Steward, Third Class Howard Madison Walker from Bowling Green, Kentucky and 78 crewmembers of the submarine USS Tang perished on October 24, 1944, when one of the subs torpedoes malfunctioned and struck her. Approximately 400,000 Americans lost their lives during WWII. Each of these heroes deserves to be remembered — their stories preserved and cherished for generations.
Take a moment today to visit mymemorialday.org to see just a few of these stories which are housed in The National WWII Museum’s exhibits and collections. Look at their photos, see the things they touched and read the letters they wrote home describing the war in their own words.
With your support we can digitize even more artifacts, images and oral histories so they are available for generations to come. Our goal is to raise $40,000 before this Memorial Day — just a few weeks from today. These funds could be used to purchase software and other tools vital to this effort. With your help, we can reach this important milestone.
Visit mymemorialday.org today to learn the true purpose of Memorial Day and be sure to share it with your friends and family via email and social networks.
This Memorial Day, we remember them. We ask you to do the same.
On this day we remember Chief Radio Operator Louis Taix.
Seventy years ago today, on 15 May 1942, twenty-five years old Louis Taix was killed when his ship, the SS Nicarao was torpedoed and sunk by the German submarine, U-571. Taix, the Chief Radio operator on the boat was trapped in the radio shack and went down with the ship as he was sending out cries for help.
Taix had grown up in New Orleans with his siblings and French immigrant parents. It was only after Taix’s death that his parents took steps to become American citizens. Earlier family photos show Louis costuming on Mardi Gras with his family and clowning with his brother, local boxing champ George Taix. Taix’s siblings have often wondered over the years how their lives would be different had their brother survived the war.
Fighter Pilot, an autobiography of an American pilot downed in German-occupied France.
Gift of James & Diane Riddle, 2012
Seventy years ago today, a young man named Levitt Clinton Beck enlisted in the Army Air Corps, making a lifelong dream a reality. Having flown solo since the age of 16 and already having logged more than 60 solo hours, Beck felt more prepared than most to take war to the skies. But nothing could have prepared L. C. for the five-month ordeal that he would face after a forced emergency landing in occupied France.
After a year of training around the United States, Beck received his wings—one of the fondest memories of his career—and was quickly promoted to 1st Lieutenant. Shipping out as part of the 514th Fighter Squadron, 406th Fighter Group, Beck arrived in England to prepare for participation in the largest amphibious invasion in history: D-Day.
Taking to the air at 0330 hours in total darkness that could only be made worse by the prevalence of low-lying clouds, Beck and his fellow P-47 pilots had to fly from memory of navigation charts. The squadron ended up off course a few times, but eventually made it to the invasion beaches where they had a bird’s eye view of the unimaginably vast armada steaming towards Normandy. There were no Jerry’s in the air to oppose them, so they headed back to England unscathed.
Lieutenant L. C. Beck
Less than a month later on 29 June 1944, the entire group took up their 47s to search for bridge targets on the Seine in German-occupied France. Beck’s squadron served as cover for the bombers. Beck lost sight of his squadron for a moment; when he found them they were joined by a pair of Focke-Wulf 190s spitting bullets in their direction. Beck chased him down, and scored his first victory. Like a lion with its cub, the second 190 sought to retaliate, leaving the other 47s be. As Beck tried to pull up and react, he realized his first victory came at the cost of his engine which his prey had managed to shoot out. The second 190 saw that Beck’s 47 was earthbound and pulled up.
Beck had experience with emergency landings both from training and a more recent experience over Cherbourg just a few days before. He successfully bellied down in a wheat field and immediately heard the sputter of an MG42 raking for him. Only later would he find out that the pilot of the first 190 had bailed out and was being shot at by his own men who believed him to be the amerikanerin.
Beck high crawled to the outer rim of the field, and saw civilians approaching. He was told in French to hand over his weapon. He didn’t speak a lick of French, and wasn’t exactly in a situation to say no. Beck had to trust the Frenchmen weren’t collaborators. Luckily for him, they were members of the resistance who had experience hiding downed Allied airmen and getting them back to England.
Beck was taken to Anet, a small French town a few dozen miles southwest of Paris. His saviors gave him civilian clothes—including a beret of course—and took him to Madame Paulette Mesnard, the proprietor of a small café in town. Beck was to hide out in a small but cozy room above the Café de la Mairie until given further instruction.
Mme Paulette’s cafe in Anet, France. The circled window indicates Lieutenant Beck’s hideout.
It was while in isolation in this room that received electricity for two hours a day that Beck decided to write Fighter Pilot, dedicated to his parents. He wrote the entire manuscript on the backs of menus from Mme Paulette’s restaurant. Much of the story is in the form of letters home to his parents and his girlfriend, expressing longing to have a few “bald-headed pilots” of his own; to play his tenor sax again; wondering what a quiet, peaceful life would feel like when he got home. He described D-day and his first victory, as well as his landing and introduction to the resistance.
