When I look at names and dates on the many branches of my family tree, certain things catch my eye and I want to look further to maybe find a story there. One thing I notice is if the death dates for young men fall during the time of a war or conflict that the United States may have been involved in. Once such date led me to an interesting story.
James Stafford, Jr. had a death date of 1944. The original birth date I had was 1916, but neither dates were confirmed by good sources. So I decided to look a little closer.
First, James, Jr. is related through my Paternal ancestors. His father, James Stafford, Sr. (1857-1928) was the brother of my GG Grandmother, Priscilla Stafford McKinley (1859-1941). Per his Indiana Birth Certificate available on Ancestry.com, he was born January 1, 1917 in Indianapolis, IN to James Stafford & Catherine Loring at home, 2913 McPherson Avenue.
He shows up in the US Census records in Indianapolis through 1940. At that time he was listed as an Order Clerk for a Wholesale Drug company.
His WWII Draft card, also available on Ancestry.com gives his residence as 3247 Schofield, Indianapolis, IN. He works for Kiefer Stewart Co. On the back of the card, he is described as 5ft 10 3/4in, 200 pounds, with brown eyes, brown hair and ruddy complexion.
The Ancestry.com database of US World War II Army Enlistment records 1938-1946 indicates that he enlisted at Indianapolis, IN on January 16, 1943. He married Alberta Grass (1913-2011) the next day, January 17, 1943. James and Alberta were co-workers at the Kiefer-Stewart Company.
According to his obituary in The Indianapolis News, he entered the service on January 27, 1943 and received his basic training at Camp Wheeler, GA. He went overseas after Basic and was stationed in Australia. From there he went to New Guinea.
Searching a little more, I found a link from Ancestry.com to Findagrave.com. This site indicated that James died on New Guinea. There was also part of a transcribed article recounting his last hours that had no source citation, only that it was from the “Chicago Tribune Press Service.” So on to another search, this time on Newspapers.com to see if I could find the original article & I got lucky.
The full article was on the front page of the Friday, May 12, 1944 issue of the Chicago Tribune. The title was “YANK FIGHTS TO LAST HEARTBEAT. His Commander Writes Hoosier’s Epitaph.” It was written by Arthur Veysey and attributed to the Chicago Tribune Press Service out of Hollandia, Dutch New Guinea, May 11:
“The Hoosier infantryman staggered as he came out of the swamp into the tall Dutch Guinea grass. If only he could rest for a while. For three days he had been beating thru the jungle, sloshing in mud, wading in chest-high swamp water, plowing thru grass sometimes over his head. Twenty-four miles the infantryman and his buddies had gone.
Haven in Sight. But now, this April 25, the end was in sight. Just across a grass flat and over a ridge lay the Cyclops airdrome. Then there would be rest. So Pvt. James Stafford of Indianapolis, Ind., gritted his teeth harder, took a new grip on his Garand rifle and in the low crouch that becomes the natural stance in jungle fighting pressed on thru the grass. Three times he fell, but each time stood again. “Better fall out,” his sergeant said. Stafford shook his head. “Then take it easier.” Stafford nodded. Now they were going up a knoll. Twice more Stafford slumped into a heap, but both times got up. At the crest the company paused. Stafford stretched out. Wild shouts roused him. There was the crackle of gunfire. Thirty [Japanese soldiers] were charging up the slope. After a while the gunfire died out momentarily, but there was no rest.
Fire and Reload! Then a second [Japanese] attack came. Thirty more this time, with bayonets fixed. Fire and reload! Fire and reload! The [Japanese] danced before Stafford’s eyes.
At last the enemy was wiped out. First aid men went along the firing line. They found Stafford unwounded but in a coma. In two hours he was dead. When Col. O.P. Newman heard about Stafford he recommended that the distinguished service cross be sent to his parents. Said the commander: “He gave his energy to the last drop.””
Private Stafford was one of many US Army soldiers who landed on New Guinea in April 1944. Only 3 days into the battle he most likely succumbed to heat stroke. Interestingly, his death date on his headstone is April 24, 1944.
His death was reported in The Indianapolis News, Saturday, May 13, 1944, p1. The report indicated that his wife received word of his death May 6. The short article included this photograph:
A search on the American Battle Monuments Commission website <abmc.gov> gives the following regarding Private James Stafford: His service # 35581675, Unit 186th Infantry Regiment, 41st Infantry Division, buried in the Manila American Cemetery, McKinley Road, Fort Bonifacio, Philippines in Plot A Row 12 Grave 68. He is listed as receiving the Purple Heart and Silver Star.
One final note about James Stafford, Jr. The findagrave.com site had another clipping of an unsourced news article that quoted his wife, Alberta. She states, “Jim’s death was not in vain. What we already have accomplished proves that. We must not stop. We must go on. I know inside what Jim died for.”
May we always remember what they all died for & the sacrifice they gave for the freedoms we have.
© MJM 2023