A Journey with Jack

"A Journey with Jack" - the road to discovery as chronicled by Jack's sister, Mary Jo

September 2001
I saw an interview on TV with author Steven Ambrose talking about his new book, "Wild Blue" - the men and boys who flew the B-24's over Germany in World War II. I knew I had to read it.

October 2001
I bought the book in Florida while on vacation and read it. San Antonio Aviation Cadet Center was mentioned - it rang a bell in my head - had Jack been there? I was only 13 years old when he left for the Air Force.

October 2001
After returning home, I read three or four of Jack's letters - he HAD been stationed there. The letters read like a delightful book. I had read them once twenty years ago. I had found them while cleaning out my mother's house after placing her in a nursing home. I had to copy all of the letters for our four children to read and keep.

October - November 2001
While copying the letters, I wondered what had happened to Charles Fredrick and Richard Dickerson - Jack's two long-time best friends - Charles from grade school and Dick from high school. Jack often mentioned them in his letters. They had also enlisted with him.

October - November 2001
I found Charles and Dick's addresses in the Withrow Alumni Directory I had purchased in 1994 and sent them a note thanking them for being such wonderful friends to Jack and offering them a copy of his letters. Both letters were returned - no known forwarding address.

November 2001
Our daughter Susan found the 1941 Withrow Alumni Chairman's phone number on a Withrow web site. They had just had their 60th class reunion in June - both had attended. He had their current addresses. Charles lives in Kansas and Dick in California.

November 2001
I sent the letters to the new addresses. On November 30, 2001, I had an email from Dick saying to please send the letters, "little sister of mine."

December 2001
I had a letter from Charles the end of December also asking for the letters about, "my birthday twin brother." I also gave the letters to our children and cousins Marion Kiefer and Ed Putman.

December 2001
Susan traveled to Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis to visit Jack's grave. She stayed with friends and the next morning they woke up to five inches of snow. The cemetery guard told them there was no way they could find the grave under all of that snow as the markers were flat. Susan said, "just watch me." She used a photo of the grave that had belonged to my mother. She found the stone wall in the picture and uncovered a grave stone, but it was not Jack's. But, Susan and her friends DID find it a few minutes later. It was to the left of the first one she had uncovered - she had missed it by one stone. She cleaned the snow from the grave and laid his wings down on it and the sun appeared. It had been cloudy all day.

December 2001
Susan had a friend put Jack's records onto a CD. He had recorded four songs for our mother to have before he left for the Air Force. Susan later put them onto my computer. Susan also created a web site for Jack's letters, etc.

December 2001 - January 2002
I had several emails from Dick.

February 2002
I had a second letter from Charles. He said how he was not prepared for the emotion that accompanied the reading, especially on January 7, which was the 58th anniversary of when he and Jack had received their coveted wings and declared officers and gentlemen by an act of Congress at the tender age of 20. He wrote, "Here is an additional fact that will help you understand why the letters and memorabilia are so important to me." He then told how due to a fire in 1979, their home was declared a total loss and he lost all of his letters sent to his parents and wife and most of their family pictures.

April 2002
Our granddaughter, Kristen, took Jack's uniform and Purple Heart to school for extra credit for her high school history class. They were studying World War II.

May 2002
Charles called for directions to Jack's grave. Charles and his wife were going to go to Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery that weekend. I read Susan's directions to him.

June 2002
Ken saw a B-24 fly over our house. I was at the grocery store. We went to Lunken Airport to see the old World War II planes after I returned from the store. We boarded the B-24 and I sat in the pilot's seat. While there, we talked to Lt. Snow of the U.S. Civil Air Patrol in charge of veteran's affairs. He had a display of World War II memorabilia, including several separate pictures of World War II Veterans, their wings, medals, etc. He gave me his address and his phone number and asked me to send him a picture and biography of Jack so he could add it to the display.

June 2002
I went to Lunken Airport the next day to watch the B-24 take off. We had overheard someone the day before say that the planes would leave the next morning. I arrived just as the first engine on the B-24 was turning over. If I had arrived a few minutes later, I would have missed seeing it. Lunken Airport was the last place I had seen Jack as he flew off, never to return.

