When I asked my father, “could you tell me anything about my grandfather…your dad?” His reply was “Tonja, I don’t know anything. I was always told he died while in the military. His plane crashed, I think”. We went on talking and it had always been a family story told but no one ever really knew if it were true. “Go ask momma”, he said. Over the next couple of days, I would try and find a way to bring this up to her without bringing up the hard times, difficult memories or the pain that she may still have carried deep down in her heart. So I planned to meet with her over the weekend.
I arrived at my Grandmother’s house very nervous about asking about my Grandfather, but how else would I get the answers. “Grandma, Can I talk to you? I have a lot of questions about my grandfather.” Her first reply was, “Why Tonja? You are always looking for something to get into!” I was the one grandchild who was always trying to find out my ancestor’s history and where I came from. I guess in order for me to know who I am; I would need to know where I came from. She sat with me and told me what all she could remember about the day she lost the love of her life and became a widow.
“Tonja baby”, she said, “I was a young wife and a young mother. Your grandfather joined the United States Air Force to provide for us during those times. As an African American man before the Civil Rights Movement the military was the best place to provide for their families. It was not the best because they were being segregated.” She paused for a moment and then said “I remember this like it was yesterday. He had returned home on leave for a month, we talked, and we didn’t have a good feeling about him returning to the Air Force when leave was up. So at that point we decided he would not go back to base, I was trying everything to stop the USAF from sending him back to Alaska. I filed paper work and whatever I could to stop the transfer; because of this he was considered AWOL (military term AWOL Absent Without Leave) because he did not return back on time. He left and I sat and waited to hear how bad things were for not reporting back in time. I was in the kitchen listing to the radio (I don’t think there was a T.V) when the news broke. “Military plane missing in Alaska” I knew it was his plane the moment I heard it. I just knew it!” I looked at her as she said “God please tell me I am wrong. Shortly after that it was a knock at the door. The military telling me “Ms. Anderson I regret to tell you the plane carrying Airman Anderson and 51 other men is missing.” I eagerly interrupted her “Grandma”; I said, “Did they ever find the plane? Did he ever come home?” She looked at me and said “Shut-up let me finish.” I laughed and she continued on…Stay turned for the rest of her story
Grandma”, I said, “Do you mind if I look into what happened to grandpa and the plane crash? I don’t want to bring up any feelings or upset you.” She said “Tonja, I have lived all my life thinking that since they never found the plane and no bodies, he would walk back through the door one day. It is now over 40 something years I guess he is never coming back through the door anymore. I give you permission to look into finding some answers on what happen to the plane and everyone on it. I just asked that in your search and investigation you let the USAF know I am ready now…I am ready for the flag.” “Grandma”, I asked, “What do you mean?” She then explained, “Tonja, back then the flag was something they gave to the families when one of their loved ones died while serving their country. He is not coming back and I am now ready for that flag.” Grandma, I don’t know when or how, but I promise I will not stop until I find out what happen to granddad, the plane, and get you your flag.
I think I spend the next months or so researching, writing letters, emails, and calling any & everyone who picked up their phones. I had no clue on what I was doing or where to even start this quest but I did know I was not giving up until I got an answer. I first wrote to the USAF asking for any information on this plane crash and a copy of my grandfather’s military records.
Now, I am letting you all in on my journey for the flag and so much more~Tonja