• Shirley Wetzel – Memorial Day 2005 – A True Story


    It Was A True Memorial Day

    Shirley Wetzel lives in Houston, Texas, is a librarian at Rice University, and she is a treasure of knowledge on most things history. She’s also a writer and one of the few people I know who never lets me down when I ask her to write on a given topic. This week was no exception, and what I received brought tears to my eyes as I read the story of Shirley, her sister, and their Memorial Day 2005. May God Bless Them All.

    ********************

    In 2005, my half-sister, Gwen Robertson Scoggins, and I attended a Memorial Day service at the Cambridge American Cemetery in England. This is the resting place of her father, 2nd Lieutenant Hulbert H. Robertson, who died on June 4, 1943. He and three other crew members perished when their B-26 Martin Marauder, the Lil’ Lass, crashed into Carn Llidi Mountain in south Wales in heavy fog.

    The crew of the Lil' Lass, April, 1943, just before they left Barksdale Airfield, La., on their way to England - they went by way of Cuba - Ascension Island - North Africa - England

    The crew of the Lil’ Lass, April, 1943, just before they left Barksdale Airfield, La., on their way to England – they went by way of Cuba – Ascension Island – North Africa – England

    The Cambridge American Cemetery is near Madingley, on land donated by Cambridge University and dedicated by President Eisenhower in 1956. It is a beautiful, peaceful place, the acres of white markers surrounded by thousands of red roses in full bloom. All the crosses and Stars of David were perfectly white, shining brightly under the mild English sun.

    the Cambridge American Cemetery, Memorial Day 2005

    the Cambridge American Cemetery, Memorial Day 2005

    There are 3,812 American servicemen buried in 3,809 graves; a high proportion of them were crew members of British-based American aircraft. By every headstone were small American and English flags. A few had floral arrangements brought or sent by relatives. Gwen placed a beautiful bouquet at her father’s grave, with a card saying “We miss you, love from your daughter Gwen and your wife Velma.”

    How did we come to be in this place on that day?

    It’s a long story, which began on that fateful day in June, 1943. Gwen was not quite two years old when she lost her father, too young to remember him. My father, Sterling L. Hornsby, married Hulbert’s young widow, Velma Ruth Stewart Robertson, later in the war, and raised Gwen as his own. She grew up knowing that she was a Robertson, though, often visiting Hulbert’s parents, Jim and Ilena, on their farm near Comanche.

    When my brother and I came along, we were included in the Robertson clan. I came to realize that her first daddy was the smiling young soldier whose picture hung on the parlor wall of his parents’ old dog trot cabin in the country.

      Wales, Carn Llidi in background - the plane hit at the lower elevation, about the middle of the page, almost at the top. They just missed flying over it by yards. We met an elderly lady who lived in a farmhouse near there (not the one in the picture) who was a little girl when the crash happened. She was talking to her father when they heard the plane approach. THere was heavy fog - he said "that plane will never make it over the mountain." There was a big crash, and he and all the men nearby ran up the mountain to see if they could help. He came back hours later, shaking his head. No survivors. The Home Guard carried the bodies down and took them to the cathedral at St. Davids (that's how it's spelled) , where they were watched over until the U.S. Army came to take them  to a WWI cemetery near London - Brookwood


    Wales, Carn Llidi in background – the plane hit at the lower elevation, about the middle of the page, almost at the top. They just missed flying over it by yards. We met an elderly lady who lived in a farmhouse near there (not the one in the picture) who was a little girl when the crash happened. She was talking to her father when they heard the plane approach. THere was heavy fog – he said “that plane will never make it over the mountain.” There was a big crash, and he and all the men nearby ran up the mountain to see if they could help. He came back hours later, shaking his head. No survivors. The Ho9me Guard carried the bodies down and took them to the cathedral at St. Davids (that’s how it’s spelled) , where they were watched over until the U.S. Army came to take them to a WWI cemetery near London – Brookwood

    Gwen grew up, married, had children and grandchildren. They knew, in an abstract way, that they’d had another grandfather, but he was just a young man in a photo to them, a part of history they knew little about. After the war, his body was moved from a temporary site to the new Cambridge American Cemetery in England. Mother never said much about what happened to him. She knew only that the Army said his plane had crashed into a Welsh mountain and he had not survived.

    Gwen Robertson Scoggins, daughter of Hulbert H. Robertson and Velma Ruth Stewart

    Gwen Robertson Scoggins, daughter of Hulbert H. Robertson and Velma Ruth Stewart

    This all changed in 2004, when a young Welshman named Steve Jones made contact, through a complicated set of circumstances, with Hulbert’s nephew, H.R. (for Hulbert Robertson) Helm. Steve is a firefighter and aviation history buff living in Port Talbot, Wales. He had been researching the crash of the Lil’ Lass and was hoping to exchange information with the crews’ survivors, and to learn about those young men who lost their lives in defense of his nation.

