What Leora Never Knew
A Granddaughter’s Quest for Answers
The day the second atomic bomb was dropped, a telegram was delivered at the Perry, Iowa home of Clabe and Leora Wilson. Two of their sons were Missing in Action, one in Europe, one in the South Pacific. I was a toddler underfoot that day at my grandparents’ home with my mother, who opened the telegram that announced the shocking news that Junior, her youngest brother, had been killed near his air base in Texas that morning. The engine of his P-40 threw a rod and exploded.
All five Wilson brothers served in World War II. Only two came home.
Only after courageous Grandma Leora died in 1987, I learned that Junior is the only one buried in the Perry cemetery. All those childhood years of tagging along with Grandma, my mother and her sister, on Decoration Day, we’d arranged bouquets for all three brothers.
What happened to them? Needing to find out, I read dozens of books, requested the Wilson brothers’ casualty reports, joined WWII reunion groups, and wrote dozens of letters, logging each in a spiral notebook. I located the man who, as a fellow pilot, accompanied Junior’s casket to Iowa and stayed with the grieving family through the funeral.
Danny Wilson’s P-38 crashed in the snowy Alps. The casualty records reveal details of his poignant first burial. The care, thoroughness, and dignity given his remains as they were identified, moved, and reburied are especially compelling. Dan’s best friend from overseas stopped here to see Mom and me, bringing his scrapbook, sharing photos and stories. The mayor of the city where he was first buried sent a copy of the town history. On page 41, is the first photo the family had ever seen of Dan’s wrecked Lightning.
Dale Wilson’s B-25 was shot down off New Guinea. The bomber and crew of six have never been found. When an eyewitness to the crash at sea learned that Dale’s diary had been removed by the Quartermaster Depot in Kansas City, he photocopied his own combat diary for me. I’m still in contact with relatives of some of the bomber crew.
I’d grown up with the shadows
During the years of research and writing about these terrible losses, I realized I’d grown up with the shadows of those three brothers. Taking on the responsibility of keeping their memories alive, I corresponded with the curator of a New Guinea museum, and with the veteran whose burden it had been to return letters from New Guinea marked “Missing in Action,” as well as remembering–with Mom and Aunt Darlene–all three brothers at the Perry cemetery each Decoration Day.
What Leora Never Knew: A Granddaughter’s Quest for Answers is my own journey of remembrance.