July 2002
I took Jack's picture and two letters to Franklin Printing to make copies to send to Lt. Snow. An older lady came into the print shop. Jack's picture was on the counter. I froze when I heard her say, "Isn't that Jack Buxton?" We were the only customers in the shop. Her name is Mary Linn White. She graduated from Withrow a year before Jack and accompanied him on the piano several times, one was for his minstrel tryout one year. Jack had dated her sister, Ruth DeBeck - so had Richard Dickerson. She had tears in her eyes when I let her read one of the letters, "Jack was so handsome, when he sang the girls would go crazy."

July 2002
I emailed Dick about my encounter with Mary Linn White. He emailed back asking if I could get Mary Linn and Ruth's email addresses so they could "catch up" on all the missed years. I snail mailed his email to Mary Linn as I remembered her husband's first name and found them in the phone book.

July 2002
Mary Linn sent me a two-page letter saying that she had faxed her sister who was on vacation in South Carolina. Both sisters have become totally deaf in their older years. Mary Linn read my lips at the print shop. They communicate with each other by fax. Ruth told her she planned to email Dick.

July 2002
I sent the package about Jack to Lt. Snow and also mailed a CD to Charles and cousin Marion. Lt. Snow called. He said how thrilled he was with all I had sent him.

  1. Jack's picture
  2. CD (Invictus, Homing, Because, The Lord's Prayer)
  3. Two postcards and two copies of letters I had minimized.
  4. A pamphlet of quotes from his letters, his bio and bio of his fatal mission.

He asked if I had a picture of the crew. If so, please send a copy to him. I do and I did. "He did have a wonderful voice."

July 2002
I had an email from Dick. He had heard from the two "DeBeck sisters." Mary Linn and sent him a five-page letter and Ruth had sent an email. He said they will correspond much more in the future.

September 2002
I received another letter from Mary Linn. It ended with, "It is so good of you to have reached out like this. Your continuing love and work in honor of Jack are very touching. I am pleased to have been a tiny part of it."

June 2003
Richard Dickerson came to Cincinnati to visit his sister. We (Ken, Susan and I) took him to National Exemplar for dinner one night and had him for lunch another day. What a nice man - we had not seen one another for over 60 years. He also visited with Ruth DeBeck Hammil and her husband. Dick said one of his memories of Jack was when he sang, "Invictus" in the Withrow Minstrels. That would have been in 1941. I was only 11 but I remember it also. He talked about how important Jack's friendship had meant to him, etc.

August 2003
Susan updated Jack's website and renamed it "www.heroinflight.com." Susan also, through several email contacts, books, etc., has uncovered loads of new information. We now know for sure the actual plane that Jack was flying on the 16th. Its name was St. Louie Woman. How ironic as St. Louis is where Jack and his crew are buried. Susan's neighbor, Ed Woods, located Leo Stephens widow (sole survivor from the crew). Ed is a retired FBI Agent, jet pilot and his brother's business is finding missing persons. Ed called her and said she was very lovely to him. She said they were flying at 23,000 feet. After Leo jumped, the plane rolled over onto its back and floated to the ground and exploded. It floated flat, not nose down. Ed Woods said that centrifugal force would have held the crew from being able to move. That is why no one else was able to escape. Ed said, "they didn't have a chance."

August 2003
Leo Stephens widow sent a packet to Ed Woods containing some interesting pictures, etc. Susan is thinking about contacting her. Susan found a picture on the Internet of the St. Louie Woman and the crew that flew it over to England. It was then assigned to the 448th and found its way to Jack and his crew. He also flew the plane on their first mission on the 14th of August.

October 2003
Susan found the name of the cemetery in Gerwisch, Germany where the crew had been buried in a common grave. It was called the "Community Cemetery." She also found that the plane was shot down at 11:08 am on the 16th.

November 2003
There was a message on Jack's website from a B. Payne -- "My dad's cousin was Alex Kocheran. We have had a very hard time finding any information about him or his service. Thank you so much for including him here." Alex was Jack's nose gunner.

