A Family WWII Story


SCAN3035All families have stories. Most have stories about World War II, if you are lucky.  My mother grew up at 5511 Belvedere Road, in West Palm Beach Florida.  I’ve not been back since my grandparents died in the mid-90s.  The wonderful house has been murdered – demolished.  It was and the location still is on the direct flight path going into Palm Beach International.  During the war, it was known as Morrison Field.  It was a embarkation point for bombers heading to Europe.  They would fly from there to Canada, then across the Atlantic.  I seem to remember the air field was about 5 miles or so from the grandparents’ property.

My grandfather bought the property during the 1930s.  He borrowed six cows from a dairy and began one of his own.  By the time he retired, and sold his 2000 acre dairy in Lake Park, he was milking something like 200 cows on a 24/7 basis.  He was into very modern dairy practices, cleanliness, testing his milk, very ahead of his time.

The property on Belvedere Road was bordered by a canal. You accessed the property by going over what was once a metal bridge, and turning right.  He had a wonderful old tabby barn, and a couple hundred acres of pasture.  It was far enough away from Morrison Field for the guys stationed there to head out for a break.  They would be running, trying out cars, the MPs would be driving down the road, and my uncle, who was just a kid, would invite them for dinner.  My mother has said that there was never a dinner, during the war, where they don’t have someone from the base there, to eat.

My grandparents became almost surrogate parents to so many of the guys who were stationed there. I remember a couple of them even showed up at my grandfather’s funeral. There were quite a few who stayed in touch with the family, writing from Europe or the South Pacific.  When they would come back to the states, many of them, after the war, visited the grandparents.

Grandy was the local civil defense officer, for the county. He was also the blackout officer.  They were on the coast.  My mother even remembers the time when a U-Boat was sunk, going to the beach to watch the wreckage float to shore.  When a bomber, loaded, ready to head to Europe, crashed, right across from the house, my grandfather was the first on the scene.

My cousin forwarded me a link to an article about the crash.  My grandfather was the one responsible for helping to save the six airman who survived.  He tried to rescue as many airmen as possible, and was almost haunted for not being able to save more than he did.

According to my mother, the ground shook when the plane crashed.  They were very fortunate.  A difference of 100 feet or so and the entire family would have been killed.  She said you could hear the ammunition going off, and bombs exploding.  They could also hear the screams of the dying airmen, even from the house.  She said that the following day, they rode their horses over to the crash site, to watch the base coroner come in and pick up body parts.

The families of every one of the airmen who were killed, all contacted my grandfather, to thank him for what he tried to do for them.

On Tuesday evening, my mother was telling me that my grandfather, after leaving the crash site, walked back over to the house.  He sat on the steps, putting his head in his hands, crying.  He told my grandmother they were so very young.  One of the young men died in his arms.  My mother said his coat was filled with soot, bits of skin, blood and hair.  She said she will never forget the odor.

The next day, she and her sister were out riding their horses at the crash site.  Their dog ran up to her and put a glove on the ground by her horse.  A hand was in it.