The McDonald County Historical Society treasures each and every member who works toward keeping your history alive.
No one is appreciated more than our member from Splitlog, currently living in Novato, Calif., Jean Stratton Bird, and today I will be sharing with you her memories. Jean provided the Historic Courthouse Museum with copy and video dedicated to her brother, Capt. Eldon E. Stratton and I am confident you will be moved by her story about her brother and World War II 1941- (August) 1943 South Pacific, titled “Capt. Eldon E. Stratton 04-26-20-08-30-43 He Was My Brother” (printed here with her permission.) ... “Eldon entered the flying cadet program, the spring of 1941 — and by fall of 1941 — had graduated as a pilot and second lieutenant at Montgomery, Ala. He arrived home for a brief few days, then he prepared to leave us.
“Pearl Harbor; Dec. 7, 1941. Eldon awakened that Sunday morning at Wheeler, Dec. 7, 1941, with bullets whizzing all around. He later told a cousin, who lived in Hawaii, that he rolled from his cot to the floor. Pilots ran for their planes but found them already destroyed. My parents and I heard of the Pearl Harbor attack; we waited for word from my brother. I could tell that my parents were very worried and concerned. Since we lived on a rural route, I was sent to the post office every Sunday morning to see if there was any word from him. After about two or three weeks, a brief message arrived saying, “Don’t worry; next time we’ll get’em!” He received a commendation for that day....”
“Sept. 1, Wednesday 1943, the first week of my junior year. I got off the school bus and as I climbed the steps to the second floor, where my locker was. Bertha Street, my first class instructor, was leaning over the banister of the stairs, motioning for me to come to her. I had no idea why. When I reached Miss Street, she led me right in to superintendent’s office, where he had a newspaper spread out for me to read an article. I was surprised, but the article read that all were saved except one (no name mentioned). I knew that my brother was expected home for a visit soon, therefore I didn’t connect that the one not saved might be my brother. I knew my parents would receive the Joplin Globe about 11:30 a.m. on the rural route, and I had no way to tell them ahead of time —that concerned me. The minute I walked into the house from school, my mother said, “Did you know about the article?” They had read it and from that period on I could tell that they were worried parents. I still hoped my brother was still alive. I continued on at school Thursday and Friday. Mother, dad and I were anxious to hear from Eldon.
“I was sitting where I could get the mail immediately, when the rural carrier, Luther Cunningham arrived. Mother was where mothers always are: in the kitchen preparing for lunch. I heard Luther arriving, I was headed for our mailbox before he got to the next one, a hundred yards away. I quickly opened the Globe and there was a yellow telegram! I immediately began silently saying ‘wounded, wounded, maybe P.O.W, but, please, nothing else.’ The word KIA jumped out at me like they were in huge black letters, larger than the other words in the brief telegram-and as I stood there reading it, Luther was pulling away from the next mailbox and I was silently screaming ‘Don’t you know what you have left here!’ It all happened so fast, and I held nothing against Luther. It was not what I wanted. I was hurt, angry and somewhat in shock. I had to tell two parents about this, I had to forget any of my feelings. I didn’t want to have to do this to them. I tried to think fast, as I stood briefly behind a spirea bush, then started down the front sidewalk. I held a small corner of the telegram out from the lower side of my skirt, where it could be seen. Before I reached the front steps, mother opened the front screen door, to see what the mail had brought.
“She looked at my face and exclaimed, ‘What’s wrong, what’s wrong!’ Then she saw that small corner of a telegram. I stepped upon the front porch and said, ‘He’s gone mother, he’s gone,” as I let her read the telegram....’
After advising her parents, it was 16-year-old Jean’s responsibility to go back to town in order to make notification via public telephone to the rest of the family.
“The phone office was in the Royce home on a hill side across from where Dr. Buck lived. There was an outside phone booth just outside the phone office. I don’t remember if the phone operator was the one called, “old aunt Mary” or not. I gave her the first phone number to call, to be followed by the second number. I would pay her when the calls were completed....
“Evening was coming, and I walked alone out on a small hill or slope that was between our small barn and our large barn. The pigeons always came to the top of the large barn to roost for the night. Sometimes they were loud and noisy and pushy. I waited for them and wanted only peace and quiet tonight. They came flying in, finding a place of their own — and I silently screamed to them, ‘Do you know what happened here today?!’ for some reason they were softly cooing and peaceful and quieted down fast: it was like they knew. They settled down beautifully. It was the one blessing at the end of a deeply wounded day.”
To hear all of Jean’s story, the details of what occurred at that time, The Fight for Kahili, August 1943, — Had Capt. Eldon E. Stratton followed his original orders ... (I saw the orders that had been cut, that Eldon didn’t have to fly any more missions, he could go home on leave) — are available to view, at the historic old courthouse in Pineville.The museum is open Friday and Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday afternoon 1 to 4 p.m.
Today, we thank Jean Stratton Bird for her generosity in sharing this page of American history. And we are grateful to her brother, Capt. Eldon E. Stratton, 0428388 12th Fighter Squadron, reported killed in action Aug. 30, 1943.