you had to fly 20 missions, your chances of living through them were pretty poor.

    • #18
  19. KentForrester Coolidge
    KentForrester
    @KentForrester

    PHCheese (View Comment):

    The casualty rate was 50% for these planes. Every other trip would be your last. My uncle flew 23 missions before being relieved to go to the States for his brother’s funeral. His brother was killed the last day of flight training at Wright Patterson in a flying accident. It was practice for a flyover for the graduation ceremony. My grandma witnessed the accident.

    Wow for both: the 23 missions that your uncle flew, and his brother dying during flight training while your grandma watched.

    As you probably know, these WW2 bombers weren’t terribly I reliable and sometimes crashed because of malfunctions.  I’ve forgotten the one that was notoriously unreliable. 

    • #19
  20. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    PHCheese (View Comment):

    The casualty rate was 50% for these planes. Every other trip would be your last. My uncle flew 23 missions before being relieved to go to the States for his brother’s funeral. His brother was killed the last day of flight training at Wright Patterson in a flying accident. It was practice for a flyover for the graduation ceremony. My grandma witnessed the accident.

    Wow for both: the 23 missions that your uncle flew, and his brother dying during flight training while your grandma watched.

    As you probably know, these WW2 bombers weren’t terribly I reliable and sometimes crashed because of malfunctions. I’ve forgotten the one that was notoriously unreliable.

    I think it was the B-26.  I don’t think that it was that it was unreliable, but that it was hard to fly.

    • #20
  21. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    Randy Webster (View Comment):

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    PHCheese (View Comment):

    The casualty rate was 50% for these planes. Every other trip would be your last. My uncle flew 23 missions before being relieved to go to the States for his brother’s funeral. His brother was killed the last day of flight training at Wright Patterson in a flying accident. It was practice for a flyover for the graduation ceremony. My grandma witnessed the accident.

    Wow for both: the 23 missions that your uncle flew, and his brother dying during flight training while your grandma watched.

    As you probably know, these WW2 bombers weren’t terribly I reliable and sometimes crashed because of malfunctions. I’ve forgotten the one that was notoriously unreliable.

    I think it was the B-26. I don’t think that it was that it was unreliable, but that it was hard to fly.

    B-26’s were one. 

    B-29’s had a bad habit of crashing on takeoff. 

     

    • #21
  22. PHCheese Inactive
    PHCheese
    @PHCheese

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    PHCheese (View Comment):

    The casualty rate was 50% for these planes. Every other trip would be your last. My uncle flew 23 missions before being relieved to go to the States for his brother’s funeral. His brother was killed the last day of flight training at Wright Patterson in a flying accident. It was practice for a flyover for the graduation ceremony. My grandma witnessed the accident.

    Wow for both: the 23 missions that your uncle flew, and his brother dying during flight training while your grandma watched.

    As you probably know, these WW2 bombers weren’t terribly I reliable and sometimes crashed because of malfunctions. I’ve forgotten the one that was notoriously unreliable.

    Takeoffs and landings killed almost as many as the Germans. Weather was also a factor along with poor maintenance.

    • #22
  23. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    PHCheese (View Comment):
    The casualty rate was 50% for these planes. Every other trip would be your last.

    That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but not much.   In the early years of the war (’42/’43) the losses were appalling.  Statistically, in that early part of the war a crewman wasn’t going to survive a 25 mission tour*.  By late ’44 and ’45, the luftwaffe had been essentially wiped out and the 8th air force didn’t even bother camouflage painting the planes anymore.

    Per wikipedia, 12,731 were built, and about 4700 were “lost” during the war.  It’s not defined but I assume that means shot down and/or too heavily damaged to be repaired.

    Half of the U.S. Army Air Forces’ casualties in World War II were suffered by Eighth Air Force (more than 47,000 casualties, with more than 26,000 dead)

     

    *The Memphis Belle was (one of) the first planes to survive 25 missions with it’s entire crew intact, between November 1942 and May 1943.

    • #23
  24. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    PHCheese (View Comment):

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    PHCheese (View Comment):

    The casualty rate was 50% for these planes. Every other trip would be your last. My uncle flew 23 missions before being relieved to go to the States for his brother’s funeral. His brother was killed the last day of flight training at Wright Patterson in a flying accident. It was practice for a flyover for the graduation ceremony. My grandma witnessed the accident.

    Wow for both: the 23 missions that your uncle flew, and his brother dying during flight training while your grandma watched.

    As you probably know, these WW2 bombers weren’t terribly I reliable and sometimes crashed because of malfunctions. I’ve forgotten the one that was notoriously unreliable.

