On January 10, 1945, Robert (Bob) Stearns’s mother wrote her second letter to George Edwin (Ed) Farrar’s mother. She had some news from a friend of Bob’s, the pilot of the crew Bob usually flew with. Bob’s friend was Lt. Larkin C. Durdin. Durdin had completed his thirty-five missions on October 6, 1944 and had returned to the states. While he was at Grafton Underwood, he wasn’t allowed to share the information he knew with Bob’s parents, but now that he was out of the service and back at home, he felt compelled to tell them what he knew. Betty Stearns passed this information along to Raleigh Mae Farrar and probably to other parents of the boys on Lead Banana on September 28, 1944.
January 10, 1945
Dear Mrs. Farrar:
Thank you for your very kind letter and the clipping about Lt. Henson. What a fine looking young man he is. I only hope the report is not true which we will know in time.
In our first letter to you we mentioned a friend of our son’s who had written us that he “felt they were safe.” He is Capt. Durdin and at home at Horn Lake, Miss. at present, and as his letter received yesterday is of the greatest interest to all of us I’ll quote the part about what happened to our boys plane.
“I couldn’t tell you about what happened while I was over-seas but I’ll tell you now from the first. I had started flying lead but Bob wasn’t checked out as lead so he went to school, had finished and was flying deputy lead. You fly deputy a few times then start leading.
Henson was Navigator on the crew Bob was flying with. His plane was cut in half over the target by another plane that was hit. Both planes went down. The fighter command reported that nine chutes came from the plane Bob was in.
I wasn’t on that mission because I had flown several straight and was grounded that day. I heard that one member of the crew was P. W. I don’t know who it was. All this was my reason and hopes he was safe.”
These are his words copied from his letter as so often in repeating things the true meaning is lost. It is your son who he refers to as P. W. How wonderful that he is alive even tho a prisoner. A year ago that would have been terrible news to me but what I wouldn’t give to hear Bobby was with him.
I hope you hear from him soon. Of course he can tell you very little but just to see his writing again will mean everything. From Capt. Durdin’s letter we feel some of the others will be heard from in time and we aren’t giving up hopes but that our Bobby will be among them.
While we are waiting for that to happen we must show some of the same courage our boys did in taking the War right to Hitler’s doorstep. As I have never been too air-minded, that, to me, took the greatest bravery.
If you hear anything from your son please let us know.
Did Mrs. Henson write you? Her report is practically the same as Lt. Durdin’s.
Mrs. Carey Stearns
I’m not sure if Mrs. Stearns was referring to William A. Henson’s wife or mother as Mrs. Henson. As the Hensons lived in the Atlanta area near the Farrars, they must have exchanged phone calls rather than letters, so I do not have a record of what Mrs. Henson wrote or who her source of information might have been.
This is the first time the families were told that the plane went down due to a mid-air collision rather than being hit by enemy anti-aircraft fire.
The report that nine parachutes were spotted is not backed up by any official reports. Both Missing Air Crew Reports, MACR9366 and MACR9753, report that “no chutes were seen to emerge.”
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2014