Flying Fortress Falls

Week 16: #52 Ancestors – Air

By Eilene Lyon

This pre-Memorial Day story honors 2nd Lieutenant Jack P. Laird, my mother’s 4th cousin on the Ransom family tree.

Born John Paul Laird in December 1919 in Klamath Falls, Oregon, Jack’s parents were Thomas W. Laird and Sylvia Lee Rackleff. He had one sibling, a brother named Donald Stuart Laird. The Laird family moved around Oregon for many years, following Thomas’s career as a pharmacist.

Jack worked as the business manager for the school yearbook in high school. He was also a musician and a member of the Merrill Presbyterian Church. Merrill is a small rural community southeast of Klamath Falls near the California state line.

Jack attended Oregon State College (now University) for two years, studying for a pharmacy degree. He joined the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity. He was active in both fraternity and campus committees and reportedly well-liked among his peers. While living in Corvallis, he joined the local rifle club, because he was “keenly interested in firearms.”

In the summer of 1940, Jack decided to enlist in the Oregon National Guard, Company M, the local heavy weapons unit in Corvallis. The unit spent 21 days in Ft. Lewis, Washington, training with 40,000 other troops. Company M continued on at Camp Murray adjacent to Ft. Lewis through the fall. In October, Jack received a promotion to private first class.

At some unknown date, Jack transferred to the Army Air Corps and received his wings at Mather Field in Sacramento, California. In March 1943, 2nd Lieutenant Jack P. Laird arrived at the navigation school in San Marcos, Texas, where he served as an instructor.

“Later he was appointed echelon commander in charge of cadet instruction. From there he was transferred to Roswell, New Mexico, where he completed a course in bombardier training. Since then he had been stationed in Clovis.”

A B-17 “Flying Fortress” bomber left on a combat training flight headed to Denver from Clovis in February 1944 with ten men aboard, including bombardier Jack Laird. As the plane started back toward New Mexico on February 26, contact ceased and it vanished without a trace.

According to this article, Jack had a wife in Clovis, identified only as “Mrs. J. P. Laird.” I’ve never learned her name or whether she and Jack had a child.

missing bomber
Clovis News-Journal, February 28, 1944, p.1. – via Newspapers.com.

No doubt Thomas and Sylvia Laird prayed that their elder son had somehow survived whatever mishap befell that training flight. For nearly three months they agonized before the news arrived that the wreckage – with eight bodies – had been located in the mountains west of Palmer Lake and Larkspur, Colorado.

Lt. Art Williams with the Colorado Springs civil air patrol saw sun gleaming off metal on Saturday, May 20. The following day, his and another plane flew over the area to confirm the sighting before reporting it to the Army air force headquarters in the city.

plane found
Herald and News (Klamath Falls), May 22, 1944, p. 1. – via Newspapers.com.

There were no survivors, and eventually all ten bodies were recovered and carried out on horseback. Examination revealed that the plane had exploded and burned when it crashed. Authorities believed that ice build-up caused the fatal plunge to earth.

The young men who lost their lives along with Lt. Laird were:

2nd Lt. Joseph J. Beeson, Jr., pilot, Washington, D.C.

2nd Lt. Harry B. Davis, co-pilot, Philadelphia, PA

2nd Lt. Harry L. Barry, navigator, Columbus, OH

Flight Officer, Fred C. Gentry, Clovis, NM

Cpl. Joseph J. Fendrick, gunner, Queens, NY

Cpl. Ralph C. Judah, radioman, Kansas

Cpl. James F. Perry, fire control operator, Charlotte, NC

Cpl. Glenn L. Stutsman, gunner, Alleman [?], IA

Cpl. James R. Young, Port Arthur, TX

Feature image: B-17 Flying Fortress about 1942 (U.S. Air Force image)

John Paul “Jack” Laird on Ancestry.com

Sources:

“Bodies recovered from Laird plane” Herald and News (Klamath Falls), May 23, 1944, p. 2.

