Editor’s note: This article begins with an email received by Polly Horn, curator of the Myers Inn Museum in Sunbury, back on July 13.
“I am John Cleland, retired teacher of Mount Vernon High School and author of a biography of S/Sgt Carl E. Cleland, a gunner and radio man on B-24 stationed at Shipdham Air Base, Norfolk, England, from November 1942 to August 1943. Our home was in Kingston Twp. I grew up there but was on the west side of line so went to Elm Valley High School. Carl and brothers Earl and Howard, my dad, lived on farm on North Galena Road, just north of 521. The book is based on 125 letters he wrote home and a personal diary of his bombing missions and daily activities. It is a history of a WWII gold star family. Carl was killed in a plane crash on a training flight near Casper, WY. in March 1944. I would like to donate a copy of the book to your museum. Thank you. John”
I first met S/Sgt. Carl Cleland in 2004 when my mother, Marian Whitney (then 94), worked with me and the Community Library staff to bring her scrapbook of World War II soldiers alive. During the war, Marian’s husband, Bill, was editor of “The Sunbury News,” and he started a column, “With our Boys in the Service.” He asked the recruits to write and share their experiences, and he would give them a free subscription for the duration of their service. Bill had no military experience, so he was embarrassed when one of his first entries demoted a soldier rather than promoted him. Bill made a formal apology in his column but challenged Marian not to let it happen again.
So, in a spiral notebook, Marian put a sheet of paper for each soldier filed in alphabetical order. Each column was pasted to another sheet and filed in chronological order. Before long, she made an alphabetical index to help her find a particular person.
When the war was over, the notebook went on a reference desk in the newsroom. Bill died in 1970, and Marian retired around 1976 and pitched the notebook in the trash, but I pulled it out and took it to Community Library where it rested until I was facing retirement and needed to deal with this treasure. It is available online at www.BigWalnutHistory.org under Local History, WWII. Carl was mentioned in eight papers along with siblings, his wife and mother. He left an impression with me because of his Wyoming death after flying 26 missions overseas.
John Cleland, author of “Tell Johnny Hello,” was too young to remember his Uncle Carl, who died when Johnny was 4. What a surprise when another family member gave him a footlocker with memorabilia from Carl’s years in WWII, including letters ending with “Tell Johnny Hello.”
The September program for the Big Walnut Area Historical Society is John telling how he took the letters, diary, clippings and memorabilia to piece together World War II from his uncle’s point of view. Thanks to the internet, he was able to learn details about places where Carl was stationed and the missions he was on, as well as how the military kept the men’s morale up.
This is a unique local history book saved and pieced together so we won’t forget. BWAHS hopes to have a book signing with John.
Polly Horn is curator of the Myers Inn Museum in Sunbury.