May 2004
Susan read an article in the Enquirer written by one of the paper's reporters asking for people with letters from servicemen from the "last century" written to their mothers or letters from mothers to their servicemen sons to email or call him if they wanted to share them. He planned to run a two-page article on Mother's Day using some of these letters. Naturally Susan contacted him saying she had a whole web site full of letters. The reporter called the next day to say, "What an awesome web site. I would like to interview you and your mother." We met with him at Susan's home where his photographer took several pictures.

May 2004
Jack's picture and write-up was front and center in the Enquirer Sunday. That afternoon Susan had an email from Warren Reihs. He had been a Boy Scout in Troop 39 at Madisonville Methodist Church with Jack and Charles Fredrick. Our father was the Scoutmaster. He stated, "My years in the scouts formed the basis for the way I lived my future years and much teachings of the good things came from Jack, Oscar and Charlie." He was three years younger than Jack and Charles.

June 2004
Another email from the article in the paper from a William Ackley. It simply said, "Withrow Class of '42 - friend and choir mater (I remember him as a tenor.)" I looked him up in Jack's annual and he was standing right behind Jack in Boy's Chorus. He was also in choir and the minstrels with Jack.

June 2004
I found a message on the answering machine. "My name is Julie Krueger. I am calling to talk to Mary Jo Memke." I called her. She had seen the article in the Enquirer. Jack and her brother, Tom Hackman, had become friends while both were stationed at Pueblo Army Air Base, Pueblo, Colorado. She said that Jack had introduced her brother to my parents when they visited Jack at the base. She said that our two mothers continued a phone relationship for many years. Her brother wrote a book about his Air Force years and he wrote about Jack in his book. When I told Julie how much I would like to read her brother's book, she said she would print a copy for me. Her brother lived a full life. He married, had a son and became a professor at U.C. He died when in his late '70's.

June 2004
Julie and I met for lunch and jabbered for over two hours about our brothers and our families. She has 9 children and 16 grandchildren. We plan to keep in touch. She gave me her brother's book and I gave her a copy of Jack's letters and a CD of his songs.

Richard Dickerson came to Cincinnati to visit his sister. We took Dick, his sister, Susan and Brad to National Exemplar for dinner. Dick's sister, Sue, invited us back to her home in Madeira. We visited for another hour or so. Naturally Jack's name came up many times.

July 2004
Susan had a request from a funeral director in England asking for permission to download Jack singing, "Because." He had a client whose only real request was for this piece of music to be played at his wife's funeral. This is the second time she has had a request to download, "Because." A couple of years ago a man asked to be able to play it at his parents 50th wedding anniversary. It had been played at their wedding. So, Jack is still performing 60 years after his death.

August 2004
August 16, 2004, a B-24 flew over our house. It was the 60th anniversary of when Jack was shot down. The VFW national convention was in Cincinnati. They must have had some World War II planes on display at Lunken Airport. Even so, it still was an awesome moment.

September 2004
I have managed to learn how to play the 6 pieces of sheet music that I have that belonged to Jack - "Without a Song," "I Love You Truly," "The Stranger of Galilee," "Homing," "When You're Away," and "The Lord's Prayer." I recorded them on my tape player and love to listen to them - they calm my soul.

November 2004
Larry Frey, the carpenter that has been replacing our windows and doors and garden on the glassed-in porch knows Julie Krueger and her husband. They go to his church and some of their kids know each other. He brought me her address as she has an unlisted phone number. I immediately wrote her a note thanking her for the copy of her brother's book.

I talked to Julie. She had called after receiving my letter but I was not home. I called the next day. She said she had played Jack's CD all the way home after our lunch last June and cried during most of it. We made plans to meet for lunch again this next spring.

