Tucked in the corner of my grandmother’s small bedroom in Guthrie Center, Iowa, stood a chest of drawers with family photos on it. My parents on their wedding day–Mom in an aqua suit and Dad in his pilot’s uniform. Mom’s sister in a real wedding gown with her new husband.
And all five of the Wilson brothers in their uniforms.
Two navymen. Delbert with his East Coast bride. Donald with his West Coast wife.
Three airmen. Dale with broad shoulders, pilot’s wings, a kind expression in his eyes. Danny’s square jaw, determined look, silver pilot’s wings. A sense of humor in Junior’s eyes, his pilot’s wings.
For as long as I can remember, those familiar sepia photos were gathered in that corner–a family reunion never to be.
One by one, the Wilson brothers went off to serve in the war. One by one, they would get a furlough home, and drive into Perry from Minburn to have their pictures taken at Edmondson’s Studio.
Donald Wilson was already in the Navy but, knowing war was about to break out, took a chance to slip home AWOL in November 1941. The first of the Edmondson’s photographs was taken It turned out to be the last one of the whole family–the last time they were all together.
Clabe and Leora, hired hands on a farm southwest of Minburn, seated in front of their seven children.
Clyde Edmondson and partner, Mr. Darmer, took over the Omer Gray photography studio in Perry the spring of 1923. Mr. Darmer withdrew in a short time. Mr. Edmondson, assisted by his wife Chloe, saw the business expand and improve through the decades.
From the 60th Anniversary Perry newspaper, Sept. 19, 1928.
Between November 1941 and March 1945, Clyde Edmondson took pictures of the family that would become even more precious as the war devastated the family.
Donald’s ship, then on the East Coast, was sent into combat in the Pacific right after Pearl Harbor was attacked. He survived the Battle of the Coral Sea and the sinking of his ship at the Battle of Midway the spring of 1942. Donald got a promotion and that November was given a furlough. His Edmondson’s photograph was taken in his new Chief’s uniform while he was home.
Delbert reenlisted and was assigned to a tanker, along the East Coast where German U-boats were hunting loaded tankers. He also had a tense trip in a convoy to North Africa, and a harrowing voyage home when the stacks caught fire during a hurricane. His furlough came in early 1943, and his Edmondson’s photo.
Dale joined the Army Air Force, earning his wings in early 1943, and also a furlough. Just missing Delbert’s visit home, his photo was taken in his new lieutenant’s uniform. It was his last visit. The copilot on a B-25, Dale was sent to New Guinea where they were shot down in combat that November. The bomber and the crew have never been found.
Danny also became a P-38 pilot, earning his wings the spring of 1944. Wearing his new uniform, his picture was taken at Edmondson’s that April. It was his last visit.
The fall of 1944, after their sons were all in the service and Clabe could no longer take care of the landlord’s farm, he and Leora bought an acreage a mile south of Perry–on the corner south of where Forest Park Museum is now.
The next March is when the telegram arrived there, informing them that Danny was missing in action in Austria. The Wilsons still had no more word on Dale’s fate.
Junior came home that spring with his new pilot’s wings. It was only a mile to drive to Edmondson’s Studio. He returned to Texas where he was in Transition Training in a P-40, awaiting orders for overseas.
The day the second atomic bomb was dropped, the Wilsons’ mailman returned to the house with a telegram. Junior–who was still safe in Texas–had been killed when the engine in his plane threw a rod and the plane exploded.
Months after the war ended, Clabe and Leora learned that Danny’s grave had been located in Austria and his status changed to Killed in Action. And Dale’s death was officially declared, along with the others on his crew. The fall of 1946, Clabe died of a stroke–and a broken heart.
You can see why these photographs taken by a skilled photographer in Perry have been so precious to the surviving family, tangible blessings through the long decades after the war.
Hastie’s History of Dallas County by Eugene N. Hastie, printed by Wallace Homestead Company, Des Moines, Iowa, 1938, page 288.
Clippings about the Edmondsons from Katherine Edmondson of Perry.