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West Virginia Veterans Memorial

West Virginia Veterans Memorial

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Jack Warren Staton
1924-1944

"In War: Resolution. In Defeat: Defiance. In Victory: Magnanimity. In Peace: Good Will."

Sir Winston Churchill

Jack Warren Staton was born on August 19, 1924, in Mullens, West Virginia, the eldest son of Russell Cunningham Staton and his wife, Bertha Webb Staton Harmon (she remarried after her first husband’s death). His family also consisted of three other children, William Robert, Thomas, and Charlotte.

In 1919, a large fire occurred in the city, wiping out many buildings, including the Mullens General Hospital, the Bank of Mullens, the Wyoming Hotel, and much more. After the fire had been put out, the town looked desolate and much rebuilding did not occur until the 1920s. The first dollar store was built in April of 1921, by Miss Maude Stone, and business was booming during WWII. The town was small but relatively well off. They had a few businesses and one bank, the People’s Bank of Mullens, which had replaced the Bank of Wyoming; the town newspaper also mentioned a dance studio, Kroger’s, a Chevrolet car dealership, a café, and a shoe shop by World War II. (Source: Rural Appalachian Improvement Agency, “Mullens, WV…the Dogwood City,” accessed 23 June 2016, http://coalheritage.org/DocumentsCenter/HMWTbrochureFinal.pdf.)

Staton graduated from Mullens High School in 1942. Enlisting in the Army in March of the following year, he was assigned to the newly formed Army Air Corps and was in service until his death during World War II. Jack married Anna June Robertson on October 19, 1943. He passed away before their first anniversary by two months.

Their town newspaper, The Mullens Advocate, was first published in 1913. During the war, the newspaper kept its basic structure, but also began mentioning the war effort for residents who read the weekly newspaper. Readers were advised to ration, were able to read reprinted letters from the County Civilian Defense Council about Wyoming County specifically and the war effort, and even the cartoons became propagandistic in a way—Popeye was encouraging young men to join the navy.

Elsewhere in West Virginia, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Greenbrier Resort became a detention center for foreign diplomats and their families expelled from Washington, D.C. After the diplomats left, the resort was condemned under the War Powers Act, and the military took over the resort, turning it into a hospital and recuperation center. The hospital, named Ashford General Hospital, which closed on June 30, 1946, treated over 20,000 veterans and soldiers.

West Virginia, specifically Grant and Tucker counties due to their hilly terrain, were also used as training grounds for soldiers that would be later dispatched to Northern Italy, which had been occupied at the time by Germany. The U.S. Navy also groomed soldiers at West Virginia University and other colleges around the state.

West Virginians on the home front joined the Civil Defense Corps and created gardens in their backyards. The West Virginia Farm Women’s Club sold almost $300,000 in war bonds and collected about $15,000 for the Red Cross. Boy Scout troops all over West Virginia began to salvage paper, old tires, scrap metal, and other scarce materials for the war effort. West Virginians supplied more than 600 million tons of coal for fuel for the war, and the world’s largest synthetic rubber plant, built in the Kanawha Valley, helped America replace Japan as its major supplier. The valley also housed the world’s largest producer of steel, a very important metal that was used in battleships, tanks, guns, and other military equipment. The U.S. Naval Ordinance Plant in Kanawha County supplied gun barrels for ships and tanks, and West Virginians in Mason County built patrol boats and other ocean vessels on the shores of the Ohio River. (Sources: Russ Barbour, “World War II,” e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia, 19 November 2010, accessed 23 June 2016, http://www.wvencyclopedia.org/articles/1353; “West Virginia Facts: World War II,” Mountaineer Military Museum, accessed 23 June 2016, http://mountaineermilitarymuseum.com/wwii.html.)

The U.S. was dragged into WWII when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The very next day, America and Great Britain declared war on Japan. On December 10, Germany and Italy declared war on America. The bombing caused a widespread panic, for the citizens of the U.S. believed that if Japan had the audacity to bomb Pearl Harbor, what was to stop Japan from bombing the continental U.S.? Panic turned into acceptance as the citizens began to prepare for war—in the spring of 1942, a rationing program was put into place; the United States Office of War Information began to release propaganda to encourage young men to enlist, people to buy war bonds, and families to create victory gardens; and women were employed in factories to make up for the loss in manpower as the young men left for war overseas. The U.S. army increased from 1.5 million men to about 12 million men, and tax rates were raised to create revenue and deal with inflation.

In 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which stated that all Japanese-Americans on the West Coast were to be rounded up and placed into internment camps, a result of wartime panic and the belief that anyone who had Japanese ancestry was still somehow loyal to Japan.

As the war went on, more emphasis was placed on cultural pastimes to both distract the public as well as be used as propaganda. Baseball, America’s new favorite pastime, continued during the war, as President Roosevelt believed that it would boost wartime morale and serve as a needed distraction as well. Many baseball major league stars went off to war, along with the other young men who had enlisted, and minor leaguers were allowed to play on teams they previously had no chance to be on. Movie theaters began to show war-related programs and movie stars also joined the military. Music became more patriotic and radio shows spouted anti-Japanese and anti-Nazi propaganda. (Sources: “The U.S. Home Front During World War II,” History.com, 2010, accessed 23 June 2016, http://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/us-home-front-during-world-war-ii; “The American Homefront,” U.S. History Online Textbook, 2016, accessed 23 June 2016, http://www.ushistory.org/us/51b.asp.)