    Takeoffs and landings killed almost as many as the Germans. Weather was also a factor along with poor maintenance.

    “Forming up” in British weather could be a challenge. Mid-air collisions were a problem.  My dad was never in combat, he was a B-17 tail gunner-in-training when the war ended.  But he said it was really scary just flying so close together in a  combat box formation of 36 planes.  

    • #24
  25. She Member
    She
    @She

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):

    Have you been overseas to the gravesite yourself?

    The ABMC cemeteries in Europe are amazing places. Immaculately tended. 

    The same is true of the British cemeteries.  Some years ago, my brother made several tours of Allied cemeteries with friends from work. On one of those tours, he found the grave of Herbert Mapson, the husband of my great-grandmother’s younger sister.  He’d not been in the Army long, and he was killed in April of 1918.  At the time, Britain was conscripting just about anything that moved, so Herbert was called up as a 40-year old married man, the father of a six-year old daughter.

    That daughter lived  until December of 2014, just shy of her 103rd birthday, and we knew her as her Auntie Betty.

     

    • #25
  26. Michael S. Malone Contributor
    Michael S. Malone
    @MichaelSMalone

    Randy Webster (View Comment):

    For raids like Schweinfurt and Regansburg the casualty rates were 10%. If you had to fly 20 missions, your chances of living through them were pretty poor.

    My dad did both (second Schweinfurt).  It was one of his first missions.  He assumed it was always this bad — until they got back to Deenthorpe and he watched veterans get out of their planes and kiss the runway.

    He made 32 missions.  His pilot, a farmer from North Dakota, stayed on for 60 missions.  My dad said that they passed out medals and battle stars like candy bars from cardboard boxes.  Everyone was so jaded and worn out, nobody cared, nobody celebrated.  They just wanted to hit that ever-retreating mission quota and get home.

    • #26
  27. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    Michael S. Malone (View Comment):

    Randy Webster (View Comment):

    For raids like Schweinfurt and Regansburg the casualty rates were 10%. If you had to fly 20 missions, your chances of living through them were pretty poor.

    My dad did both (second Schweinfurt). It was one of his first missions. He assumed it was always this bad — until they got back to Deenthorpe and he watched veterans get out of their planes and kiss the runway.

    He made 32 missions. His pilot, a farmer from North Dakota, stayed on for 60 missions. My dad said that they passed out medals and battle stars like candy bars from cardboard boxes. Everyone was so jaded and worn out, nobody cared, nobody celebrated. They just wanted to hit that ever-retreating mission quota and get home.

    Shades of Catch 22.

    • #27
  28. She Member
    She
    @She

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    JustmeinAZ (View Comment):

    Why are y’all making me cry on Mother’s day?

    Justmein, it’s a good day for a cry.

    I cried too.  But it was a good cry, for all the parents whose children are taken from them too soon.  We like to say, “no parent should have to bury a child,” and that’s so true, and would it were never the case that one had to.  But the truth is that it happened incredibly frequently throughout most of human history, when offspring frequently died young, or as a result of poor sanitation, contagious diseases, or dangerous occupations up to and including military service.  It’s much less common now, but no less painful for those involved when it happens.

    • #28
  29. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    She (View Comment):

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    JustmeinAZ (View Comment):

    Why are y’all making me cry on Mother’s day?

    Justmein, it’s a good day for a cry.

    I cried too. But it was a good cry, for all the parents whose children are taken from them too soon. We like to say, “no parent should have to bury a child,” and that’s so true, and would it were never the case that one had to. But the truth is that it happened incredibly frequently throughout most of human history, when offspring frequently died young, or as a result of poor sanitation, contagious diseases, or dangerous occupations up to and including military service. It’s much less common now, but no less painful for those involved when it happens.

    My father’s 93.  He’s already buried my older brother, and if he keeps it up, he’s liable to bury another of us.

    • #29
  30. KentForrester Coolidge
    KentForrester
    @KentForrester

    Randy Webster (View Comment):

    She (View Comment):

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    JustmeinAZ (View Comment):

    Why are y’all making me cry on Mother’s day?

    Justmein, it’s a good day for a cry.

    I cried too. But it was a good cry, for all the parents whose children are taken from them too soon. We like to say, “no parent should have to bury a child,” and that’s so true, and would it were never the case that one had to. But the truth is that it happened incredibly frequently throughout most of human history, when offspring frequently died young, or as a result of poor sanitation, contagious diseases, or dangerous occupations up to and including military service. It’s much less common now, but no less painful for those involved when it happens.

    My father’s 93. He’s already buried my older brother, and if he keeps it up, he’s liable to bury another of us.

    Good luck to you. 

    • #30
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