All my life I'd heard about Great Uncle Wesley, my dad's uncle he never got to meet. He was the younger brother of my grandmother, Mother Prebble, and she gave Dad Wesley's middle name, Maldon, a name I still have no clue where they got. I'd seen his happy face in a vintage blue frame, smiling in his army uniform. The picture and his face just seemed to be a part of our daily lives, his story one that we talked about on days like today.
2nd Lieutenant Wesley M. Green served in the United States Army Air Forces during World War II and worked with the famous Flying Tigers. His plane was shot done and he went missing in action during 1943. That's about all I knew until yesterday.
My parents started cleaning through old letters and photo albums from Mother Prebble in the afternoon. Dad had some questions about Wesley and he picked Mom's brain a bit--She had listened to a lot of family stories from Mother Prebble and read through all those corresponding letters years ago. Plus, her mind is like a steel trap when it comes to family history. I can thank my mother for all the help on family tree projects growing up!
In any case, I wandered into the room to listen to some of the letters and by the evening I was interested in seeing what other information was available online. After all, it's 2017. What isn't posted out there nowadays? So I asked my dad to look up some info about General Claire Lee Chennault of the Flying Tiger Fame and his time in China between 1942 and 1943. Great Uncle Wesley served under his command and between General Chennault's history and some of the letters and dates we had, we were able to start searching a little more deeply into the webs of the internet.
Wesley was a navigator for a B24 of the 425th Bomb Squadron, the 308th Bombardment Group in Kunming, China. My family always knew the basic information about Wesley's job and where he was and the day he died, August 24th, 1943, but we never knew what his mission was that turned out to be so fateful. That was our biggest question: what happened?
Our search began. All we had to go off of were the letters Wesley had sent, pictures of him and his crew, correspondence with the other families missing their men and the telegram about Wesley missing in action. Wesley was declared deceased in November of '44, a year and a couple months after he went missing. His remains were identified in '46 and kept in Hawaii with his other crew members until '49 where they moved him to be reburied in his hometown of Wellington, Texas. He was one of four they were able to identify out of ten men, his dog tags were blessedly on him.
Wesley sent his last letter to his sister on August 21st, 1943, which turned out to be a pretty bloody day for his station. Apparently a fleet of Liberators from Chengkung went to bomb Hankow that same day he wrote. See, these men were in charge of fighting off the Japanese by bombing trade routes, docks, airfields, coal yards, and more. Their purpose was to keep the Japanese from invading China by supporting Chinese ground forces. The history of this group is fascinating and it really opens your eyes to all the moving parts of this war.
On August 21st, the Liberators went out on their mission with a promise of an escort of fighters to flank them. The escort was unable to join. The Liberators made the decision to continue on with the mission, but where attacked by 60 Japanese fighters on their way back and lost all but one of their planes. This is where Wesley's story comes in; Three days later, in an attempt to destroy a supply line and avenge the deaths of their fellow men, Wesley's flight crew and six other planes were dispatched on a mission to bomb Hankow. Wesley was to fly with his crew of ten in the plane, "938," unnamed since it was so new it hadn't been given a name yet.
On their way, four P-40's flanked the grouping, saluted, and then flew ahead never to be seen again. After dropping their bombs on an airfield, the planes began making their turn to head back having accomplished their mission when a swarm of Japanese fighters came upon them.
Wesley's plane was struck first. Three men from "938" parachuted out, no one knows who they were, before the plane began to smoke and spin out of control. The rest of the men and planes experienced what I can honestly describe as a harrowing experience.
At this moment I can turn your attention to the story published on History.net, originally in the Aviation Journal back in 2008. This article gave us this information from a firsthand account of 1st Lieutenant John T. Foster written by his son, Alan Foster. Lt. Foster was in one of the seven planes that left for this mission and survived. Out of the 73 men that went out on that mission, only 11 returned home.
Without this article, we would still be wondering what happened to Wesley, what his mission was, where he was going, and why he perished over Hankow. I'm so glad we were able to read about it in detail, although the details are heartbreaking, to say the least. At some moments it seems as if you're reading a great story from a novel until it hits you that this is real. Real men were on those planes fighting for their country and had families, loved ones waiting for them to come home. This was a real man's history, not a fictitious character in a book, but a smiling face in a blue frame sitting atop his sister's piano.
Wesley had wanted to share details with Prebble and his family but couldn't and wrote secret hints for her to figure out where he was going. He often referenced how much he wanted to tell her of his adventures. Sadly, he never got the chance and we never knew why until now. Wesley was a beloved brother, a light in his family's life with a good sense of humor, a star athlete, and a smart man with a bright future. What else I know about Wesley is that he wanted to serve his country and that his mission was important enough to risk his life for our freedoms.
Mom read this account out loud with my dad and I wide-eyed in amazement, sometimes tearing up. Wesley's story is finally known and it's sobering to think this is only one of many for families across the US.
Many men and women have laid down their lives in order for us to have the freedoms we have here in this country and continue to have today. Without the brave services of men and women like Wesley, I can't begin to think of what a world that would be. I do know that I am incredibly thankful for his services and his lineage.
Home of the Free Because of the Brave.
Happy Memorial Day to All!
May you remember the ones who have served this country bravely and given their lives so that we may live freely.
Thank you, Alan Foster, for publishing the detailed description of your father's account. This story brought an answer to a question we'd wondered for years and more importantly, it closed a chapter left open since 1943.