Sgt. Jack W. Staton served in World War II as part of the 706th Squadron of the 446th Bomb Group. The 446th Bomb Group had been established on April 1, 1943, at the Davis-Monthan Air Base in Tucson, Arizona. Jack was assigned the role of nose turret gunner of a B-24 bomber by the name of Ginger. His crew consisted of the pilot, Ralph V. Schaffer; co-pilot, George Lesko; bombardier, Herbert Rubin; navigator, Norman H. Phillips; engineer, Charles E. Wyatt; radio operator, Frank W. Loichinger; ball turret gunner, Albert H. Lang; waist gunners, Ted Zomonek and Jack Maxwell; and tail gunner, Willard R. Fetterhoff.
crew of Ginger

The crew of the Ginger. Sgt. Staton is in the front row (kneeling), second from right. Courtesy Isabel Shaffer

The 446th Bomb Group finished six months of training in New Mexico and Colorado during the spring of 1943 and then journeyed to Bungay, England, during the fall. Along the way, two aircrafts were lost; one went missing near Puerto Rico and the other was shot down in France when it went off course. The 446th Bomb Group remained stationed in Bungay, was assigned to the 8th Air Force, and began its first mission in December. The Bomb Group as a whole mainly served a strategic purpose. Its targets were centered in Germany; some of them were: U-boats stored in a shelter in Kiel, the port at Bremen (their first mission), ball bearing works in Berlin, aero-engine plants at Rostock, aircraft factories in Munich, marshalling yards at Coblenz, motor works at Ulm, oil refineries in Hamburg and Magdeburg, and, the target for the mission that Staton died on, a chemical plant in Ludwigshafen. It flew a total of 273 missions, with the 706th Squadron having flown sixty-two missions without any losses. (Sources: J. Rickard, “446th Bombardment Group,” accessed 23 June 2016, http://historyofwar.org/air/units/USAAF/446th_Bombardment_Group.html; “44th Bombardment Group Scrapbook,” 2010, accessed 23 June 2016, http://www.2ndair.org.uk/consumption/groups/public/documents/article/ncc081374.pdf; “The 446th Bomb Group,” accessed 23 June 2016, http://446bg.com/.)

Though the Bomb Group’s prime purpose was in strategic bombing offensives in Germany, it did perform a few support operations. It took part in the D-Day invasion at Normandy by supporting landings and bombing German strong points and means of transportation, including airfields, railways, and bridges, in France. It also supported troops at the Battle for Caen and the Battle of Saint-Lo.

On August 26, 1944, Ginger was sent on a mission to attack the Farben chemical plant in Ludwigshafen, Germany. Along the way, just across the French border, the bomber was hit by flak. George Lesko, the bombardier, spotted fire from 88-mm guns from yards away. One of the bomber’s four engines failed, and Ginger began its descent. Once it had dropped to 10,000 feet, the crew members began to grab their parachutes and jump. The actual cause of Jack’s death has been debated. One scenario is that he dropped into the Saar River, and unable to get rid of his parachute, drowned; thus he is listed as KIA. His body was later found by SS agents and shot for good measure. However, the legislative resolution that named a bridge in Wyoming County in his honor states: “While the cause of his death was never verified except for German documentation stating drowning, surviving crew member George Lesko has indicated that he was sure Jack Staton would have been wearing his ‘Mae West’ flotation device in the water and doubts the German records. German treatment of other members plus eye-witness accounts support the conclusion that he was murdered.” Ginger’s pilot, Ralph V. Schafer, landed in a wooded area, the last his crew members, or anyone else, saw of him; his body was never recovered. Six of the other crew members were captured by SS agents upon their landing and were then marched into the woods and shot. The remaining three, George Lesko, Albert H. Lang, and Norman H. Phillips, had more luck than their crew members. They landed close to each other, cut themselves from their parachutes, and buried their firearms as they knew the consequences of being caught on enemy grounds with weapons. George Lesko was caught and sent to a civilian camp for five days. All three of them were able to return home safely. (Source: “Ralph Vincent Shaffer,” Beachbell Echo, 21:4, December 2006, accessed 23 June 2016, http://446bg.com/newsletters/dec-06.pdf; “Staton, Jack W.,” American War Memorials Overseas, 2008, accessed 23 June 2016, http://www.uswarmemorials.org/html/people_details.php?PeopleID=5743.)

monument

Monument to the crew in Schoeneck, France. Courtesy American War Memorials Overseas, Inc.

A monument was erected in Schoeneck, France, in honor of the Ginger crew and their efforts in liberating France. In Jack Staton’s hometown of Mullens, Wyoming County, West Virginia, the Mullens Overhead Bridge located on State Route 16 was named the “Sergeant Jack W. Staton Memorial Bridge.” Jack was originally buried near the site of his death, but at the request of his mother, his remains were returned to his hometown for a service and then burial at Sunset Memorial Park in Beckley.


Article prepared by Lana Aboushaar, Joy Wu, and Sarah Ghabra, George Washington High School Advanced Placement U.S. History
May 2016

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Jack Warren Staton

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