Aug. 20 - 1943 -
Mrs. A. J. O'Connor - 2629 No. Maryland Ave. - Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Haas--
For months I have tried to bring myself to write you to express my sympathy in the loss of your fine son, Joe, but each time I thought of doing it, I felt at a loss of expressing just how I felt about it all. I am the Mother of Robert O'Connor, who was Joe's co-pilot on the Hunga Dunga when they went to England.
Joe had allowed Bob to "buzz" our neighborhood on one occasion when they flew over Milwaukee, and it gave the boys and us a chance for joking when, in Oct., we met the boys in Battlecreek, Mich. the day the boys left for England. Bob phoned us to come, as they were soon leaving, and we had a very hard drive on roads under construction etc., arriving in Battlecreek near midnight on Sat. eve--Bob had Joe, and "Scoop" Anderson (the navigator), Earl Steele (the bombadier) and another lad, not of the Hunga Dunga's crew, at the hotel to meet us. Hard as the trip was for us, we have said a million times that it was well worth while. The boys were so fine, so grand, so wonderful! Joe seemed such a fine balance for Bob, who was younger than Joe and much more impetuous. We were so happy to think Bob would have such a steady pilot from which to learn his lessons.
Early in Jan. I sent Joe a 3 lb. round tin of assorted candies, but it came back to me with the dreaded words stamped across the label--Bob, of course could not write us much. The first intimation that something was wrong, came in Bob's Jan. 27th letter, written in the evening, and in small writing down in one corner of the paper was the word "Joe!!". We feared then he was trying to tell us something was wrong. We did not know then that on that day Bob was in the hospital with pneumonia. A Jan. 28th letter followed in which he referred to a raid a week earlier, in which he wrote: "Scoop and a G.I. on "Hunga-Dunga" received the air medal and Joe would have gotten it, too." That worried us.
On Mar. 8, Bob wrote that, "ever since Joe went down, I've been lost in the shuffle and with no extra planes, there's just not a place for me at present. My one wish is to get my own plane and the old crew and carry on for Joe. Boy! How I miss Joe!! He was more than just my pilot; he was a real friend. He just didn't have a ghost of a chance when he got it. Perhaps it was a blessing in disguise that I was in the hospital that day. You may be darn sure that when (and if) I get my own plane that I'll be a flying fool and show those boys over there a thing or two."
Then in April in answer to his young brother's questions, Bob wrote: "We got definite news from Geneva about him--he never had a chance, but he got most of his crew out, which is so typical of Joe."
Now, I hope, my writing this will not re-open an old wound and that it will not cause you more heartache, but I thought you might like these little bits of Bob's letters, for it is all to the credit of Joe's character. I wanted to write this before, but not knowing whether it would help or hurt I hesitated. I had asked Bob for your address, if he could get it for me, but as he did not do so, I wrote to the postmaster in your city for your street address. It came at about the same time as we received a blow in a telegram from the War Dept. stating Bob is missing in action over Laral, France. The raid was on July 4th and we got the word on July 12th. So you can know that we are a heart broken family, too--Enclosed is a copy of the information we received. Since then there is no other news obtainable--I have written to the parents of all the boys on the crew, in hopes that some of them may get news about the ones who parachuted to safety, but it may take months.
One reason for writing you, too, is to ask you if you ever received a photograph taken in Battlecreek, Mich. a few days before the boys left there, of the Hunga-Dunga and its crew--I had a film made of it and so can have more prints made, and will be glad to do so for you if you wish more of them--
I hope this letter hasn't caused you more anguish. I crave any news at all of Bob, and I thought you might, too. I wanted you to know that we thought very highly of your son, even though we only had a couple of hours with him. Again let me express my sympathy in your great loss. Should I get any good news (but I am fearful) of Bob, I will let you know--