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Ira V. French

West Virginia
Veterans Memorial

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Ira V. French
1917-1943

“I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than those attending too small a degree of it.”

Thomas Jefferson

Army Lieutenant Ira V. French was born on March 16, 1917, in Indiana to Lynus (also spelled “Linus”) Baird and Eva May Van Eaton French. Ira was one of several brothers; his birth family included George, Clifford, and Ira, and there was possibly another—Rodger—who was listed in the 1910 Census, but in no other records, indicating he might have died at a young age. Ira V. French was given the name of his uncle. (Lynus’ brother Ira W. French was a native of Bemidji, Minnesota, where he owned a business college and was a professor. Toward the end of his life he lived with his brother Lynus in Charleston, West Virginia.) When his mother died in 1922, Ira V. would go to Cass Lake, Minnesota, living the next eight years in the home of his aunt and uncle, Ora and Ray Van Eaton. Lynus eventually settled in Charleston, West Virginia, and married Roxie Pauley Sutton, and thus Ira acquired a number of stepsisters and brothers (Veva, Ruth Ann, Paul, Harry Jr., and Charles Edward Sutton). Blending such a family must have been quite a feat for Lynus and Roxie, as they assembled a large group of nearly adult “children.”
Ira V. French
Ira V. French.
Courtesy Terry Lowry

It was this family setting that Ira would begin to identify as “home.” A carefully crafted letter to his father on Lynus’ approaching remarriage gives insight into Ira’s character, when he writes, “Yes, Dad, it does seem strange to me to think of having a step-mother—to see you established in a home of your own, someplace that I can come to and call my home as well.” He laments that his father has missed a lot in life since Eva May’s death, adding, “I should hate to think of passing through that stage without a life’s companion, a haven of my own, and perhaps my children gathered ’round.” Later in the letter he speaks fondly of his future stepmother and withdraws a request for money for the summer, indicating rather he will come to Charleston and attempt to find work. He concludes by saying he is enclosing a picture of his girlfriend.

In a 2011 interview, Charles “Shep” Sutton, the only remaining member of the blended French-Sutton family, recalled those early days with his newly acquired stepbrother. He remembers Ira as being a “great person, a really nice fellow.” Charles also commented that Ira was a hard worker, noting that when Ira came to Charleston that summer after their parents’ marriage, Ira worked as a messenger boy to get money to go back to college.

Lt. Ira V. French
Lt. Ira V. French.
Courtesy Terry Lowry
After graduating from high school in Minnesota, Ira attended Purdue University, where he graduated in 1939 as a mechanical engineer. Prior to enlisting in the U.S. Army, he was employed by Pan American Airways in the air ferry. Once in the military, his science and engineering background landed him a role as a technical engineer in the 20th Ferry Group, 71st Squadron; there he became chief ground instructor, No. 1 British Flying Training School, Terrell Aviation School. In an article in Aero Digest (March 1942, pp. 128, 316), “Radio Ground-Training Program for Student Pilots,” French explains how ground-training must prepare the student pilot for actual flying time but cannot substitute for hands-on experience. Given his articulate nature, one wonders whether, had he lived, Ira might have become a scholar. Ira V. French was flying for the military at the time his branch was transitioning from the Army to the Army Air Corps.
Flight instructors and staff
Flight instructors and staff, taken outside Ground School Building; Lt. French is on the left, back row.
Courtesy Terry Lowry

On New Year’s Eve 1942, Ira wrote a lengthy letter to “Puddin” (his nickname for stepsister Ruth [Ruth Sutton Williams Lowry]), in which he expresses the hope that she is feeling better after an illness and up to celebrating the holiday: “I wish as fervently that I could be home and with you this New Years as for Christmas.” He goes on to tell of his plans for the evening:

As for myself I think this evening will be spent in a series of Open House get togethers. The nightclubs are all going to be so packed and expensive. . . . Tomorrow am going to the Orange Bowl game and sit on one end of the field and probably see the game through field glasses. Am teaming up with a cute little trick from the office for tonight’s and tomorrow’s activities. She’s a lot of fun but that’s all.

Ira asks “Puddin” about a number of details of her life and tells her how much he appreciates her correspondence. He concludes by wishing her a “Happy and Prosperous New Year” and adds a P.S.: “This stationery contains the insignia and location of our detachment [the Fourth Ferrying Group Detachment, Ferrying Division, A. T. C.]. Like it?” Although he is in Miami at the time, he mentions he’ll be in Nashville in the near future.

Like so many of their age-mates, the young men of the Sutton-French family did not hesitate to volunteer when the war intervened in their lives. A Charleston Gazette article dated August 1, 1943, pictures four sons of Roxie and Lynus French currently on active duty. The article notes that Ira is stationed with the armed ferry command at Nashville, while Army Pvt. Harry Sutton is a paratrooper stationed in the Pacific. Army Sgt. Paul Sutton was stationed in the Panama Canal Zone for two years and is now in Camp Carson, Colorado, awaiting reassignment. Seaman First Class Charles Edward Sutton had recently completed aerial gunner school at Jacksonville, Florida. The three Sutton men graduated from Elkview High School, and Harry and Charles had attended West Virginia Institute of Technology at Montgomery.

Lt. Ira V. French died on August 8, 1943, of circulatory collapse in a Louisville, Kentucky, hospital, possibly the result of an infection from an insect bite acquired overseas, according to family lore. Lynus French’s future son-in-law, Charlie Lowry writes of Ira in a V-Mail: “I was very sorry to hear about Ira, but we all know he wasn’t lost in vain.” Waxing philosophical about the war, Charlie comments: “People, places, and things I have seen gives us a feeling of pride when we can say ‘we are helping to keep such conditions from the U.S.A.’” Recalling the family’s sadness, Charles “Shep” Sutton, comments: “Ira was very young, and it was a great loss to the family because we all looked up to him.”

Ira V. French is buried in Spring Hill Cemetery in his adopted home of Charleston, West Virginia, alongside his father.

Family information and pictures provided by Charles Sutton and Terry Lowry. Article by Patricia Richards McClure

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West Virginia Archives and History welcomes any additional information that can be provided about these veterans, including photographs, family names, letters and other relevant personal history.


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