This is the seventh post in a series about my Grandma's cousin, Lawrence Gilbert Cook.
Was there a cover up after the downing of Gil's plane on October 28, 1943? The families of the crewmen lost on that plane might have suspected as much. However, the documents sourced from the National Archives suggest otherwise.
It must have been heart-wrenching for Gil's mother, Magdalene Barrett Rutherfurd, to receive brief and inconclusive responses when she asked for more information about her son's accident. For instance, she sent a letter on December 17, 1943 pleading for answers about whether her son might be alive, and received only this, from the Army Chaplain, nearly a month after she posted her letter.
January 10, 1944
Dear Mrs. Rutherfurd,
I have in hand your letter of December 17th concerning your son Lawrence Cook or Gilbert as you call him. You asked me some questions which I shall endeavor to answer as well as possible. Gilbert was with Lt. Reese's crew. The plane did not return from a combat mission. There is little else we can say. As I always say I do not try to explain away the implications of "missing in action" especially in reference to the Jap occupied areas even though such personnel sometimes return.
God bless you and may He keep you strong in these days.
I remain sincerely yours,
s/ Aubrey A. J. Zellner
Captain, Chaplain U.S.A.
As I wrote in my previous post about Gil, it took the families nearly six months to learn that the plane had been downed by friendly fire, and much longer until they knew the boys were not coming home. The short and unsubstantial letters sent to them through official channels gave the families virtually no information. However, internal communication at the War Department reveals that they were working to verify what had happened to Gil's plane and deciding how to relate the news. Once the horrible truth was known, at least some officials advocated for total transparency, as in this internal document dated April 25, 1944.
You have hold of a tough one here, and one which apparently is representative of many. We should operate, however, on the principle of telling the truth whenever it is available to us.
How this thing happened, we can't say, and you have said as much. That it DID happen, we have from the reports of two aircrewmen in another plane.
I think your memorandum handles the situation very well. The only suggestion I might have would be to point out that in fast aerial action it is sometimes difficult to tell exactly what HAS happened. Thus, it may be that the two men who reported on the accident might have been mistaken-- that the plane crashed because of an anti-aircraft shell from enemy guns.
This is an unusual accident, I would think, and one that is not likely to occur frequently. Planes go so fast and air discipline is generally good, so that it would appear that the liklihhod [sic] of just such an accident occurring often would be remote.
I don't know where the family of the boy learned of the accident-- but they did learn, and that illustrates why it is necessary to tell the true story.
George H. Haddock
Lt. Col. Air Corps
Gil and his crew were lost in unusual circumstances, in the middle of an active combat zone during one of the most critical parts of the war, in a time before the transparency that the modern information age provides. Perhaps we should not be surprised that the truth was slow to emerge.
To be continued....