After two weeks of being pent up at Mme Paulette’s, Beck received direction from his newfound friends that he was to make a trip to the tiny village of Les Vieilles Ventes, from where he would catch a plane back to England. Before leaving Anet, he buried his manuscript in a box inside a box in Paulette’s backyard. He intended to retrieve it after the war, but instructed Paulette to send it to his parents if he failed to return.
Beck stayed in Les Vieilles Ventes for another week, when he was picked up by a fellow resistor known only as Jean-Jacques who drove Beck to Paris. When the next day the Gestapo picked up Beck, he realized that Jean-Jacques was no resistor, but a full-on collaborator. Imprisoned in Fresnes, Beck was denied the normal rights of a prisoner of war. He was treated the same as the political prisoners held there, and arguably worse since he was considered a “terrorist” – Allied airmen not wearing their uniform or a dog tag behind enemy lines were consider illegal combatants, and therefore were not given the “privilege” of POW status.
The Germans knew the Americans were quickly approaching, and moved the entire prison contingent to Buchenwald. Coincidentally, there were 168 other Allied Airmen who had also been sent to Buchenwald in August 1944. Of the 168 imprisoned airmen, Beck was one of only two that perished in the camp before the others were transferred shortly after. Madame Paulette kept her promise and sent Beck’s manuscript to his parents, who then had a few copies published in his honor. One of these has been donated to The National WWII Museum where it will be preserved for future generations.
“I am glad that I was destined to become a fighter pilot, even though it may cost me my life. I am proud that I can fight for that which is right. I feel sorry for anyone who cannot.”
The traitor known as “Jean-Jacques” was Jean-Jacques Desoubrie, an electrician and member of the Gestapo who was captured after the war. He was put on trial, convicted, and executed in December 1949. The story of the 168 fliers he was responsible for sending to Buchenwald is not a well known one, but has recently been given some attention through the documentary “The Lost Airmen of Buchenwald.” The fliers stuck together in the camp and maintained military standards, always marching in formation and doing what they could to maintain a clean and dignified appearance among the filth and disorder of the camp. The survivors, who call themselves the KLB Club—short for Konzentrations lager Buchenwald Club—share their unique and harrowing story in the documentary. Through their story and his own Fighter Pilot, Lt. L. C. Beck is remembered.
On March 1, 1942, Captain Albert Harold Rooks, along with the majority of the crew of the USS Houston perished in the line of duty. The mere 368 survivors of the crew of more than 1,000 would be taken into captivity by the Japanese for the duration of the war and subjected to hard labor. Rooks was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions aboard the Houston.
Medal of Honor Citation
For extraordinary heroism, outstanding courage, gallantry in action and distinguished service in the line of his profession, as commanding officer of the U.S.S. Houston during the period 4 to February 27, 1942, while in action with superior Japanese enemy aerial and surface forces. While proceeding to attack an enemy amphibious expedition, as a unit in a mixed force, Houston was heavily attacked by bombers; after evading 4 attacks, she was heavily hit in a fifth attack, lost 60 killed and had 1 turret wholly disabled. Capt. Rooks made his ship again seaworthy and sailed within 3 days to escort an important reinforcing convoy from Darwin to Koepang, Timor, Netherlands East Indies. While so engaged, another powerful air attack developed which by Houston’s marked efficiency was fought off without much damage to the convoy. The commanding general of all forces in the area thereupon canceled the movement and Capt. Rooks escorted the convoy back to Darwin. Later, while in a considerable American-British-Dutch force engaged with an overwhelming force of Japanese surface ships, Houston with H.M.S. Exeter carried the brunt of the battle, and her fire alone heavily damaged 1 and possibly 2 heavy cruisers. Although heavily damaged in the actions, Capt. Rooks succeeded in disengaging his ship when the flag officer commanding broke off the action and got her safely away from the vicinity, whereas one-half of the cruisers were lost.
Lt. Edward Henry “Butch” O’Hare – The First U.S. Navy’s Flying Ace in WWII
On 20 February 1942, Lt. Edward Henry “Butch” O’Hare became the first US Navy’s flying ace in World War II and was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions in the South Pacific.
In January, the aircraft carrier USS Lexington (CV-2) sailed from Pearl Harbor as the flagship of Vice Adm. Wilson Brown’s commanding Task Force 11 for the South Pacific. Lexington’s mission was to penetrate the enemy-held waters north of New Ireland and destabilize the Japanese position on Rabaul, an important Japanese base at the very tip of New Britain.
In mid-February, Lexington and Task Force 11 entered the waters of the Coral Sea and headed for a strike at Japanese shipping in the harbor at Rabaul scheduled for February 21. Aboard the USS Lexington was Lt. O’Hare with Fighting Squadron Three (VF-3) and their Grumman F4F-3 “Wildcats.”
