A strange set of circumstances happened last month. I received a box of photos and documents that were passed from Donna’s estranged brother to his girlfriend following his death in 2006. (Her brothers lawyer wrote to Donna and said in his will Jack noted that you are my sister but I am not giving you anything.) True story.
The girl friend passed away this year and her friend was cleaning the house and found a box of photos and documents. There were photos of Donna, her mother, and various family members including her uncle Oscar Leibowitz. Donna’s mothers brother. Surprisingly the box even contained her grandparents naturalization papers and documents.
Oscar from what I recall was the favorite son of the family and the apple of Donna’s mothers eye. You know the oldest son of an immigrant Jewish family. Most of the photos of Oscar were from his days in the service and his time at Army Air Corp training and in England during WWII. September 1946 Donna’s mom received a letter from the Army Air Force in response to a letter she wrote, which I don’t have a copy of. The letter from the Army Air Force gave details of his death. “Lietuenant Leibowitz was killed in action March 22,1944 while flying his B-17 over Pfahlhausen from antiaircraft fire. He was interred in a cemetery at Oldenburg.”
Notification of Death during combat mission.
He was awarded Purple Heart.
The Purple Heart was not his only medal. In September of 1943 he was awarded for “exceptionally meritorious achievement and participating in five separate bomber combat missions over enemy occupied Europe.
In October of 1942 the family received a letter from the Army Air Forces Training Center announcing that Oscar has been selected for training as a Pilot in the Army Air Forced.
Those are some of the military files and government letters regarding this airman’s serving in the Army Air Corp and his death. There are also communications regarding returning his remains from Germany to the US for burial. That process took until 1949 before his remains were returned to the US and buried in Long Island. Yet there is much more here that offers a rich mosaic of this one airman, a son, a brother, and uncle. There were letters he wrote home and many photos. Below are some of the examples of his life while in service to the US.
These letters are fascinating insight into what it is like to be a soldier and keeping the family up to date. He requests his birth certificate so he can apply to pilot training. Another is about not getting furlough. There is one where he describes his first cross country flight of 300 miles. Just letters home but a window into the man and the moment. CLICK ON THE LETTER BELOW TO SCROLL THROUGH THEM.
Here is a gallery of photos that show training in the US and being stationed in England and Europe. CLICK ON THE PHOTO BELOW TO SCROLL THROUGH THEM.
Originally when I received these items I just wanted to grab the photos of Donna and any documents that were specific to her and toss the rest. As I looked through them I found a family history all but forgotten in a box stuck in a basement in Berkeley. This deserved more.
The kindness of a stranger to find Donna’s address and write at first set me back. Donna and her brother had a history that was fraught with pain and anger. I was angry. Going through this box and seeing not what is lost and forgotten but what is found deserved to be remembered in some small measure. The immediacy of our digital world today and the movement to what is next, new, hot, and liked somehow belittles the rich tapestry of small narrative moments in time.
This is a memory that lives for now, as it has in a time past. There are moments when memories sting. Today these memories sing.
5 thoughts on “Airman Lost Airman Found: Creating a Memory”
Mark – this is tremendous! Thank you for sharing – "seeing not what is lost and forgotten but what is found deserved to be remembered in some small measure" – and is truly what is important in moving the planet forward. Thanks again. Hopefully, Donna and her brother have now reconciled and are dancing together in a sunny place.
This is like a Valentine from the archives. Good fro you for keeping and celebrating the artifacts. These items are still woven to Donna, so they form another piece of her life too. Thanks for sharing.
Thank you Mac and Carmen. It means much to hear and read these positive comments and support.
Mark, Thank you for making the effort to post this story and the letters of Oscar Leibowitz. Winston Churchill had it right when he said "never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few" as to those men and women who lost their lives (or even just engaged in military service) in WW II. It was just Veteran’s Day and most of us forget that it is individual human beings who fought to keep us free and sacrificed so much to do so. And the wars go on….
First I want to express
my heartfelt condolences on the loss of your wife, Donna. As it turns out, my father, Milton Agull was Donna’s mother’s half brother. Our family was into feuds, so Donna and I never met, nor knew of each other’s existence. I tried to post my comment before, but being computer illiterate it must have floated off into the Ethernet, maybe to be found one day on Mars. To the purpose of this comment, yesterday, while having dinner with 3 of my children, I wanted to show them what had been posted online about my Uncle, Oscar Leibowitz by the Air Force. After googling it, I scrolled down and found your post. I was very emotionally overcome by the photos, especially the one of my Grandmother and Uncle. I had no pictures of my grandparents. The aircraft shown, the Marilyn Kay was named for my late sister and the pilot’s wife. Marilyn would have flipped out if she had seen the handwritten letters and pictures, I always tell my kids everything happens for a purpose. Why would you have taken the time and effort to scan everything into the Internet? Why would I have googled my Uncle’s name and then scrolled down the page only to find your post? Was it to pass on the legacy of my Uncle’s short, but heroic life? Or to pass on a picture of a grandmother they never would seen.
You, Mark, are a hero for making a difference in the lives of several strangers, by having the compassion and making the time to post those papers and pictures that had no meaning to you, but perchance might impact others.
So thank you so much for what you did. I will be forever grateful.
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