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Claude Leroy Locke
Courtesy Rick Lawrence, Find A Grave

West Virginia Veterans Memorial

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Claude Leroy Locke
1918-1944

"A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself."

Joseph Campbell

Claude Leroy Locke was born in the city of St. Marys, West Virginia, on February 8, 1918, to Leslie and Edna Locke. Claude was a veteran of World War II, serving his country from the age of 23 until his untimely death at the age of 26.

According to Federal Census data from 1920, 1930, and 1940, Leslie and Edna Locke were blessed with nine children: Ralph, Denzel, Lyle, Nancy, Billy, Louis, Ganell, Blaine, Margaret, and Claude. When Claude was only two years old, his father left the Dinsmore Drilling Company to become a farmer. When not helping their family with the farm, the children attended school locally; however, Claude left St. Marys High School after only one year of attendance.

The Locke children lived a normal life for those born during the Great Depression—attending the Marietta fair, having picnics along Middle Island Creek, and gleefully swinging on the grapevines that hung over the water. Claude’s life was filled with many outdoor activities.

Middle Island Creek was famously known for its prime fishing spots. It is likely Claude spent many hours with pole in hand, searching the waters for signs of hungry bluegills. Such was the childhood of this young boy, careless, gleeful, and simple. Unfortunately, childhood does not last forever. In 1941, the U.S. entered World War II, and the simplicity of life in rural West Virginia would be eternally changed.

At the age of 23, Claude enlisted at Fort Hayes in Columbus, Ohio, as a private in the Army. Once basic training was completed, he turned his service to the Air Corps, becoming a technical assistant with the 307th Bombardment Group, which was activated on April 15, 1942.

The majority of Claude’s service was spent over the ocean, as he was involved with the Pacific Theater, patrolling the coastline from northern Alaska to the Southern California beaches. He and his 372 fellow crewman vigilantly patrolled the airways for any signs of the enemy. Eventually the unit was upgraded to the B-52 Liberators, and the crew was sent Sioux City Army Air Base in Iowa. Post-training, these patriotic young men were relocated to Hamilton Airfield in California before migrating to Hawaii.

The men were soon separated, one squadron per island, and began search and patrol missions around that region of the Pacific. Combat for these squadrons began on December 27, 1942, when they attacked the fortress on Wake Island just before the break of day, reducing its size by ninety percent. This mission, being the longest mass raid to date, earned the group the nickname “The Long Rangers.”.
original crew

The original crew of the “Wicked Wench” B-24 bomber. Courtesy Rick Lawrence, Find A Grave

Little else is reported about Claude Locke until February 24, 1944, when he was reported missing. News traveled across the country and was reported in the St. Marys Oracle. His bomber was shot down just 12 days before the local paper published the sad news. Claude died at the young age of twenty-six aboard the B-24 with his fellow airmen. His remains were identified after his death. Claude was laid to rest with the men from his bombardment group in the Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery (Section 79, Sites 78-80), Lemay, St. Louis County, Missouri. A detailed account of the plane’s fate, including photos of Locke and other crew members, can be found in the Find A Grave military biography by Rick Lawrence (Memorial #41838127).

Sources

307th Bomb Group Association, “13th Air Force, 307th Bombardment Group (Heavy)—History,” accessed 17 March 2018, http://307bg.net/history.asp.

“Mother Receives Posthumous Award,” St. Marys Oracle, 22 March 1945.

Article prepared by Nick Sutters and Rosalie Hopkins, George Washington High School Advanced Placement U. S. History
March 2018

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Claude Leroy Locke

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