January 2005
Susan had an email from the granddaughter of Jack's turret gunner, John Lowell Burkhead. She entered her grandfather's name into a name search site and Jack's web site appeared. Susan called her mother, John Lowell's daughter. She was born 6 months after his death. They live in Homer, Alaska. They both were so thrilled to find Jack's web site and us. The mother's name is Johnnie after the father she never knew. Hopefully we all can meet next winter when they come to Metropolis, IL. Johnnie sent Susan a nice note with pictures. I also wrote to her.

January 2005
Susan had a letter from Johnnie. Susan had sent her a CD of Jack singing. "Thank you so much for the priceless CD. It was like a personal angel was singing to all of us - simply breathtaking."

February 2005
A letter to Susan and me from Johnnie: "I celebrated my 60th birthday on February 20th. I consider hearing from you and receiving your information one of the greatest gifts of my life. Thank you so much. You are the FIRST people I have been able to share my pain and my pride with. That plane carried a precious cargo." "It's a comfort to me to know that your Jack was the pilot."

January 2006
Susan called saying, "Here we go again." She had an email from a Lou Burhart. His father, Alex, had been a "best buddy" to Jack while both were in officer's training. They drove by car to several different bases and took weekend trips together. Jack mentioned him often. Susan and I tried to contact Alex after his co-pilot had emailed Jack's website. The co-pilot had lost contact with him, but Susan found an address for an Alex Burhart in the same town in Michigan that Jack mentioned. I sent a letter to that address, but it was returned. The son remembers his father's stories he told him about he and "Buxton" during the war. Susan emailed him asking him to share any pictures or letters he might have pertaining to Jack. Alex had just died last November.

February 2007
Last night I picked up Jack's album to read "A Journey with Jack" and some of his letters as I had not looked at them recently. The next morning Susan called about receiving an email from a policeman in Pine Bluff, Arkansas wanting permission to use Jack's letters from Grider Field and his picture as he was putting together a memorial about Grider Field and WWII.

April 2007
I mailed a packet to the Pine Bluff policeman today. He had requested copies of Jack's original letters from Grider Field. I also sent a copy of each envelope, his picture and four original post cards. Each one had a picture of one of the buildings on the air base. Susan sent him Jack's music yesterday.

August 2007
Susan called: There was an email today from a Nanci Greene in Danielsville, GA. She is the granddaughter of Second Lt. Earl Brown, Jack's navigator. Her mother is 62 now. She was born in February 1945, six months after her father was killed. "I am so grateful to you for this website. It has helped me to finally find information on my grandfather. I have been searching military records, etc., for a long time and still have only a few facts. I couldn't believe it when I saw your uncle was also killed on August 16, 1944 and was buried in Jefferson Barracks Cemetery." "So your uncle and my grandfather are buried together there." She went on to say, "Most all of the info that we don't have on paper (not much) died with my grandmother in 2001." She is going to email Susan some pictures, etc. to add to the website. Earl must have been Jack's closest friend from his crew as Earl, his wife, Jack and his date CArol, took two trips together to San Isabel lake. One was a day trip and one a three-day trip. Alex Burhart and his date joined them for the three-day trip. The website has now touched relatives from four of Jack's crew - 63 years after their deaths - plus numerous other friends!

August, 2007
Susan emailed several photos I had found to Nanci Greene and her mother was able to identify her father and mother. I had two copies made of three photos - the crew, Jack and Earl Brown and a group photo of ten people including Jack, my parents, Earl Brown, his wife and five people we could not identify.

September, 2007
I had Susan email the same group photo to Alex Burhart's son as I thought one of the four airmen might be Alex. He emailed back that it was Alex and another was Alex's father. So, we were able to identify seven out of the ten.

September, 2007
I mailed the photos to Nanci Greene along with a CD of Jack's music.

September, 2007
Susan and I both received a note from Nanci Greene thanking us for the photos and CD. Two quotes from her letter -- "I have already listened to the CD and especially enjoyed The Lords Prayer, what a great voice." Another quote from her note stated, "My mother, Laura, told me that finding this website with information about her father is the greatest gift she's ever received in her life." "What a gift you and Sue have given us." "It is impossible to express in words how grateful we are to both of you."

The journey continues - and all I did was read a book in September 2001 - amazing!