His name was Charles and he was the first born in the family. He was my brother, but I never knew him as I was born two years after Mom and Dad got the MIA (missing in action) certificate from the government. He was on a volunteer mission after the attack on Pearl Harbor. His plane got off course and went down in the Pacific Ocean somewhere between Hawaii and Christmas Island.
When he was a teenager, the family lived in a town in the Mississippi Delta. They lived down the street from a Ham Radio Operator (Amateur Radio). Even back then radio was a kind of magic, and my brother got the radio bug. I am pretty sure he learned Morse Code from that Ham Operator. After all, the Ham Radio Community has a tradition and duty of mentoring others into the hobby.
During World War I and World War II, the US Government looked at the Amateur Radio community as a ready trained source of trained Morse Code operators.
Charles, like most young men wanted to grow out of his rural beginnings and see something of the world. His ticket was his skills with the code. Somehow, he became a radio operator in the Civilian Conservation Corps, which apparently had its own communications network.
From there, Charles managed to wrangle an enlistment into the US Army. That does not sound like a tough thing to do, but this was before Pearl Harbor, and Charles first posting was to Hawaii as a radio operator in the shore defense units. This was a prime posting, especially for a newbie.
The communications facility was on Diamond Head. On the morning of Sunday, December 7, 1941 he took a break, stepping out of the radio building to take a smoke. That’s when he saw the Japanese planes. He witnessed the attack from Diamond Head. I’m not sure why the Japanese didn’t go after radio communications towers, but they didn’t.
Charles later wrote a letter to his little brother, Ray, about the event. This letter was published in the Cleveland, Mississippi newspaper as a first-person witness to the attack.
After the attack, liberties were cancelled, most soldiers were confined to base. It was so boring that Charles volunteered for a mission to ferry airplane parts from Hawaii to Christmas Island. He was on board as the radio operator and was undoubtedly the one to send the message that they were going down. They had gotten off course during a storm and ran out of fuel.
It was an emotional time. Losing a child, especially the first born, is a tough thing to handle. The first MIA certificate the government sent my parents had the incorrect date. Dad called Washington, DC and had this corrected, I was told, after a bit of spicy language with whomever was on the other end of the line. He had called for President Truman. Naturally, he was not put through to the President.
As World War II wound to a close and the soldiers started coming home, Dad would go to the train station in Memphis to look for Charles. Since he was missing in action, there was no proof of death. Stories abound of how sailors and soldiers were rescued from certain death at sea, only to be held in Japanese prison camps.
Charles never came home.
It is important to remember those eager, young men. They left the farms, towns and cities before many were even shaving regularly. We honor them for their sacrifice.