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The man in the picture

South Boston News / November 07, 2013

My father and his infant sister were reared by their grandparents near Nashville, Ind., as a result of their mother’s unexpected death in 1924. Not surprisingly, many years later my brothers, sister and I were frequent visitors in that rural southern Indiana home. In the living room of the home place was a photograph of a smiling young man in a World War II Army uniform. Occasionally when curiosity got the best of me, I would ask my great grandmother, known by all as Mom Clark, “Who is that man in the picture?” Her reply was always the same, “That was John who didn’t come back from the war.” That was the sum total of my knowledge of the man in uniform, whose picture remained in her parlor until she passed away.

Time passed as time does with my boyhood days in Indiana ending and my adult life in Virginia beginning. My questions about “John who didn’t come back from the war” went unanswered and were quickly set aside with questions about career, marriage, and raising children: the everyday concerns that fill a young parent’s mind. But prior to his death in 2001, my father gave me the picture, now removed from the homeplace, as well as several papers from the federal government and a cased Purple Heart.

He explained that Mom Clark had been designated by John as his next of kin. Thus, she was the recipient of any correspondence related to him, including a letter from the President of the United States.

As John was my father’s best childhood friend, my great grandmother wanted him to have this collection of personal wartime memorabilia. While my father knew very few of the details concerning his death, I did learn from the papers that “John” was John W. Crump, a Technical Sergeant in the U.S. Army Air Corps who was “presumed dead” on February 15, 1943. For the next decade the documents, picture and medal were stored away and rarely entered my thoughts.

Once again the years passed by quickly, but due to a strange set of circumstances, opportunity would present itself as a result of two decisions.

First, after retiring in December of 2011, my wife Pam and I decided to build a new house. Included in the house plans was a library for my World War II book collection which now numbered nearly 2,000 volumes. Following the first decision was the second which involved my having back surgery in early 2012. This second decision and the related recuperation period allowed me the time to look once again at “John who didn’t come back from the war” and the puzzle it presented.

Through the magic of Google and other Internet search engines, I discovered the tail number (41-23800) of Sgt. Crump’s B-17 bomber on which he was the Flight Engineer. From that tiny piece of information the entire story could be told concerning what happened to his B-17 nicknamed “The Captain and The Kids” on February 15, 1943.

As recalled by a pilot on another plane in the squadron who was involved in the attack, “The target that afternoon was the German Raider ship Togo near Dunkirk, France. As the mission unfolded, Sgt. Crump’s plane was hit at least twice by Luftwaffe fighters before it crash landed on a British beach south of Ramsgsate. Before the damaged plane got to the shore, the Captain told the crew that anyone could bail out. Sgt. Crump, Lt. Flynn and Lt. Poole did so, but at too low an altitude and all three were killed.” The bodies of Flynn and Poole were recovered; Crump’s body was never found thus the “presumption” of his death. By the end of August 1943, three of the surviving crew members of B-17, “The Captain and The Kids”, had also been killed in action.

So now I knew the answers to the “who and how” parts of the mystery, but one question remained unanswered. Why was the letter from the President signed by Mr. Truman and not by FDR, who was in office in 1943?

The last piece of the puzzle was found when I discovered that the War Department had, in error, listed John Crump’s address as Nashville, Tennessee, not Nashville, Indiana, thus causing a delay in the delivery of the Presidential letter until well after FDR’s death in 1945. With the mystery solved and our house finished, Sgt. John Crump’s picture now hangs prominently in my library along with Mr. Truman’s letter and the posthumous Purple Heart certificate.

I only wish that my father could be here to see it and to know that I now know why John, the man in the picture, didn’t come back from the war.

As we observe Veterans Day 2013, I salute not only my father’s boyhood friend who served and was lost in World War II, but all those who have served and are serving in our armed forces at home and around the world.

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I loved reading this story. Congrats Mr. Clark on finding out what happened to "the man in the picture."

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