By the time Victory in Europe was declared May 8, 1945, their rural mailman had delivered a telegram to the Wilson home. Clabe in overalls and Leora in a house dress and apron opened it to discover that a second son was missing in action.
When all five sons left to serve, one by one, Clabe and Leora gave up tenant farming near Minburn, and had bought their very first home on an acreage near Perry six months earlier. Delbert and Donald were in the Navy, Donald in the Pacific on the crew of an aircraft carrier, temporarily in for repairs after being rammed by a kamikaze.
Junior, the youngest, had just earned his pilot’s wings. By the time he came home on furlough to celebrate, his parents had gotten the news about Danny.
This latest telegram revealed that Danny Wilson, a P-38 pilot, was missing in Austria. Dale Wilson, the copilot on a B-25, and his crew had been lost nearly a year and a half earlier, off the coast of New Guinea.
Brothers Dale and Danny had loved hunting in the Dallas County timber with their dad, brothers, and their Fig Newton-loving dog named Spats.
Redwing blackbirds and meadowlarks brightened Iowa’s spring green landscape as radio news filtered in from Europe that POWs were being freed from German camps. Allies were locating and liberating victims from horrendous concentration camps. Americans in the European Theater of Operations (ETO) began streaming home, some to stay, some to join the still ongoing fight in the Pacific.
Perhaps son Danny been rescued by an Austrian family and was hiding out with them. He still might make his way to the victorious Allies. Maybe he was recovering in a hospital, unable yet to write home. Clabe and Leora hoped that Danny would just coming walking home from the train and surprise them, as they’d heard that other young men had done.
Wilsons wouldn’t know until early 1946 that Lt. Daniel S. Wilson had been killed in action the day he was listed as missing. By then Wilsons had lost a third son, who was the first in the family to be buried at Perry’s Violet Hill Cemetery.
Clabe died of a stroke that fall. Leora decided not to have Danny’s remains returned to Iowa. She just couldn’t handle another funeral that soon, and there never would be one for son Dale.
That one central Iowa family had lost three sons was largely forgotten after the war. Americans wanted to get on with their lives, and they really didn’t know what had happened anyway.
Dale Wilson Danny Wilson Junior Wilson
After Leora (who was my delightful grandmother) died in 1987, I needed to learn what had befallen Dale and Danny, and I requested their casualty files, MACRs (Missing Aircraft Reports), and combat records.
Dan Wilson’s casualty file revealed that a British Registration Team had located his grave in the tiny Alpine village of Schwanberg, Austria. They’d turned over their findings to the Americans who later returned to Schwanberg to make official records about the lost of the plane and pilot.
I learned that a graveside service had been held for Dan Wilson back in February of 1945. It was carried out secretly, according to the casualty records, by the village priest, with only the bergermeister, the police chief, and the grave digger present. Yes, I cried. No one in the family had ever learned these details.
The documents also demonstrated the care that went into the discovery, identification, recovery, and relocation of Danny’s remains.
This information eventually led Dan’s sisters, Doris and Darlene, to visit his grave the fall of 1997 in the Lorraine American Cemetery at St. Avold, France, where over 10,000 young Americans are buried. Both sisters, Iowa farm women, were nearly 80 years old when they made the trip, the first in the family to do so.
All five Wilson brothers enlisted. Only two came home.
The 75th Anniversary of VE-Day brings back that great loss to the Wilson family of central Iowa, largely forgotten until last year. The Dallas County Freedom Rock, dedicated last fall at Minburn, features all five brothers.
I’m thankful they are being remembered in such a public way.
Leora’s Letters: The Story of Love and Loss for an Iowa Family During World War II by Joy Neal Kidney, with Robin Grunder.
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