Mothers of the Missing: Letters Shared By Families of 8th Air Force POWs

This article was originally printed in recognition of Mother’s and Father’s Day in the Spring, 2017 issue of the 390th Memorial Museum’s Square J Bulletin. The story shares portions of the Henry Gerards collection, which was donated to the museum by his daughter in October, 2014. 

About the Henry Gerards Collection

2nd Lt Henry J Gerards (Hank) was reported missing in action over Germany on 28 May 1944. His collection, housed in the 390th Memorial Museum archives, includes letters, journals, official documents, and detailed notes of his experiences in POW camp. A compelling, and rarely seen aspect of the collection are the letters and correspondence made among his mother and the mothers of his MIA crew members.

First Correspondence: Messages from the War Office

Initially, Hank’s father received two Western Union Telegrams, four letters from the War Office, and numerous legal documents regarding his MIA status.

Letter from the War Office, notifying Hank’s father that Hank had been named recipient of a medal of honor.

Meanwhile, Hank was in a German POW camp. The War Office notified Hank’s father that Hank had been named recipient of a medal of honor, and was asked to receive the medal in Hank’s absence. According to a letter from the War Office, the receiving of a medal by a father was common practice.

Joseph Gerards receives an Air Medal and two Oak Leaf Clusters on behalf of his son, who was a German POW.

Letters Were Shared Among the Mothers of Missing 8th Air Force Airmen

The War Office shared the contact information of the parents of MIA crew members. Two weeks after being shot down, Mrs. Gerards received a letter from the mother of Quentin Bass, the crew’s bombardier. Over the next 6 months, Mrs. Gerards received twenty more letters from Mrs Bass and the other mothers of Hank’s air crew.

Letters written among the mothers of missing airmen provided emotional support.

The letters were filled with sentiment and encouragement:

“It is with deep regret that I have to write to you at a time like this and believe me I wouldn’t were it not that both my husband and I feel that we can be of great comfort to each other in the days to come.”

“I am so grateful to you for writing to us. I think that we can be some comfort to one another during this time of waiting for some news of our sons.”

“It has been a month since our boys are reported missing in action. To us it seems like a year or more.”

Important Crew Updates Were Communicated

On July 3, Mrs. Gerards received two letters:

One of two letters received by Mrs. Gerards on July 3, 1944.

 “Just a note to let you know that I have received a message from the war department, stating that my son is a prisoner of the German government. I trust that you have received the same message…”

“We just received a telegram from the War Department that our boy is a German Prisoner of War. We are thankful that he is alive…we hope that you have had the same good news….”

In fact, Mr. and Mrs. Gerards had received their Western Union notice on July 1 that Hank was a POW, several days earlier.

They Shared Joy As They Heard From Their Boys

Several months after Hank and his crew members were shot down, their families began receiving mail from the prison camps. Correspondence shifted to joy: although their boys were prisoners of war, they were alive and well enough to send letters home.

Several months after Hank’s crew was shot down, family members began to hear word from their sons.

Excerpts from the letters include:

“This morning the mailman made me the happiest woman in the world by giving us a card from Jerry. We feel sure that you have gotten one from your boy, too.”

Yes, I can happily say I have received a Prisoner card from my son also saying he is fine and uninjured and nothing could have made me happier or relieved my mind any more.”

“Words cannot convey to you how overjoyed and happy we were to learn that you received words from Henry…”

Hank’s Letters Reflect His POW Experience

Hank wrote his parents a total of thirty letters from POW camp, beginning on May 31. 1944. Most depict that he was treated well, though he became increasingly hungry and bored. His last letters were written to himself in February 1945. He encouraged himself to eat steak when he returned to the United States, and the letters included repetitive lists of his favorite foods.

Henry Gerards, POW camp records, WWII

Hank’s entire crew #42 became POWs, and all came home from the war: Charles Abbot (RO); Quentin Bass (B); Joseph Freyland (N); Adolph Matthias (P); Charles Oliver (BT); Laurence Spencer (WG); Roy Velae (WG); Leon Walker (TG); Jerry Wolf, E/TT).

A crew photo is not held in the Joseph A. Moller Library. All archival materials shared in this article are shown courtesy of the Joseph A. Moller Library.

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