On this Memorial Day, I want to tell the story of a man I never met. Lieutenant Earl B. Wood was an Army Pilot from Beaumont Texas. He was an officer at the new Army Airfield in Greenville, South Carolina. On July 7, 1942, the bomber plane he was piloting crashed near Trenton, Georgia. He was one of five killed in the crash.
Prior to heading to South Carolina, he had been stationed at the Barksdale Field (renamed Barksdale Air Force Base in 1948) in Shreveport, Louisiana. While stationed in Shreveport, Lieutenant Wood met a young woman named Miss Anne Robinson who was a co-ed student at Centenary College. Miss Robinson was from Homer, Louisiana, a town about 50 miles east of Shreveport.
Jump about 70 years into the future. That is where I come into their story. In 2017, I was attending an estate auction of Mrs. Anne Robinson Edmonds at the home where she had grown up, in Homer. I purchased three boxes of ephemera which included an old manilla envelope. That purchase allows me to share a part of Miss Anne’s life and Lieutenant Wood’s story.
That manilla envelope included one photo, one newspaper clipping, and five letters. Two letters are from Lieutenant Wood to Miss Robinson just days before his death. One letter is from the Lieutenant’s mother to Miss Robinson after his death. Another letter is from a pilot stationed with Lieutenant Wood in South Carolina written after Lieutenant Wood’s death.
June 24th, 1942
I will tell this story in chronological order starting with a letter from Lieutenant Wood to Miss Robinson dated June 24th, 1942. This letter was sent 13 days before his death, and he tells her that even though they have only known each other for a short time that she is his ideal girl, if he could write down all the things he would want in a girl she would be at the top of the list.
He continues that he has now made a fool of himself and will just tell her about his trip to South Carolina. They did not get off as expected, because one of the planes had engine trouble, and they were delayed. Once they did get going, they ran into some weather problems and had to land at Maxwell Field (now Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base) in Montgomery, Alabama.
They stayed the night in Montgomery and took off the next morning and arrived in South Carolina about 1 pm. The airfield in Greenville was still under construction, but was much larger than he expected and has the largest runways he has ever seen. He asks her to send him a photo of her that will do her justice. He ends the letter asking her to give his best to her Mother and Father and Aunt and Uncle. He says he will always remember how sweet they were to him. He signs off with, “So Long” please continue to be as sweet as you are.
July 3, 1942
Letter from Lieutenant Wood to Miss Robinson dated July 3rd, 1942.
This letter sent 4 days before his death, starts by him giving her a hard time about not sending a letter sooner, but how excited he was when he finally got one. He writes how some guys in his squadron got to make a run back to Barksdale, but even though he begged his commanding officer, he said he would have to wait until the next trip in a couple of weeks.
He talks a lot about the B-24 and his training and how he hopes they can do a quick thorough job once they are deployed. He tells her he sent her 3 photos that they took in the park. (Unfortunately, those were not in the letter when I got it.) He ends the last letter sent before he crashed with Love, Earl.
July 8th, 1942
The newspaper clipping is similar to many articles of the time announcing the death of a local man dying during the war efforts. It does quote Lt. Wood’s father stating that the bomber crashed into a mountainside two miles north of Trenton, Georgia. The funeral arrangements were not known at the time the article was published.
July 8th 1942
The letter dated July 8th, 1942 is from a fellow airman, Lt. S. M. Hasell stationed in Greenville, South Carolina with Lt. Wood. He is respectful and kind in his words to Miss Anne. He speaks of how she was always on Earl’s mind. He also says that he “thought he would drop you a line to let you know about his death rather than someone out of the squadron telling you”. He also speaks of Earl as a fine fellow.
The letter from Lt. Wood’s mother is heartbreaking in every sense. It was dated only “Wednesday Afternoon”. The postmark is also blurred, so a definitive date is also difficult to make out. It is clear, however, that his mother is mourning a life cut short in the service of America.
July 27th, 1942
The final letter, dated July 27th, 1942, is from Robert H. Allen. He is thanking Captain Robert C. Byers for sending Lt. Wallace S. Sorenson with Lt. Wood’s final return home to Beaumont, Texas. He writes of the qualities of Lt. Wood as well as Lt. Sorenson.
Who knows what might have been, but with all the men of the greatest generation going to war and many not coming home I am sure this is not an isolated case.
Miss Robinson went back home to Homer, married her high school sweetheart, had two children and worked for the Claiborne Parish Sheriff Office. She lived what I would call an idyllic life.
I wonder how often she thought of Lieutenant Wood; after all, she did keep that manilla envelope for 70 years. How many times did she read those letters and remember a lost love? Did she share the stories with her family and friends or was it something she keeps to herself?
The answers to these questions we may never know, but this is one story forgotten and now found.