As the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion approaches, so many of the words that will be printed on these pages came about as the result of research and assistance from the Clinton County Historical Society.
Clinton Herald articles from the World War II era, historical items given to the Clinton County Historical Society and even information from the U.S. Library of Congress archives were gleaned to deep dive for data about the people and experiences we will be detailing this week.
As in every hunt for background, it is easy for a writer’s eyes to be drawn to related information. It’s like when you clean out a room at home and end up getting immersed looking at old pictures you find.
You just can’t help it.
In this case, the Historical Society was my first stop for finding information. And as you can guess, there were volumes upon volumes of it.
Row after row of binders full of newspaper clippings beckoned me to read. They included brief listings of men and women from throughout the city and the county, noting whether they had been drafted, where they were headed, training and promotions they had received and a mention when they were home on leave.
But there were also those that listed reports of sons missing in action – that the families had been notified where their soldier had last been seen and on what date. It was heart wrenching to read those clips.
In one case, there was a binder full of items compiled by the late Bob Soesbe. Bob, a World War II veteran, was an active member of the Historical Society. I am so fortunate that I was able to interview him over the years about historical issues related to Clinton.
I will never forget an interview I had with him, probably 20 years ago, about his older brother Jim, who had died while serving in World War II. Bob could clearly recall the family receiving official notice that Jim was missing in action and how friend after friend was going off to war.
It was while studying at the Historical Society a few weeks ago that volunteers Jan Hansen and Carole Gilbert discovered a binder full of letters that Jim had written and sent to family members back home in 1943 and 1944. Bob had placed them in order, led in with a brief biography and closed out the binder with the official telegram telling his family that Jim was missing in action, his plane had been shot down over the North Sea, and, later, that his body was unrecoverable.
Honestly, I knew the outcome because of the story from 20 years earlier, but what caught me off guard was reading his letters to home.
Jim was born in 1922 and enlisted in the Army in January 1942 as an aviation cadet. He was trained as a bombadier-navigator and was assigned to a B-24 crew. He went to England in June 1944 and flew nine missions over Europe.
His first letters are sent from Texas and Colorado and later Ohio. Often it would seem that the letters were a mix of him being busy and tired because of training or bored waiting for word on what they would be doing next,
They detail his plans to marry Betty Paige, whom he met in Ohio. They married in January 1944.
He tells of every-day financial worries and of knowing that he is going to be sent somewhere – he doesn’t know where – and that he probably won’t find out until right before leaving.
He later writes of being sent to Europe, his missions, and the sights he sees in London. Those letters are sent via V-mail.
He is at times full of adrenaline and at other times weary. He aches for news from home, be it in the form of letters from family or from Clinton Herald editions that family members are sending him.
But then in September 1944, the letters cease.
His life had been cut short when enemy fire shot his plane out of the sky on a return trip to England after a mission over France. He and five others died. One person on the plane survived. It was the survivor’s belief that the rest of the servicemen were trapped in the plane when it went down and they had drowned near the coast of Holland.
In the binder was a copy of the telegram that informed his family of the news.
He was 21.
Jim’s letters reference his desire to come home, get a job and live a ho-hum life for the next several decades.
Stories such as Jim’s abound. An estimated 416,000 U.S. military members died in World War II, 232 of them Clinton County residents listed as killed in action or missing in action in World War II.
So many of them were young, their lives full of potential that would not be realized.
We owe those souls so very much.