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Closure for family of Purple Heart recipient

Mar. 03, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

This is a story that has finally found a resting place just a stone's throw away from where it all began more than 90 years ago. It's about an American hero who died protecting a way of life that he never came to enjoy. It's a story from generations past that left thousands of American families with unanswered questions about the final days of their sons and daughters who served their country. This story is about Raymond Crawford Warren, a popular young man who enjoyed hunting in the hills near his home in Logan, played high school football and answered the call of duty with the U.S. Army Air Corps in January of 1942. He was 22 years old when he left home. That was the last time his family ever saw him.

After weeks of boot camp, Warren was transferred to Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Miss. He was trained as a radio operator and machine gunner on the twin engine medium range B-25 Bomber aircraft.

After weeks of learning the intricate operation and repair of both the 50 caliber machine gun and the radio systems installed on the B-25 aircraft, Warren was shipped to Australia and eventually to New Guinea, an island that greeted the American serviceman with dense jungles, constant rain, and such diseases as malaria, dysentery and typhus.

Official military documents indicate that the B-25 Warren was flying was shot down over Wewak, New Guinea, during a bombing raid on Aug. 18, 1943. The pilot was Maj. Ralph Cheli who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. From that date forward, the information about Warren's final days continued on speculation and second-hand information from undocumented sources.

"There are first-hand accounts of Warren surviving the plane crash with two broken ribs and an eye injury," said Warren's niece, Linda Warren Giles. "From another POW report, the last known sighting of Raymond was that he was tied to a post at the Japanese POW camp in Wewak. During an interrogation of a Japanese Dr. Harada, after the capture of Wewak, it was learned the doctor was surprised to hear of Warren's death since his injuries did not appear life-threatening. If this is the reality, it is doubtful Warren survived more than a week or so. When his captors learned that he was an enlisted man, execution seems logical."

The POW camp that Warren would have been taken to was well known for its subhuman living conditions and inhumane treatment of American prisoners.

Warren was later classified as missing in action. Eventually the Army Air Corps changed Warren's status to killed in action. His remains were never found.

Because the Army never provided proper closure with their son's remains, both his mother and father never came to terms with their son's death. In fact, according to Giles, "Until their deaths, his parents never left home without leaving a note on the front door telling their son where they were and when they expected to return. The kitchen door was always left unlocked awaiting their son's return."

Because of his parents' denial of their son's death, the family never requested a grave marker or even a burial ceremony.

Giles was 3 years old when her Uncle Ray Warren left to join the Army. Her only memories of this man are a few faded black and white photographs and a hand full of cherished stories. Yet, as the years accumulated, she and other family members began to wonder why proper recognition for her uncle's military service never came.

"Originally, recognition for Raymond, began with my uncle's great-nephew, Tom Baldwin, who lives in Houston, Texas," said Giles. "He always showed a great deal of interest in Uncle Ray. It was Tom who started the ball rolling that eventually gave Uncle Ray the recognition he so rightly deserved. I joined forces with Tom because we felt our uncle deserves the recognition for his service, and secondly, if our generation did not seek that recognition, it was never going happen."

During the course of their crusade to give their uncle the recognition he deserved, Giles has come to know how slowly the bureaucratic wheels of government rotate. Her paperwork file has grown considerably over the years. They have involved other family members, experienced setbacks, road blocks, and frustration. But in the end, their efforts paid the dividends they were searching for.

The hours of research provided by Baldwin and Giles will never answer all the questions that remain. But with the help of Sen. John D. Rockefeller's office, and the Veterans Administration, and other veteran groups, at least proper recognition has now been realized.

On Oct.14, 2006, TSGT Raymond Crawford Warren was memorialized at a graveside ceremony in Forest Lawn Cemetery, near Logan, West Virginia, a simple tribute long overdue to recognize the life and death of another American hero. There is now a marker for Raymond Crawford Warren nestled between the markers of his mother and father, Mr. and Mrs. Henry "Pop" Warren. It is a final and well-deserved tribute for another son from West Virginia who never returned but would never be forgotten.

Clyde Beal is an area freelance writer always interested in local stories of kids accomplishments, terrific pets, collections, hobbies, volunteers, and always stories of military veterans. Write him at archie350@frontier.com.