    H.R. got in touch with Gwen, and we got in touch with Steve. In March, 2004, we made our first trip to Wales to see the crash site, and to the cemetery to visit Hulbert’s grave. Steve and his wife Sabina graciously shared their home with us and drove us around the country. He had gotten in touch with the two daughters of the pilot, Lieutenant Robert Lawrence, as well as relatives or friends of the other two crew members, and said he’d like to plan a memorial service at the crash site.

    Honor guard at Memorial Day 2005 ceremony, carrying wreaths to honor the missing whose names are inscribed on the wall next to them

    Honor guard at Memorial Day 2005 ceremony, carrying wreaths to honor the missing whose names are inscribed on the wall next to them

    Fast forward to Memorial Day, 2005, Cambridge American Cemetery. The American Flag was at half-mast, as it was in every American military cemetery across the world. A few hundred people were present, both uniformed American and British servicemen and women and British and American authorities and civilians, all come to honor American heroes who gave their all sixty years or more ago.

    Most of the burials had taken place in a few years after 1947, but only weeks before, an aircraft that had crashed during the war, hidden in a French forest ever since, had been discovered. The remains of the crew members were brought to England and interred at the cemetery.

    After the ceremony, we visited the Memorial Building. A magnificent mosaic by Francis Scott Bradford of Connecticut honors our servicemen. On the wall above the altar, the Archangel trumpets the arrival of the Resurrection and the Last Judgment. The mural continues across the entire ceiling, with depictions of World War II aircraft flying into the arms of angels.

    An inscription runs around the edges:

    In proud and grateful memory of those men of the United States Army Air Force Who from these friendly skies flew their final flight and met their God. They knew not the hour the day nor the manner of their passing. When far from home they were called to join that heroic band of airmen who had gone before. May they rest in peace.

    Telegram to Mother about the location of Hulbert's grave. He and the crew were buried temporarily in a WWI cemetery until after the war.  In 1947 families were given the option of bringing the bodies home or having them buried in the new cemeteries in Europe. Since Mother had remarried, she let his parents, Jim and Ilena, decide. Since they were getting older, and wanted to be sure he was cared for, and because they didn't want him to be moved again, they chose to leave him in England. I think Mother always wished he'd been brought home.

    Telegram to Mother about the location of Hulbert’s grave. He and the crew were buried temporarily in a WWI cemetery until after the war. In 1947 families were given the option of bringing the bodies home or having them buried in the new cemeteries in Europe. Since Mother had remarried, she let his parents, Jim and Ilena, decide. Since they were getting older, and wanted to be sure he was cared for, and because they didn’t want him to be moved again, they chose to leave him in England. I think Mother always wished he’d been brought home.

    There was one final thing to do to honor the crew of the Lil’ Lass. On June 4, 2005, we went to the crash site and attended the memorial service Steve had arranged. Gwen and I and the two daughters of the pilot, Lieutenant Robert Lawrence, were there to witness the Stars and Stripes flying at the base of Carn Llidi.

    More than fifty people from all over the United Kingdom, and officials from St. Davids, the closest town, the United States Army and the American Embassy, were there to honor four young American men they’d never known, and to thank them and their families for the sacrifices they’d made. The ceremony ended with a moment of silence at 4:15, the time of the accident. A vintage plane flew over, following the same path as the Marauder.

    This time it cleared the mountain and sailed off into a clear blue sky.

    2nd Lt. Hulbert Hugh Robertson, On Veterans Day, November 11, 2008, friends and relatives of  Hulbert H. Robertson came to the little country cemetery at Taylor’s Chapel, near Comanche, Texas, to honor one of their own.

    2nd Lt. Hulbert Hugh Robertson, On Veterans Day, November 11, 2008, friends and relatives of Hulbert H. Robertson came to the little country cemetery at Taylor’s Chapel, near Comanche, Texas, to honor one of their own.

    I’ll just call the following The Letter and pray God for all of those who have received and who will receive something similar.
    THE LETTER

    About Fredda Jones

    Fredda Davis Jones was raised “in the country” in Comanche County and learned very early that creativity and innovation are traits that can flourish even in small-town Texas and that with enough effort, indeed nothing is impossible, including being married to the same man for over 40 years! Rickey and Fredda have 2 children, 5 grandchildren, and a crazy life that includes sitting in the bleachers several times a week. The rest of her time is spent creating great content for texansunited.com and marketing small-town Texas.
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    One Response to Shirley Wetzel – Memorial Day 2005 – A True Story

    1. Thank you for publishing this fascinating account by Shirley Wetzel. She is a friend and fellow writer, and we share a history of ancestors in Comanche. I am in the middle of writing a novel set on a ranch in west Texas in the late 1930’s, in which several of the characters were born and raised in Comanche. I look forward to reading more of your blogs! All best wishes, Patricia

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