Through the steady cadence of taps being played at the Colville Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) comes the soft sound of weeping---Franseen “Benny” McKay mourns the brother she lost 70-years ago when she was a girl of 12.
In 1943, Air Corp 2nd Lt. William W. Bartlett was killed in action when his bomber was shot down over Austria while returning from its first mission. Bartlett, the plane’s navigator, and the rest of his crew, were considered missing in action (MIA). Their bodies were never recovered.
William was 19-years-old. Stationed in Italy, he had received his parent’s permission to enlist when he was 17 so he could avoid the draft and go into the Air Corp, because he loved airplanes.
“He was obsessed with them,” says McKay, smiling thoughtfully. “He had pictures of all kinds taped up on his bedroom walls.”
McKay recalls her family receiving the news that his airplane, part of the 716th Bom¬bardment Squadron, had gone down while on a mission in the European Theatre. The news came via telegram from the United States War Department. Her father shut down emotionally and her mother was in denial.
“There was no closure for them (parents),” McKay said.
“For the longest time, my mother was certain that he was out there, somewhere in Europe…still alive. ‘He just has amnesia, and when he gets better, he’ll come home,’ she would say.”
The Colville VFW gathered last Thursday night to honor Bartlett with a Gold Star flag, 48-star flag from the 1944 era, a memorial plaque, a framed picture of the Italian cemetery where Bartlett’s name graces a cenotaph wall for fallen soldiers, and a small package of stars with commemorative poems. These items were presented to McKay, William’s last surviving relative.
*read the full story in this week's edition of the Statesman-Examiner!