On October 28, 1943, Gil's plane went down over Burma. His mother, Magdalene Barrett Rutherfurd, received a telegram reporting him missing on November 3, 1943.
On November 7, 1943, witnesses to the plane's accident were deposed by the Army. Their statements are the clearest indication we have of exactly what happened to Gil and his crew. Unfortunately, it would take months for these details to be revealed to the airmen's families, during which time they hoped desperately that the "missing in action" designation meant their loved ones would eventually be found alive. It was not to be.
From the statement given by Warren J. Chadwick, S/Sgt, Air Corps, 436th Bombardment Sq. (H):
On or about October 28, 1943 at approximately 1217 hours, I, S/Sgt Warren J. Chadwick, 19020370, while flying as right waist gunner in #2 position of the first element, observed the following: We were on our 2nd run when a three ship formation echeloned over our 2nd element. I saw two bombs drop from the ships above, one dropping between #2 engine and the fuselage of the ship hit. The bomb did not explode upon contact with the plane. It immediately burst into flames. The pilot maintained level flight for about 15 seconds; then the ship dropped off on the left wing for about 1000 feet, then exploded. When the explosion occurred, one man was blown out of the ship; his chute was burning and never opened. The tail turret was blown off and later exploded. I tried to follow the bigger pieces to the ground, most of which were still burning and exploding in the air. I did not see any large pieces hit the ground.
From the statement given by Arthur J. Darling, T/Sgt, Air Corps, 436th Bombardment Sq. (H):
On or about October 28, 1943 at approximately 1217 hours, I, Arthur J. Darling, 17037524, T/Sgt, 436th Bombardment Squadron (H) AAF, while flying as Aerial Engineer in Airplane #69 did observe the following: We were turning off our bomb run and the 2nd element was still on the run. A few seconds after the 2nd element's bombs were away I noticed three ships above them crossing over our 2nd element. I only saw two bombs drop, one of which fell directly on #5 ship, at the base of #2 engine. The bomb fell right through and the wing burst into flames. The ship maintained level flight for 15 to 20 seconds and fell off on the left wing burning more as it fell. I did not see it hit the ground.
After these depositions, a statement was sent to Gil's mother, Magdalene Barrett Rutherfurd, on December 9, 1943 from John B. Cooley, Colonel, A.G.D, Air Adjutant General. It reads, in part:
The Adjutant General notified you on November 3rd that your son, Second Lieutenant Lawrence G. Cook, was reported missing in action since October 28th over Burma.
Further information has been received that Lieutenant Cook was a crew member of a B-24 Liberator bomber which participated in a combat mission to Southern Burma on October 28th. The report states that during the mission his plane was seem to sustain damage from an accidental bomb explosion and to fall to the earth. This occurred at about 1:20 p.m. over Southern Burma.
Because of reasons of military security, it is regretted that the names of those who were on the plane and addresses of their next of kin cannot be furnished at the present time.
This letter did not clarify that Gil's plane had been struck by a bomb dropped by an American plane. It also did not give Magdalene the news that her son was surely dead.
Later, a letter followed from an Army Chaplain, Aubrey A. J. Zellner:
You have received the War Department message in reference to your son. It may have sounded rather unfeeling. I hasten to write you that we are not impersonal about it. I do not try to explain away the implication of the possibilities of the message, even though "missing in action" personnel sometimes return.
Lawrence was well liked by his fellow officers and men. We are not just a part of a war machine. That may be all right for the Axis soldiers but we are very human. We deeply grieve together with you. May God bless you and keep you strong.
To be continued...