Since receiving a letter from home in July, 1944, while serving with an Infantry Division advising of Sonny missing in action, I was fearful of the worst. Since that time, he has lived within me as much as myself has. I had dreams of him. One I had more than 50 years ago, I remember so vividly. I walked into this large, empty dance hall - except for two people. A place like where the locals in France or Germany would gather in peace time after supper for their beer, dancing, fellowship, etc. A young woman was sitting at the desk in the far corner from the front door. Sonny was standing there talking to her. He had on a clean OD shirt, and trousers that were as wrinkled as they could get - as if they had been stuffed in a duffle bag for at least a hundred years. Just as I got close to them, he looked real embarrassed and apologized to me because of his appearance. Said he had experienced a problem which I took as a reference to his getting shot down and detained for a period. I told him I understood completely.
For many years I had a burning desire to be able to communicate with just one member of Sonny's crew. All I knew was that he was a ball turret gunner and was not seen with his parachute attempting to get out of the aircraft. I could never bring myself to approach his mother about him since I got home and he did not. Sonny's remains were returned to the United States and buried in Sevierville, Tennessee, Sunday, April 7, 1949. I was in school in Knoxville at the time and my fiancée sent me the newspaper article about the arrangements. I attended the funeral. Over the passing 50 years, I no longer remembered exactly where he was buried. In September, 2001, at my Army reunion in Chesapeake, Virginia, I met a young couple who was there seeking information about her father from anyone who had served in his company. I told her of my interest in learning the same type of information about Sonny. She knew someone who had worked in the funeral home in Sevierville. After returning home I received a call from Caryn Neff, from Loudon, Tennessee, giving me the name of the funeral home, cemetery and directions. From his military marker, I found out he had served in the 447th Bomb Group. That was what I needed to begin this fantastic journey that has climaxed in this account.
Gravestone - Roberts Cemetary, Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
Two more acknowledgments: One, through the efforts of a buddy I trained with in the 42nd Rainbow Division in Oklahoma, Joe Polunc of Minneapolis, I have been able to talk and communicate with the co-pilot that Sonny first trained with in Oklahoma - Junior Gossell, also of Minneapolis. Junior transferred out of the crew just before it headed on its journey overseas. When I first learned that he and Sonny were friends, I was just dying to talk to him because I just knew his morals and character and Sonny's were the same, and I have not been disappointed. Junior remembers Sonny very well. "I was saddened to know Wm. Mitchell wasn't a survivor of that crew. He was an exceptionally fine young man, and if anyone deserved to live, he certainly did. I had the utmost respect and confidence in him as a fellow crew member. My sympathies go to his family and you, his special friend."
Number two: Leroy Beckmann - "Mitch was a very good RO/G." In another letter he said, "Mitch was an excellent soldier and a fun guy, also a man of high moral standards to live by. I believe Gossell and Mitch were friends and shared thoughts." I am grateful to Junior and Leroy for their invaluable help and information. Most likely I will never have the pleasure of meeting them, but my appreciation will live as long as I do - thanks, guys. You fellows had a tough high risk job - I saw what you did to the enemy. The Air Force put them on their knees, and the Army knocked them over.
I still don't have His answer to my question, 'Why Sonny instead of me?' I do have two regrets. One, that I was not man enough to approach Sonny's mother. Two, that I did not develop this account of Sonny's death and give her a copy before she died. I now know the true meaning of closure. It has been attained on a matter that has breathed openly and constantly within me for over 50 years, and I thank God He has permitted me to have far more in this account than I could ever dreamed of receiving. And to be able to communicate with Dorthy, Leroy, and Junior - icing on the cake!
In that sudden instant Sonny's
body descended to Earth, his soul flew to Heaven. In the truest sense,
Sonny experienced a completed mission. My simple mind cannot begin to
comprehend God's purpose, but it strongly believes He had something
in mind for Sonny far greater than anything he could have ever had here
My Sons, Your Duty Done
--from the Corregidor Memorial, Philippines