|A U.S. flag flies over two rows of military tombstones at the new Iowa Veterans Cemetery west of Des Moines.|
Two framed photographs resting on a lower shelf, part of the military display, led me down a path last week to a World War II entry point I’ve never managed to find before. Born just after that war and tangled up in the far smaller but no less bloody war of my own generation, the human factor of that great earlier conflict got lost in an abstraction.
But a little research into the stories of brothers, U.S. Army PFC Beryl Clark and U.S. Army Air Forces Lt. James D. Clark, killed in combat situations two months apart during 1944-45, led me to an incomplete list of between 50 and 60 names, Lucas Countyans who died in that war and whose remains are scattered around the globe from Manila to Luxembourg, and the urge to see if I could find out more about them, tell a little of their stories, move beyond the abstract.
At first I thought I could do this by Memorial Day, but now I’m not so sure. Here, however, are the first of the names in that alphabetical sequence with a few elements of their stories added.
ANGSTEAD, MAHLON B., U.S. Army Private First Class, age 21, of Chariton. Son of Ira and Lula Angstead; born 12 December 1924 in Chariton; inducted 13 July 1942.
Serving with the 346th Infantry Regiment, 87th Infantry Division, PFC Angstead was engaged in an assault on the city of Koblenz that involved crossing the Moselle River when he was killed in action on 15 March 1945. His remains were repatriated to Chariton during November of 1949: Awards: Purple Heart Medal. Burial: Chariton Cemetery.
BAXTER, JOHN E. JR., U.S. Army Air Forces Second Lieutenant (promoted posthumously to first lieutenant), age 20, of Chariton. Son of Mr. and Mrs. John E. Baxter Sr., husband of Glea. Inducted 4 November 1942, commissioned 4 February 1944 at Blackland Field, Waco Texas; landed in England 30 June 1944.
Lieutenant Baxter died 28 July 1944 when the B-17 Bomber he was co-piloting went down over the North Sea after colliding midair with another B-17 approximately 15 miles off the English coast on the return flight from a bombing mission targeting Merseburg and ammunition factories in the Ruhr. Remains not recovered. Awards: Air Medal and Purple Heart Medal. Commemorated on Tablets of the Missing, Cambridge American Military Cemetery, Cambridge, England.
BINGAMAN, MARK D., U.S. Navy Yeoman First Class, age 31, of Chariton and Arlington, Va. Son of Robert and Elsie J. Bingaman, husband of Marcella K. (Norris), father of Robert Lee. Born 28 December 1913, Lucas County; 1933 graduate Chariton High School; enlisted U.S. Navy October 1933 and served four years aboard U.S.S. Saratoga; employed after return to civilian life by U.S. government in Washington, D.C.; enlisted U.S. Naval Reserve March 1942; assigned to carrier U.S.S. Franklin 17 December 1943.
Yoeman First Class Bingaman was among 836 personnel killed on 19 March 1945 when a single Japanese bomber dropped two armor-piercing bombs on the U.S.S. Franklin, which had maneuvered closer to the Japanese mainland than had any other U.S. carrier, killing many outright and setting off massive fires and explosions that killed hundreds of others. More than 600 crewmen survived and saved the badly-damaged ship. Bingaman was buried at sea. Commemorated: Tablets of the Missing, Honolulu Memorial, National Cemetery of the Pacific; Oxford Cemetery, rural Chariton.
BLUE, DONALD L., U.S. Army Air Forces Technical Sergeant, age 23, of Derby and Peoria, Ill. Son of Walter L. and Mary Ethel (Kells) Blue; born 9 November 1921, Grosse Tete, La.; moved to farm near Derby at age 4; 1939 graduate of Derby High School; employed by Caterpillar Tractor Co., Peoria, Ill., when he enlisted in August 1942; called to duty February 1943.
Sergeant Blue, assigned to the 561st Bombardment Squadron, Bombardment Group (H), 8th Air Force, was serving as radio operator aboard a B-17 Bomber flying his 23rd mission over Germany on his 23rd birthday, 9 Nov. 1944, when it sustained a direct hit and went down near Trier. Three crew members, including Blue, were unable to parachute to safety. Awards: Air Medal with Three Oak Leaf Clusters, Purple Heart Medal. Buried: Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial, Luxembourg City.
CACKLER, ORA EVERETT JR., U.S. Marine Corps Private First Class, age 19, of Chariton. Son of Ora E. Sr. and Minnie Cackler, husband of Lena M. (Spencer). Born 5 May 1925; 1942 graduate of Chariton High School.
