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. OccupantCDN Coolidge
    OccupantCDN
    @OccupantCDN

    That was so touching, thanks for sharing that.

    • #31
  2. JosePluma Thatcher
    JosePluma
    @JosePluma

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    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.

    For all the complaints we have about the French, they do a good job taking care of the people from other countries who died on their soil during both World Wars.

    Here is a YouTube video about the Meuse-Argonne WWI American Cemetery that I have posted before:

    • #32
  3. EB Thatcher
    EB
    @EB

    My husband, Andrew, and I visited the cemetery at Normandy 2011.  It was one of the most moving and impressive experiences of my life.

    We also had a chance to ride in a B-17 in 2006 in Texas. It was called Aluminum Overcast.  I climbed down into the glass nose and sat in the bombardier’s chair.  It was very cool (and a little scary) flying through the air, seemingly with nothing between me and the fields below.  It was amazing to think of those young guys in the 1940’s, hanging out in mid-air, bombing the enemy.

    • #33
  4. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    We owe so much.

    • #34
  5. Tree Rat Inactive
    Tree Rat
    @RichardFinlay

    I was probably about 8 years old when I noticed that one of my uncles (father’s sister’s husband) had two grave markers.  One gave birth and death years and “Lost over Germany”; the other was conventional.  I have to assume his remains were repatriated at some point.

    • #35
  6. GLDIII Temporarily Essential Reagan
    GLDIII Temporarily Essential
    @GLDIII

    EB (View Comment):

    My husband, Andrew, and I visited the cemetery at Normandy 2011. It was one of the most moving and impressive experiences of my life.

    We also had a chance to ride in a B-17 in 2006 in Texas. It was called Aluminum Overcast. I climbed down into the glass nose and sat in the bombardier’s chair. It was very cool (and a little scary) flying through the air, seemingly with nothing between me and the fields below. It was amazing to think of those young guys in the 1940’s, hanging out in mid-air, bombing the enemy.

    I too have been in Aluminum overcast, for a 40 minute ride over the Virginia horse country south of Manassas. There is a certain level of awe sitting in the bombardiers seat looking thru the Norden sight glass, listening to the roar of the four Pratt and Whitney engines, and thinking this would be scary than hell when someone was shooting at you.

    They had to be some very brave kids.

    • #36
  7. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    They’re trying to kill me,” Yossarian told him calmly. No one’s trying to kill you,” Clevinger cried. Then why are they shooting at me?” Yossarian asked. They’re shooting at everyone,” Clevinger answered. “They’re trying to kill everyone.” And what difference does that make?  Joseph Heller

    • #37
  8. Jim George Member
    Jim George
    @JimGeorge

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    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.

    I had the life changing opportunity last summer to go on a Stephen Ambrose D-Day to the Rhine tour and it was one of the most memorable experiences of my life, to put it mildly. Among the very top highlights were the visits to the American Cemetery in Normandy and the Luxembourg Cemetery where Gen. Patton is buried with his troops who gave the ultimate sacrifice. I had been told that seeing the rows of Crosses and Stars of Davids upon entering the Normandy Cemetery would bring immediate tears to one’s eyes but I found it such an overwhelming experience –truly numbing to the senses, and almost impossible to comprehend — that tears would just not come and did not come until quite a while later. 

    And, @she , I will never forget the English Cemetery we visited as each tombstone carried a very personal message written by the family–reading those messages was like reaching back into the past history of each family and each and every one of them were heartrending to read.

    Here is Gen. Patton’s grave marker. He is buried at the head of his troops looking over the masses of their Crosses and Stars of David.

    @kentforrester, I find that I am greatly in your debt tonight, as you have prompted me to go through some memories of those 12 days in Europe which I will never forget, and the journey through those recollections made me realize, once again, that until you walk in those cemeteries, or on the actual sands of Omaha and Utah beaches, or the church of St. Mere Eglise, or view “The Bridge Too Far”, or actually cross the Channel from Portsmouth as they did, you cannot imagine, even then, what hell they suffered. Thanks, Jim.

    • #38
  9. Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo
    @BossMongo

    Now, primarily because of the battle of the Ia Drang, the military sends both a chaplain and a “casualty assistance officer” to do the notification of the family that the SM annotated on his DD93 that he wants notified.

    I’ve done the casualty assistance officer job more’n a couple times.  I’d rather be out getting shot at, hands down.

    When I was a kid, living in an undisclosed location, we were on an Air Force base.  My dad (a CIA guy) used to golf with the post chaplain–a Catholic priest, Father Fitzgerald.  The Old Man was headed out, and Father Fitz had a guest, an O6 (full bird colonel) coming in.  Before the Old Man left, he had told Fr. Fitz that the full bird was more than welcome to use his clubs, as he would be gone.  He (the Old Man) did not mention this to my mom.

    So on a Sunday morn (Mom and us kids had gone to Mass on Saturday evening), Mom is at the kitchen sink when she sees the Catholic chaplain in his black frock coat and an AF O6 in his blue Class A uniform pull up and start walking up to the house.  She tells us kids to get upstairs ASAP.

    She takes a deep breath, puts on the coffee, and then when they enter offers them both coffee and coffee cake.  Father Fitz says, “So, Laurel, I imagine ye know why we’re here.”

    Yes, says Mom, I imagine I do.  Would you care for coffee?  Maybe coffee cake?

    “Eh, no, thank you.  I’m sure you understand, we’ve got an 11 o’clock tee time, so if we could just collect Bill’s clubs…”

    What?

    Once they got the facts sorted you, the subsequent chewing out was epic.  Mom blistered the priest and the full bird with words I’d never heard her say, before or since.

     

    • #39
  10. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    When they called to tell us our son was wounded, they started out with “Alan was shot today.”

    • #40
  11. KentForrester Coolidge
    KentForrester
    @KentForrester

    Boss Mongo (View Comment):

     

    Once they got the facts sorted you, the subsequent chewing out was epic. Mom blistered the priest and the full bird with words I’d never heard her say, before or since.

    Funny story, Boss.  You know, I don’t know how that telegram was delivered to my grandmother.  Since so many were dying and the war was still raging, I imagine that it was delivered by a Western Union employee. Perhaps he just handed it to her and left.

    By the way, I’ve been waiting for 50 Likes, which would be a new PR for me (I keep track of these kinds of things),  and you put me over the top.  Perhaps it’s common with wordsmiths like you, but I’ve never been in this rarified air before.  So thanks.

    • #41
  12. JustmeinAZ Member
    JustmeinAZ
    @JustmeinAZ

    Randy Webster (View Comment):

    When they called to tell us our son was wounded, they started out with “Alan was shot today.”

    Many years ago when my daughter was 500 miles away at college she was in a serious auto accident – rear ended in a Chevy Sprint by a large van. I got the news when her boyfriend called to tell me “Jen’s been in an accident”. Later I told him the first words out of his mouth should have been “Jen’s OK”.

    • #42
  13. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    JustmeinAZ (View Comment):

    Randy Webster (View Comment):

    When they called to tell us our son was wounded, they started out with “Alan was shot today.”

    Many years ago when my daughter was 500 miles away at college she was in a serious auto accident – rear ended in a Chevy Sprint by a large van. I got the news when her boyfriend called to tell me “Jen’s been in an accident”. Later I told him the first words out of his mouth should have been “Jen’s OK”.

    When my mom had a heart attack a few years ago, my sister called and opened with “First of all, Mom’s OK”.  Which I told her later immediately mean to me that mom was *not* ok.  But at least it set a tone.

     

     

     

    • #43
  14. Keith SF Inactive
    Keith SF
    @KeithSF

    It wasn’t studied until after the war, but apparently the B-17’s poor cockpit design was a contributing factor to the danger.

    https://www.wired.com/story/how-dumb-design-wwii-plane-led-macintosh/

     

    • #44
  15. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    Keith SF (View Comment):

    It wasn’t studied until after the war, but apparently the B-17’s poor cockpit design was a contributing factor to the danger.

    https://www.wired.com/story/how-dumb-design-wwii-plane-led-macintosh/

     

    I hadn’t heard about that before.  

    I did know that the prototype B-17 (The model 299)was responsible for the development of the “checklist” for use by pilots in airplanes.  During trials with the army, the prototype crashed and burned.  The cause of the crash was that the pilot forgot to unlock the control surfaces.  There was concern that the plane was “too complex to fly”.

    https://worldwarwings.com/pilot-checklists-direct-result-b-17s-heres-horrific-reason/

     

    • #45
  16. David Foster Member
    David Foster
    @DavidFoster

    Keith SF (View Comment):

    It wasn’t studied until after the war, but apparently the B-17’s poor cockpit design was a contributing factor to the danger.

    https://www.wired.com/story/how-dumb-design-wwii-plane-led-macintosh/

    Very interesting link about the landing gear and flaps control design on the B-17, thanks.

    Shape coding, and even position-on-the dash recognition are being lost today due to the increased use of screens with multiple layers of menus. And the Airbus crash over the South Atlantic was probably due at least in part to that plane’s lack of direct mechanical connection between the pilot and copilot controls…normally, if pilot & copilot are doing different things with the yoke, they can feel an opposing force; the Airbus apparently doesn’t do this.

    Automated and partially-automated systems also have their hazards; see my post When Humans and Robots Communicate.

    • #46
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