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.
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.
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
“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)