By Sam Terry
Jobe Publishing, Inc.
Like so many children of aging parents, Terry Jackson of Glasgow found himself sorting through his parents’ belongings when his late mother moved to an assisted living facility in 2005. A common occurrence in the lives of the children of World War II veterans, Jackson discovered two objects that caught his attention but yet remained mysterious because they weren’t discussed.
When Jackson’s father, Georgie Joe Jackson, returned from service in the Panama Canal Zone in November 1945, he brought with him a charred dollar bill. The younger Jackson recalls his father carrying the folded bill in his wallet as long as he lived. The dollar was a reminder of a plane crash in which all of the soldiers perished; when the resulting fire subsided, Georgie Joe volunteered to help remove the bodies from the plane. Among the debris of the plane was a partially-burned dollar bill which the Glasgow soldier kept and brought home as a souvenir.
Since his father’s death, Terry Jackson has researched the plane crash, wondering who the men were and if they had relatives who could shed light on the story that was forever imbedded in his father’s memories. To date, his efforts haven’t produced answers to his questions.
Annie Lee Jackson, Terry’s mother, moved to Highland Ridge Assisted Living and in the process of dismantling her household, Terry found an object that might have been connected to the plane crash and its victims.
Among his mother’s possessions was a silver bracelet inscribed “Robt. H. Walters, 279593, USMC” on the front. Inscribed on the reverse was “Love, Mother.” Terry immediately wondered if the bracelet was also a relic from the plane crash. Quizzing his mother about the bracelet, he found that she only recalled that her husband brought it home from Panama.
Rather than finding a connection to the plane crash and its victims, Terry now had a second mystery on his hands. Who was Robert H. Walters? What was his connection to his father? What was Walters’ story? Why did his father have this bracelet?
Over the years Terry occasionally looked up the name and what he presumed was a service number. “I discussed this with Gen. Cherry and Maj. Bradbury from Bowling Green as they were experienced in things of this nature. No help” said Terry. He then enlisted the help of the late Maj. Bobby Travis of Glasgow to use his military contacts in Washington, D.C. Once again, no information was forthcoming.
“After my retirement in December 2016, I began to search the Internet for info on either one of these instances,” Terry explained. “I found out there were about 300 Robert Walters in World War II. Through a process of elimination, I found 13 Robert H. Walters, but none of them matched up.”
Trying another avenue to unravel the mystery, Terry began searching for obituaries online. “One came up for a Robert H. Walters from Ridgewood, New Jersey,” Terry recalls. “He was a Marine. He passed in 2008. The obituary gave the names of his children as survivors.”
Terry located Walters’ daughter, Linda Walters, living in New Jersey and on December 28, called her, leaving a message with a few details. In the meantime, Terry’s sleuthing revealed that Walters had joined the Marines in the latter part of December 1939 or the first week of January 1940.
Linda Walters waited about a week before returning Terry’s call. “When I answered she was a little curious, understandably. She stated that her father had been in Panama. I asked what date he enlisted and she said January 2, 1940. I asked when her father was in Panama and she stated July 1945,” Terry recalled last week. Georgie Joe Jackson was stationed in Panama from November 19, 1942 until November 15, 1945, placing the men in Panama at the same time.
“These three markers made me believe this was the man. I needed one more confirmation. I asked her if there were any numbers on his records, she said yes, six numbers.” Terry’s next request was for her to repeat the numbers to him. “She read 279593. The same number on the bracelet.”
Terry and Linda discussed how and why Georgie Joe Jackson brought the bracelet home with him in 1945. “We will never know. We only know it’s going where it belongs – to Robert H. Walters’ family,” Terry said.
“It was emotional for me that after 71 years this bracelet would be returned to this man’s family,” Terry Jackson said on Friday after leaving the Glasgow Post Office where he mailed the bracelet to Linda in New Jersey. In the meantime, Jackson is waiting to hear that the bracelet is in the hands of its rightful owner
“It was a joy to have found what I uncovered,” Terry said, his voice slightly breaking. Both families agree they will never know the history of the bracelet but after more than seven decades, the bracelet is with Walters’ family.
“One case solved, one more to go,” Terry Jackson said, with a twinkle in his eye and smile on his face.
Terry continues to research the plane crash that resulted in the charred dollar bill that his father carried with him for years. So far, he’s discovered that about 95,000 U.S. military aircraft crashed in World War II. He’s pinpointed that 450 of those crashes were in Panama; in 15 instances the plane was totally destroyed.