“Bomber wreckage and 8 bodies are found in the hills” Greeley Daily Tribune, May 22, 1944, p. 1.

“Clovis bomber missing in training flight” Clovis News-Journal, February 28, 1944, p.1.

“Eight found dead in fortress” Fort Collins Coloradoan, May 22, 1944, p. 1.

“Guardsmen set for training at Washington fort” Corvallis Gazette-Times, August 3, 1940, pp. 1-2.

“Lt. Jack P. Laird” The Star and Lamp of Pi Kappa Phi Fraternity, September 1944, p. 6. Online at: https://issuu.com/pikappaphi/docs/1944_3_sep

“Merrill Briefs” The Evening Herald (Klamath Falls, OR), March 9, 1937, p. 4.

“Missing Clovis plane is found in Colorado” Clovis News-Journal, May 23, 1944, p. 1.

“Our Men in Service” Herald and News (Klamath Falls), March 15, 1943, p. 4.

“Search continues for missing Clovis bomber” Clovis News-Journal, February 29, 1944, p. 1.

“Service club attends Rayburn religious service” The Klamath News, January 21, 1938, p. 4.

Smith, Eston. “Company M Men are well-fed, clothed and gaining weight” Corvallis Gazette-Times, October 14, 1940, pp. 1,6.

The Evening Herald (Klamath Falls), February 22, 1939, p. 8.

“Two Klamath men missing…” Herald and News (Klamath Falls), February 28, 1944, pp. 1,3.

“Wreckage of missing Laird plane found; no survivors” Herald and News (Klamath Falls), May 22, 1944, pp. 1,4.

(All news clips from Newspapers.com)

42 thoughts on “Flying Fortress Falls

Add yours

  1. A sad story, but one that needs to be shared. If only for the honor of remembering someone who lost his life in the line of duty outside of the war arena. All who serve have stories to tell, or can be told by someone else.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Eilene, I am so glad that you wrote about your own family’s Second Lieutenant who tragically died in a plane crash. After you commented on my post earlier this month, I was really hoping to read about your KIA family member. Thank you for sharing his story.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. How sad 😦 I can’t imagine waiting for three months to find out what happened – it’s so hard to lose someone as it is, but then having to wait on pins and needles. War takes too much from us.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Joni, Thanks so much for sharing this wonderful post. Is your mother still here and doing her art? The photos are wonderful. I will check out the links later, but wanted to express my gratitude for your sharing of this story. I’m very moved by it.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed it. Yes, my mothers is still here and still painting. She’s 94 now and still in her own home, but I live close by. She has about 300 paintings, and needs the space for her art.
        If you want to look at her art, on my home page, there is a sub menu called The Artist and there are some of the paintings I have used it blogs over the past several years, if it suited the topic. She only took up painting at age 87 when she stopped driving after a hip operation, had her first exhibit at age 90 (I entered her in a contest), and has had several solo exhibits since, with another one scheduled for next fall, if it happens as the museums are now closed along with everything else….it might have to be rescheduled to next year. Her style is more folkart, and she is mostly self-taught, although she took a few art classes when she was around 50 and we were all away at school, bu she just kind of dabbled in it a bit, but nothing seriously until age 87. It amazes me that her hand is still so steady and her vision clear. She doesn’t sell much, but just paints for fun.

        Liked by 2 people

      1. That’s a shame. And surprising too that there wasn’t more information left behind. A fallen soldier dies on the homefront in a training mission – seems like that should have received a lot of attention.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I don’t know. Might be geared towards veterans, but worth asking. I would have thought his parents would order a headstone from the government, which creates a record, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. Maybe his wife took charge of the remains. Lots of questions!

        Liked by 2 people

  4. Such a sad story, Eilene. The lives of so many fine young men were lost in B-17 crashes, including my father’s only brother, who was shot down over France during WWII.

    Liked by 1 person

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