Two letters I’d never seen before were stashed among the small treasures I received from my Aunt Terry this month. Both are from the U.S. Army to my grandmother, Babe’s mother. Both are dated May 22, 1945, just 18 days after Babe died. That date happened to be my mother’s fifth birthday, and it was also the day I’m told the War Department telegram arrived informing my grandmother of Babe’s death. I presume these two letters would have arrived a few days later.
One of them doesn’t shed much light beyond what I already knew. Maj. Gen. J.A. Ulio, adjutant general of the Army writes to my grandmother the oft-repeated line in the military documentation: Babe “died as a result of drowning when the vehicle in which he was riding was forced into a canal.” That wording appears verbatim in another letter I’ve written about, a letter from Col. Charles D. Carle, commander of the Records Administration Center in St. Louis, Mo., in October 1946 to my grandmother outlining the campaigns Babe served in.
In his letter, General Ulio indicates that “provisions have been made for the unit commander or chaplain to send a letter containing further information.” And that is the second letter, also dated May 22, that my grandmother received.
In that letter, Capt. James L. Carraway, a chaplain for the 168th Infantry Regiment, tells my grandmother in its second paragraph:
Frank was a radio operator of a section attached to one of our battalions as a relay station. While driving along a highway in northern Italy, the vehicle in which they were riding became out of control and was forced into the canal alongside the road. Frank was pinned between the truck body and the bottom of the canal and was unable to free himself. Some moments passed before his body was retrieved and at which time artificial respiration was administered, but to no avail.
I must say, Capt. Carraway’s letter, though matter-of-fact, is utterly sensitive and kind, perhaps a testament to the practice he’d had with these letters by that point. I’ve transcribed the entire letter for readers to see.
The new information? Well, apparently, Babe wasn’t the only person in the truck. And this letter describes for the first time exactly how he came to drown in this accident. What this letter takes pains not to do through the use of the passive voice, however, is assign any blame. So, this letter neither confirms nor disputes the account I wrote about in 2014, recounting a brief conversation with a friend of the Mauro family. That account suggests the accident might have been the result of some reckless driving while celebrating the Italian surrender effective May 2, 1945.
As an additional aside, Ulio served in the military for 46 years and became adjutant general of the army in May 1942. According to his Wikipedia page, “one of his most important roles was notifying families when their loved ones became casualties. Thousands of telegrams went out under his name every day.” He died in 1958.
I could not find much about Carraway beyond his obituary in The Indiana Gazette from Indiana County, Pennsylvania. He had apparently been promoted to major before he ended his army service. His obit refers to him as Dr. Carraway, suggesting he had earned his doctorate in ministry. He served as a minister in the United Methodist Church for 45 years. He died on April 2, 1990.