The back of this postcard reads: “The Grumman ‘Wildcat’ is the standard single-seat fighting plane of the U.S. Navy. It operates from carrier or land base with equal facility. The ‘Wildcat’ has earned an enviable reputation in war action. Lt. Commander Edward O’Hare, flying a “Wildcat,” established a record for modern warfare by shooting down six Japanese bombers in fifteen minutes.” Postcard Gift of Robert Zeller, The National WWII Museum Inc., 2008.502.006
With only a few more days to make a tax-deductible donation to The National WWII Museum in this calendar year, we wanted to take a moment to show you an example of what your contribution supports.
On display here at the Museum is a letter written in December of 1944 by Marine 1st. Lt. Leonard Isacks, Jr. to his two young sons, explaining why he’s far away from home at war and not with them for Christmas.
The letter, which you can read the full text of here, captures perfectly why more than 16 million Americans fought for freedom and why more than 400,000 willingly gave their lives in defense of liberty, including 1st Lt. Isacks who was killed on Iwo Jima two months after he wrote his sons.
It also represents the heart of the Museum’s mission — to tell the story of WWII from the perspective of men like 1st Lt. Isacks, an ordinary citizen-soldier who left his young family to defend America and our freedom.
We work each day to honor veterans like 1st Lt. Isacks and sustain the legacy of our nation’s WWII heroes to ensure all generations understand and appreciate the costly price of freedom.As we prepare for a new year here at the Museum, will you generously support our efforts with a contribution?
Today in 1941, Earle Boitnott Hall, Aviation Machinist’s Mate, Second Class, was KIA in the Philippines – four days after his 22nd birthday.
The USS Earle B. Hall (APD-107) was comissioned in his honor on May 15, 1945.
Citation for the posthumous awarding of the Air Medal for Earle Boitnott Hall:
“For meritorious achievement while participating in aerial flight as a member of a Patrol Plane crew during action against enemy Japanese forces at the Island of Jolo, Sulu, Philippine Islands, December 27, 1941. Taking part in a vigorous and aggressive attack on Japanese naval forces and shore installations.
Hall, although severely wounded, persisted in the performance of his duty and, by his courage and skill under fire, contributed materially to the success of this operation. He gallantly gave up his life in the service of his country.”
On December 7, 1941, Richard Tobin McCurdy was stationed at Camp Wheeler, Georgia and looking forward to holiday leave when he could visit his family back in New Orleans. Below are excerpts from several letters home written between December 14 – 21, 1941. He describes the changes in the camp since the attack on Pearl Harbor and still holds out hope that he can come home for Christmas.
On Pearl Harbor –
“I received your letter the other day telling me of the attack Japanese attack on our possessions in the Pacific. They made the mistake of their lives. They do not know just how mad they made the boys here, who were expecting to go home for Christmas.”
On Life in Camp –
“Since the war started, things around here have been humming. All of our sentries have been carrying live ammunition in their guns for the past week.”
“Yesterday in the Mess Hall, Commander Waters was talking to us about the situation. He also discussed Week-end passes. Some guy up and asked – How about the three-day leave at Christmas, Sir? The commander answered that he did not know for sure whether we would get them or not – yet.”
“Private Clarence Hemby finally came back and gave himself up. He has been ‘Over the Hill’ for 3 weeks. He will probably get Court Marshalled [sic]. Going A.W.O.L. during War time is a serious thing. He is just a kid too – only eighteen years old.”
On the Future –
“Everything is swell here, and the gang here thinks Uncle Sam will make a short War and we will be home for New Years. Personally I hope the U.S. does not act too cocky. These sneaky Jap may be underrated. We can lick them all if we just put our minds to it.”
“Everybody is wondering when we are to leave and where we are going. These questions will soon be answered. Hope to be with you and family Christmas.”
“Who ever told you that the trouble with the army was you never knew when or where you were going – knew what they were talking about. Personally, I don’t give a damn!, but I would like to see you all at Christmas. After that, they can bring on Panama or what have you.”
“We have just about finished our training here at Wheeler. They have made it 10 weeks instead of 13 weeks…I have drawn all heavy clothes. I don’t know if this has any significant [sic], though, as they are sending a lot to Panama and Florida.”
“I hope you folks are not letting this war stuff get you down. There is nothing to worry about, Germany is getting her deserts [sic] and so will the Japs. Take care of yourselves, so we can talk at Christmas time. I don’t have much time off. I’ll be home, though, if only for one hour.”
About the Author –
Richard Tobin McCurdy served in the 3rd Battalion, 6th Armored Division. After training at Camp Wheeler, Georgia, he traveled to Ireland. On November 8, 1942, he participated in the invasion of North Africa (Operation Torch) where he was killed in action.
The National WWII Museum tells the story of the American Experience in the war that changed the world - why it was fought, how it was won, and what it means today - so that all generations will understand the price of freedom and be inspired by what they learn.