John A. ("Jack") Sherzer
In Memoriam: John T. Hassett, Jr., KIA, 4 April
of the documents that follow relate to my cousin John T. Hassett,
Jr., a Flight Officer in the Army Air Force during the Second World
War. The first is a letter that John wrote to my brother, Bill. The
second is an announcement that appeared in the Sault Ste. Marie
Evening News. The third is a letter to John's
mother (my aunt) from his commanding officer. The fourth item is the
well-known sonnet, "High Flight," written during the war by John G. Magee, who, like my
cousin, died too young, having "slipped the surly bonds of Earth."
Apart from (italicized) emendations of a couple typos, I have
retained the orthography and punctuation of the originals. --Ed.
* * *
We're snowbound--ships, barracks, all covered snow
white. The Yankees have gone mad with delight. Ah! Atonement at long
last for having to live in this heathen land. Once more we will show
the Rebels. And so once more we will fight the Civil War. This time
The ships I am flying now Bill, are almost the real
thing. A few more months, if luck holds, and they will be. Night
flying, echelon or formation flying we pick up here. The latter is
done by contact, night flying all instruments, of course. The
gadgets are ingenious beyond belief. One, the artificial horizon, is
a miniture ship suspended in a case which gives you the attitude of
the ship--whether climbing, diving, banked or otherwise. Remarkable
little thing when you see it operate.
Germanity ingunity. This, our new oxygen regulator--all
taken from downed Nazi planes. At least they're frank about
it and tell us where they get such things.
I was up, in and above the clouds again today. If ever
you are given the opertunity of doing this, don't pass it up
Bill. For to me it is the most thrilling experience I have ever had,
and no matter how many times I do it, it still seems so. Going
through is like walking in a fog--ghostly. Bursting into the quiet
sunshine above and seeing below tumbling snow white formations
assuming shapes of whatever your imagination will
conjecture--waterfalls, water cascading from tremendous heights
without a sound, halls of marble, a million things I couldn't
attempt to describe is really unforgetable. Sometimes one of those
soft, summer afternoon, cumulus clouds will split and diving between
is like threading your way through a sea of icebergs.
I have a final in Radio Communications and aircraft
instruments tomorrow so excuse me if I cut this short with:
* * *
Sault Ste. Marie
Evening News (18 April 1945)
* * *
1ST PATHFINDER SQUADRON (M), PROVISIONAL. AAF.
APO 140, % PM, N.Y.C.
Phoebe M. Hassett
812 Swinton St.,
Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.
By this time, you have no doubt received notification
that your son, Flight Officer John T. Hassett, Jr., T-127178, has
been killed in action on an operational mission over Germany.
May I take this opportunity to convey my profound
sympathies and those of the men in the squadron at this time of
Your son, who joined us on 4 March 1945, was highly
respected as a Pilot whose ability always produced superior results.
In the short time that we had him with us, he made many friends who,
as I do, feel not only the loss of a comrade and friend, but a Pilot
whose capabilities and valuable suggestions contributed to this
great effort in which we are all engaged. I assure you that our loss
was not in vain.
On the 4th of April, the aircraft and crew,
of which your son was Co-Pilot was dispatched to lead a group of
aircraft to the target, which was an effective enemy installation in
Central Germany. On the way back, the aircraft developed engine
trouble and the Pilot, 1st Lt. William [
], prepared for
an emergency landing. The aircraft lost altitude steadily and
finally came out of a cloud bank at 750 feet. They were over a
sparsely wooded area. Under the circumstances a crash was
unavoidable. Three crew members survived the crash. Two of them
sustained serious injuries, and one, Sgt. William [
Operator Gunner) [
] escaped injury. The Navigator, F/O Robert [
is recovering and will soon return to duty. The Engineer, Sgt.
], is now in England. Lt. [
] (Pilot) and M/Sgt. Herbert
], (Armorer-Gunner) died instantly. 2nd Lt. Jerome [
(Bombardier) died shortly after the crash before help arrived,
without regaining consciousness.
After the crash, Sgt. [
] did what he could to make his
injured crew members comfortable and started off to get help.
Although suffering greatly from shock, he carried on until he met
some German civilians, who directed him to the Autobahn
(Super-Highway). He took one of the civilians with him and when they
reached the highway, they stopped a convoy, which, luckily, had an
ambulance and some nurses. They returned to the scene of the crash
and removed the crew to a hospital not very far away.
At the present time, I regret that I am unable to state
where the place of burial is, but I will notify you as soon as
Your son had completed nine (9) missions against the
enemy. The results of his ability were always excellent. You have
every reason to be proud of him. He was always ready to co-operate
and give assistance whenever needed. His gentlemanly manner and
pleasant nature endeared his comrades to him.
I remember hearing him say while being interviewed one
day, "No, I'm not married my mother is my girl." A short time ago we
received recommendations for his appointment to 2nd Lt.
in the Army of the United States. He had been recommended for the
F/O Hassett's personal effects will be forwarded to you
through the Effects Quartermaster at Kansas City, Missouri.
I feel that you may be able to find some solace in
corresponding with some of the families of the other crew members,
and I am listing the addresses of the next of kin, as follows:
Lt. Jerome [
1st Lt. William [
], Herbert [
] (Armorer-Gunner) [
sure you will be glad to hear that your son was a consistent
churchgoer. He attended Mass and Communion with Lt. [
] and Lt. [
regularly in the little Catholic Church in the village here.
Chaplain Chatham, said Mass for each deceased member of the crew on
the following day.
there is any information which you desire, that I have not set forth
in this letter, please do not hesitate to write me.
Lt. Col. A.C.
* * *
I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
sun-split clouds, --and done a hundred things
have not dreamed of--wheeled and soared and swung
in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there,
chased the shouting wind along, and flung
eager craft through footless halls of air....
up the long, delirious, burning blue
topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark nor even eagle flew
while with silent lifting mind I've trod
high untrespassed sanctity of space,
out my hand, and touched the face of God.
--J.G. Magee, 1941
Ann Arbor. MI