Fayette County

Lt. John E. Wagner

Photo: Upper Iowa University yearbook, 1945




Met Death in the Southwest Pacific Area on October 18, According to War Dept. Message

Second Lt. John E. Wagner, 24, was killed in action in the Southwest Pacific area on Oct. 18, according to a wire received from the war department by his sister, Miss Effie Wagner of Waterloo.

Following is the message received: "The Secretary of war desires that I tender his deep sympathy to you in the loss of your brother, Second Lt. John E. Wagner. Report received states that he was killed in action on the 18th of October in Southwest area. Letter will follow."

Lieutenant Wagner was a bombardier in the army air forces. He enlisted in the air corps January 27, 1941, and attended schools in Santa Ana and the army air base in California, receiving the coveted silver wings on Dec. 17, 1942, as an aerial bombardier from the air force advanced flying school at Kirkland Field, Albuquerque, N.M. Upon graduation he was stationed at El Paso, Tex. He went overseas in the Pacific area (New Guinea) in June 1943.

The last of August he was on a 7-day leave in Sydney, Australia, and met and talked with Lieut. Robert L. Burdick. He was the only person whom he had known in the states that he had ever met in the South Pacific or even during his training in the western states.

Graduate of Fayette H.S.

John was born Nov. 1, 1919, at Cedar Falls, attended schools in Cedar Falls, Janesville, and graduated from Fayette high school in 1939. He was a student at Upper Iowa University in 1940.

During high school he was a member of the football squad. He was a youth well liked and highly respected by all who knew him.

Besides his mother, Mrs. Effie Wagner, he is survived by a brother, William, at home, a sister, Effie M., of 520 Dawson St., Waterloo, and an aunt, Miss Elsie Pornityle, of Waterloo.

Last May, Lt. Wagner was on a 7-day furlough and visited his mother and family at their homes 31/2 miles northwest of town.

The family are members of the Zion Lutheran church, West Union, and John E. was confirmed there in 1936. A memorial service will be held later, but arrangements will await more complete information that will be received by the family.

Source: Fayette County Leader, October 28, 1943


Service of Tribute Will Be Held in Zion Lutheran Church in West Union Next Sunday

A Memorial Service for the late Lieut. John E. Wagner will be held Sunday, Dec. 5, at Zion Lutheran church, West Union, at 8 p.m., Rev. C. Bartels, pastor. Lieut. Wagner was a member of this church, having been confirmed there in 1936.

His mother, Mrs. Edith Wagner, who lives 3 1/2 miles northwest of Fayette, recently received the Order of the "Purple Heart", posthumous award to John Nov. 13, "for military merit and for wounds received in action which resulted in his death Oct. 18, 1943" John's father, the late Frank Wagner, preceded him in death in February, 1941.

Recently the family received a letter from a friend of John, who had gone through cadet and phase training with him. They went to the South Pacific together and were at the same base. The letter contained the following:

Plane Crashed in Water

"We had been on a big strike that day - a long one. The pilot (O'Neal) was in the hospital and was not flying with his crew, so another pilot took over. While coming in, to land, after returning from the mission, the plane crashed in the water; just another minute and they would have made it. Julian Petty, co-pilot, was the only one who Accepter got out. Anyway, Johnny is buried in the American cemetery here...It is very hard to see so many of your close friends go down - Mac, Johnny and Jack (Jack the navigator from Quincy, Ill., was a very close friend of John's and was a member of his crew.) I have very few friends left. We can't understand these things. In a way it all seems so unfair and so unnecessary. But during these darkest days I have found a great consolation in my church, although at first I was inclined to rebel against the will of God. Still I know it must be done. We can only try to strengthen our faith and hope in an after-life...

"John's crew had built themselves a sort of house fashioned from bamboo and lumber, and a screen porch. They begged and borrowed lumber. They made chairs and tables, also got a reflector from a plane, to make it as homelike as possible. The fellows had a garden. John had radishes from his garden in September and had tomatoes and cabbage planted, as they then had spring. He planted seeds his mother sent him."

The following letter from Major Harold M. Brecht, commander of the air squadron of which John was a member, was received by John's mother:

Courageous as Bombardier

"When the plane in which he was a bombardier crashed while returning from a mission on an enemy target, your son had been a bombardier in the squadron only a short period of time, but he had made a friend of every man that met him. It may comfort you to know that he was performing his chosen duty at the time of the crash, that of hitting the enemy with all his strength whenever possible. The example of courage, friendliness and good sportsmanship which he set will always be a beacon to all of us. John gave his life for something we all hold dear. You have been reading of the wonderful work our forces have been doing in this theatre of war. John was always in the midst of it, and showed himself to be a man of whom you may always be proud. We will miss him both as a soldier and a friend. Not only was he an excellent bombardier, but in every way proved himself to be a fine officer and a gentleman. He had the admiration and respect of all the men who knew him, through his courage and devotion to duty. May I emphasize my own personal sense of loss."

Accepted Difficult Missions

A letter to John's sister, Effie, from Gen. H.H. Arnold of the U.S. Army Air Forces, stated that John "established a fine reputation as an officer in the Army Air Forces: self-reliant and tenacious of purpose, he accepted difficult missions with enthusiasm, and completed them in his characteristically trustworthy manner. His courage under enemy fire long will be remembered by his comrades, who are saddened by the loss of a loyal friend. I hope the knowledge of the esteem held for your brother and the memory that he made the supreme sacifice for our country will add to your pride in him and with the passing of time will alleviate your grief."

Last Letter Received

The day before John's death his mother received a letter from him in which he said in part: "I don't get to go to church often, and I have told you why before. Today was different, and we dedicated a new chapel which has been built. I hope you folks go to church every Sunday. During these times not going to church or praying is sort of breaking faith with the boys out here, who are fighting and dying so that you people will always have that privilege. It is also breaking faith with your own son. You must go to church and pray for me -- that I may come home again. It doesn't cost anything, and it is worth more than anything else this world has to offer. Won't you pray for us?"

Source: Fayette County Leader, December 2, 1943