What did you do in the war, Daddy?

Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett here. Every year when Veterans’ Day comes around, I think of my father, William R. (Russ) Gorton. He graduated from Liberty High School in Liberty, New York in 1928, the same year my mother graduated from Liberty’s biggest rival, Monticello. They met at a dance where my father was playing piano and his best friend Tony Raffa Jr. was also in the band. I don’t know much more than that, but it was the Roaring Twenties and I have a good imagination. Mom and Dad courted from 1928 until 1935, then got married at the Presbyterian minister’s house with Daddy’s older brother, Les, and Mom’s best friend, Lil Benmosche, as witnesses. At that time, Daddy worked for New York State Electric &Gas as a meter reader and Mom was a licensed beautician.

Daddy was thirty-one when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. He immediately enlisted in the Army Air Corps (now the Air Force) and was sent to Officer Candidate School and then to Chemical Warfare School and Supply and Transportation School. At some point in his training, one of the senior officers giving trainees a hard time asked my father if he knew who he was. My father didn’t have a clue, but he later learned that he’d been hazed by none other than Clark Gable.

After being assigned to the 512th Fighter Bomber Squadron of the 9th Air Force (part of the 406th Bombardment Group) as Supply Officer, he ended up, in March 1943, at Key Field in Mississippi. My mother was able to join him there for a awhile, but it wasn’t long before he was sent to South Carolina and then transported by train to Camp Shanks, New York, a staging base for overseas movement to Europe. My father traveled to England aboard the H.M.T. Stirling Castle, a ship intended to carry 792 first and second class passengers. The 406th fighter group alone had 951 members. In all 4,755 men were aboard when she sailed on March 23, 1944 as part of a large convoy. She docked in Liverpool on April 3. Ashford, Kent was group headquarters and the members of the squadron lived in tents around the edges of the airfield. From there they made bombing runs into Europe and they provided air cover on D-Day. The entire squadron was in Normandy shortly afterward.

My father used to say they followed Patten across Europe. Their “combat operational period” was May 8, 1944-May 9, 1945. during which time they were in France, Belgium, and Germany. On one occasion, my father went up with one of the pilots and flew over Paris. Most of the time he was on the ground, first as supply officer and later in charge of all personnel problems in the squadron as Adjutant. He also supervised the Mess.

He never talked much about the war. I suspect part of the reason was that it was his job to pack up the effects of airmen who had been killed and send them home to their families. That can’t have been pleasant. He did have fond memories of Andy, the bulldog puppy the squadron adopted in England and took with them when they were deployed.


My father left Germany on October 30, 1945 and was back in the U.S., at Ft. Dix, New Jersey, on November 13. For his service, he was awarded two Presidential citations, six battle stars, and an ETO medal. After the war, he stayed in U. S. Air Force Reserves and had achieved the rank of major by the time he resigned his commission at the age of sixty-five.

As for my mother, she was never one to sit back and do nothing. During World War II, she took a job demonstrating beauty products. Despite wartime shortages, women on the home front were supposed to do their bit to keep up morale by looking pretty. While my father traveled all over Europe, she traveled all over the U.S.

And then, of course, in 1947—me.

Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett is the author of nearly sixty traditionally published books written under several names. She won the Agatha Award and was an Anthony and Macavity finalist for best mystery nonfiction of 2008 for How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries and was an Agatha Award finalist in 2015 in the best mystery short story category. She was the Malice Domestic Guest of Honor in 2014. Currently she writes the contemporary Liss MacCrimmon Mysteries (Overkilt) and the “Deadly Edits” series (Crime & Punctuation) as Kaitlyn and the historical Mistress Jaffrey Mysteries (Murder in a Cornish Alehouse) as Kathy. The latter series is a spin-off from her earlier “Face Down” mysteries and is set in Elizabethan England. Her most recent collection of short stories is Different Times, Different Crimes. Her websites are www.KaitlynDunnett.com and www.KathyLynnEmerson.com and she maintains a website about women who lived in England between 1485 and 1603 at www.TudorWomen.com

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1 Response to What did you do in the war, Daddy?

  1. Kate Flora says:

    Love this story. Wish I knew as much about my dad.



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