Sunday, May 28, 2006

Profile: Unsung Hero of WWII

His whole life ahead of him, fate cut his life short...

On this Memorial Day, I would like to share a story I just came across about one relatively unsung hero of the 4th Fighter Group named Captain Donald Emerson. He was from Pembina, North Dakota, but graduated from Karlstad, Minnesota (his family moved around the area a bit due to economic circumstances between Pembina County and Kittson County...) Captain Emerson died on Christmas Day 1944 when his P-51 Mustang was downed by ground fire. On that day his group was escorting B-24 bombers which were attacking a target near Kassel, Germany.

Sandra Merrill, Captain Emerson's niece, wrote a book about her uncle. She had become deeply affected by her uncle's wartime letters home which had been saved by her family. She was moved to write Donald's Story - a riveting, bittersweet memorial to a man she knew only as a family legend.
"I was conscious of listening to Donald's Story for nearly 40 years, but I had listened as if it were some homespun fairy tale. It wasn't until I had sons nearing draft age that Donald suddenly became more than a deified storybook figure - a real human being, my own flesh and blood. And then the dormant obligation I had felt to tell Donald's Story began to stir, and I knew that even though he was just one among countless thousands of unknown heroes, he still might speak for many of them - reason enough for his story to be told. I was about to set out on an odyssey of discovery, and by reading Donald's letters, finding his friends and recording old memories, I was going to do my best to remember an uncle that I never really knew."
Captain Donald Emerson was killed during the Battle of the Bulge flying P-51s on Christmas Day 1944, shot down by ground fire. According to this account (towards bottom of page) by fellow officers who were there, it was friendly fire...

Capt. Donald R Emerson, Pembina ND. 336th Fighter Squadron. P-51D 44-13317 VF-B. Photo: D.F. Pierini