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How This American Hero Came Home: The Story Of A Tiny Town That Lost Two Too Many
Melvin Donald Putnam of Operation Crossbow. WWII
Two weeks ago, I wrote about a World War II pilot who graduated in the same 16-member high school class as my uncle. Both men were killed in combat with German forces. That article is now unlocked. In the meantime, I have learned a bit more about Donald, as my uncle Blake knew him, thanks to local artist Mark DeCracker.
DeCracker is working on a public mural to memorialize both men in North Rose, New York. Going through the local news archives, he discovered this forlorn hope that Donald, who had gone missing, might still emerge alive after his plane went down. Those hopes were dashed when the German government informed the International Red Cross that he had been killed in action. As I explained two weeks ago, Donald was at the limits of his fuel range and chose to engage an enemy ambush to let his squadron mates escape. They were escorting bombers on an urgent mission to stop Hitler’s vengeance weapons from killing British civilians.
As I wrote two weeks ago, none of the contemprary press coverage explained just what Donald had been doing on his final mission. ‘Operational security’ did not let anyone connect the available dots in public. As a result, it appears that Donald’s family never knew the precise circumstances of his heroic death. DeCracker is attempting to follow up with any living relatives and I will not be surprised if they never knew about Dona;d’s final mission. There were clues for the alert watcher, but grief is not a good circumstance for deductive reasoning.
DeCracker sent me the column which ran in the local newspaper in 1944 to report Donald’s homecoming. By the time it was published, Allied forces had broken out of Normandy and liberated northern France. That explains how his body was recovered. Donald now lies in North Rose Cemetary, just a few steps away from his classmate Blake, who finally came home just this May, having been unidentified for 79 years. (You can read about that here.)
Before the war, Donald had worked for Eastman Kodak, a prominent employer in nearby Rochester, the hometown of founder George Eastman. Eastman’s home is now quite a museum if you ever wish to visit. My uncle Blake’s family home in Rochester is only blocks away from it. The possibility that the two young men occasionally met after work to hang out as old chums and talk about the looming war is tantalizing to this writer. Donald enlisted immediately after the Pearl Harbor attack of 7 December 1941; Blake had already joined the service. They were keen to win the war and end it. At the cost of their lives, they did. Imagination runs wild at the alignment: one was in a fighter excorting bombers, the other was flying a bomber on the most dangerous air raid of the war.
I am visiting Craig Field near Selma, Alabama tomorrow. Donald graduated from a flight training wing (FTW) located there. More than 9,000 pilots came out of that unit, including hundreds of British aviators. Craig Field is still in operation, and while the FTW is long gone, there is an extensive memorabilia room dedicated to the graduate pilots located in what is basically an industrial park today. Academic history, like the post about Donald Putnam which has unlocked today for free reading, is not free. Please consider supporting this project with a tip or a paid subscription. I cannot leave this work of remembering undone.
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