Deployed with the Sixth Amphibian Tractor Battalion, First Marine Division, on Peleliu Island, PFC Cackler was assigned on 17 September 1944 during combat with Japanese forces (Battle of Peleliu; Operation Stalemate II) to an amphibian tractor hauling ammunition to the front lines and evacuating wounded to hospital ships in the harbor when he was fatally wounded. Because of the questionable strategic value of the island and the very high death toll (more than 1,800 U.S. troops were KIA or MIA), this remains one of the most controversial battles of World War II. First buried on Peleliu Island, Cacker’s remains were repatriated during September of 1948. Buried: Fletcher Cemetery, Lucas County.
CLARK, BERYL L., U.S. Army Private First Class, age 24. Son of Melvin R. and Mabel D. Clark. Born March 7, 1920, Lucas County; 1938 Chariton High School graduate; farmed with his father until enlisting and his induction 4 February 1943. A military policeman, initially assigned as an army and prisoner escort in Africa; reassigned to 6th Infantry Division.
PFC Clark, serving in Luxembourg with Paton’s Third Army, was killed in combat on 11 January 1945, two months after the death of his brother, Lt. James D. Clark. The brothers’ remains were repatriated together to Chariton during August of 1948. Awards: Purple Heart Medal. Burial: Chariton Cemetery.
CLARK, JAMES DUANE, U.S. Army Air Forces First Lieutenant, age 28, of Chariton. Son of Melvin R. and Mabel D. Clark, husband of Barbara M. (Sutton) Born 8 February 1916, Lucas County; 1933 Chariton High School graduate; trained and worked as a structural steel worker and welder; enlisted 23 Feb. 1943; earned pilot wings and commissioned second lieutenant 8 February 1944, Camp George Field, Ill.; deployed to England 13 June 1944; promoted to first lieutenant October 1944.
Lt. Clark, assigned to the 563rd Bombardment Squadron, 388th Bombardment Group, 8th Air Force, was co-piloting the B-17G Cicero Kid on its crew’s 33rd mission on 9 November 1944. Taking off from Station 136, Knettishall, England, the targets were marshalling yards and rail facilities of Saarbrucken, Germany. Over Foriches, Belgium, an engine caught fire and a simultaneous violent explosion broke the plane into three parts. Seven crewmen parachuted to safety, but co-pilot Clark and pilot John J. Chimenti perished. Clark’s remains were repatriated to Chariton in August 1948 along with those of his brother, Beryl, killed in combat in Luxembourg 11 January 1945, two months after James’s death. Awards: Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal with four Oak Leaf Clusters, Purple Heart Medal. Burial: Chariton Cemetery, Lucas County.
DELLA BETTA, PROSDOCIMO J. “DUTCH,” U.S. Army Air Forces staff sergeant, age 24, of Chariton and St. Louis. Son of Olivo Michele “Mike” and Maria Angela “Mary” Della Betta, husband of Dora, born 15 October 1919 in Hocking, Monroe County; 1938 graduate of Chariton High School; working in St. Louis when he entered the U.S. Army Air Corps on 5 February 1943; deployed to England February 1944.
Sergeant Della Betta, assigned as a radio operator to the 576th Bomber Squadron, 392nd Bomber Group, was declared killed in action as of 15 March 1944 after the bomber on which he was flying his initial mission crashed at Heddinghausen, Germany. Awards: Purple Heart Medal. His remains were repatriated in May 1949. Burial: St. Mary’s Cemetery, Albia.
ECKERMAN, WALTER L., U.S. Army Air Forces second lieutenant, age 26, of Chariton and Burlington. Son of Ray and Agnes Eckerman; born 1919 in Iowa; 1936 Chariton High School graduate; working in Burlington when inducted 10 May 1942; commissioned bombardier 13 May 1943.
Lt. Eckerman was stationed at Lewiston, Mont., on 25 August 1943 when the B-17 bomber he was aboard crashed in a wind and hail storm while dropping practice bombs at night killing all 11 men aboard. Burial: Chariton Cemetery.
ELLIS, ROY, U.S. Army Air Forces staff sergeant, age 22, of Williamson. Son of Frank and Mary C. Ellis; born 31 January 1920 in the mining town of Andersonville (Marion County); lived as a child in Pershing, moving to Williamson in 1931; a 1937 graduate of Williamson High School; worked in Williamson-area mines until enlistment on 8 October 1940; completed training as radio operator in October 1941.
Sergeant Ellis, transferred June 5-11, 1942 to the Alaskan Zone, was killed in action on his first mission over Kiska Island on 11 June 1942. Generally acknowledged as the first Lucas Countyan to die in World War II. Awards: Air Medal, Purple Heart Medal. Buried: Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery.