Ford family was ten years before finding out fate of loved one killed in WWII

Published 4:06 pm Friday, December 4, 2009

Do you remember the G.H. Ford family who for years owned Ford Cleaners here in Picayune at 404 West Canal Street?

Well, G.H. had a brother named Julian E. Ford, a corporal in the U.S. Army Air Corps, who died when his B-24 Liberator was shot down over Austria in 1944.

His plane went down in the Austrian Alps, and it was 1955 before his remains were found and identified and returned to the United States for a proper burial in his hometown of Rocky Mount, N.C. His parents, Mr. and Mrs. J.M. Ford resided in Elm City , N.C..

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The story of a young airman who did not come back and who entered the Army Air Corps with the hopes of high adventure to help his country fight a war ended in a tragedy that stretched out a decade before the family knew for sure what had happened to him.

Julian Ford’s story is being kept alive by his niece, Liz Seal of Poplarville, who has all the letters, news clippings and pictures that document his story, and are on display at the Margaret Reed Crosby Memorial Library’s War museum exhibit in the library lobby. Seal was G.H. Ford’s daughter, Julian’s niece. Julian was her uncle.

G.H. was married to Maude Page, sister of Nello Page, the Picayune accountant.

The exhibit has had such a good response that it will be continued through December, says Carolyn Early, who headed up the project for the Friends of the Library, who put together the exhibit. She is the exhibit chairman.

The exhibit features not only the stories of individual soldiers from the area, but features vintage newspapers announcing the start of World War II, the reporting of it by the national news magazines such as “Life,” and the individual pictures and war memorabilia loaned to the Friends by veterans’ families, and some veterans who are still alive.

There will be sort of a second kick off to the exhibit on Sunday from 2 to 4 p.m. when representatives of the World War II National D Day Museum from New Orleans put on a program at the library’s cultural room. Local veterans also will participate in the program.

The museum style display was dedicated and kicked off here on Veteran’s Day on Nov. 11 when Dr. James Schrock cut a ribbon opening the exhibit and beginning a luncheon for veterans. Schrock is chairman of the library board of directors.

Sunday is Dec. 6, just one day prior to the 68th anniversary of Pearl Harbor.

A full front page display of the “New Orleans State” newspaper for Dec. 8, 1941, on display in the library lobby, the “Red Streak” edition, blares out in screaming headlines, “WAR, CONGRESS VOTES WAR ON JAPS AFTER F.D. REQUEST.”

Other papers blare out the end of the War in Europe and the War in the Pacific in screaming headlines, too.

The display cases offer a series of letters home from Julian Ford to his family before he was posted to Europe as a tail gunner. He entered the Army on Oct. 6, 1943. He joined the 15th Army Air Force in Italy on Aug. 8, 1944 as a tail gunner on the Liberator “Our Gal.” He was reported missing in action over Austria just a few weeks later on Aug. 23, 1944.

All excited about his new adventure, Julian Ford, who was still stateside and who was only 20 when he enlisted, wrote his mom and dad from Westover Field in Massachusetts:

“Dear Mom and Dad,” Julian wrote, “Well, I am getting along fine and I have a smile on my face for a change. I was assigned to a crew this afternoon. I have already met my crew and everything. They are from the north, a bunch of Yankees, all but me. They are all nice fellows. Our navigator hasn’t come yet. Maybe he is a rebel.”

But Ford had no idea what was ahead for him when he joined the unending daily bombing runs over Europe as the Allies tried to knock out Germany’s industrial base. There was little chance an airman would make it back alive or avoid being captured or killed after being shot down.

The family received a communiqué from his commander shortly before he disappeared. The teletyped message said that Ford had been presented “the Air Medal for meritorious achievement” in connection with combat actions against the enemy.

The message said that the “Liberator group” that he and his plane’s crew had joined had participated in more than110 combat missions against targets in Germany, Austria, Hungary, Rumania, France, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and Italy up to that point in its duration in Europe. The message did not say on how many of those missions Ford had flown during his crew’s short time as part of the group before being shot down.

His B-24 Liberator group had hit enemy aircraft factories, rail installations, oil refineries and other strategic targets.

Ford’s luck ran out in late August of 1944.

Said a communiqué from the Army to his wife, Lucille J. Ford, of Rocky Mount, N.C.: “The record concerning your husband shows that, as a member of the crew of a B-24 Liberator aircraft, he participated in a combat mission to Vienna, Austria. Before reaching the target, the formation was attacked by enemy aircraft. Your husband’s plane was hit, and two of its engines caught fire. When last seen, over Hohenberg, Austria, about 40 miles southwest of Vienna, it had left the formation. Nine parachutes were reported to have emerged from it.”

The Liberator usually carried a 10-man crew but Seal thinks that only nine were aboard that day. She is still researching the crash.

It would be 10 years before the remains of Julian E. Ford, 21, were found, however, and returned to the U.S. in 1955 and given a proper military funeral at Rocky Mount, and the waiting for the family ended, and the saga closed. His remains were found by an Åustrian, who was hunting in the mountains.

The Army Air Force trying to bring closure to the episode held a funeral in St. Louis on May 9, 1950, for Ford, Bronson R. Grubbs of California, and Joseph F. Karpinski of Pennsylvannia, two other crew members who died also in the crash.

The only problem was that the Ford family found out at the funeral that the coffin for Ford was empty. They buried him anyhow and marked his grave.

Other crew members were William A. Miller, Charles L. Hermann, Robert J. Anderson of New Jersey, George B. Gilbert of Massachusetts, Carl G. McConnell of Pennsylvania and 2nd Lt. Charles F. Foley Jr. of New Jersey. Foley was captured and became a POW.

Ford is now officially buried in two spots by the Army, one in St. Louis and the other in Rocky Mount, where his real remains lie. It was a bizarre ending to Ford’s life and his family’s struggle to find out what actually happened to him.

The family is still trying to get his records from the Army.

All the family had left were the letters that Julian Ford had written them.

Like this excerpt, probably written in late 1943, or early 1944: “Mom, I have the information that you want to know. We are going to Charleston, S.C. We leave here Monday afternoon (from Westover Field, Mass.) and that should put me passing through home real early Wednesday morning or late Tuesday night. We will be on a troop train so we won’t hardly stop. Mom, it will probably be so late and all, that I won’t be able to see you, but I won’t be far from home. . .”