Jerre Algeo: One man, two steps, eternal thanks

November 7, 2015
Jerre Algeo Image:  Peter den Tek

Jerre Algeo
Image: Peter den Tek

The document is dated July 2, 1937, a simpler time, a harder time. Unemployment across the country had dipped to its lowest point since the beginning of the Great Depression, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was into his 2nd term, and for the first time in a long time “optimistic” was more than wishful thinking.

The words are simple enough: “George S. Algeo, a single man… of the first part, and Anna E . Algeo, June Algeo, Icae M. Algeo, and Jerre M. Algeo as joint tenants, parties of the second part…does by these presents Grant, Bargain and Sell, Convey and Confirm unto the said parties of the second part, their hers and assigns, the following described Lots, Tracts, or Parcels of Land.

And so it was, with those few simple words, in that far simpler time, that one Jerre M. Algeo became joint owner in one Barton County, Missouri farm.

Five years later Jerre would find himself living in a time that was spinning out of control faster than he could have ever been imagined and facing a situation that was anything but simple.

By the summer of 1942 the United States was fully immersed into what we now refer to as the Second World War. The twisted hulks of Pearl Harbor were being re-purposed to fight again, Doolittle had had his “30 seconds” over Tokyo, and the battle of Midway had just sent 4 carriers of the Imperial Navy of the Empire of Japan to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.

The might of America’s armed forces was punching back at her enemies but the outcome was still anything but certain and the slog ahead was guaranteed to be long and hard.

It was against that backdrop of history that a letter arrived from the Selective Service System; Jerre was being drafted.

As a farmer, critical to the food production for a nation at war, he could have easily received an exemption from military service. But as an American male of the time Jerre was in no mood to be an exemption. His role was not as a cog in the machinery behind the war, his role was the front line that would win that war.

He sold the equipment, moved his sister to town, and answered the call.

On October 1, 1942 Jerre was inducted into the United States Army and via Harlingen, Texas, Salt Lake City, Utah and Boise, Idaho he made his way to England. On the morning of July 28, 1943, Jerre and the 9 others that made up the crew of B-17 42-3116 (Patches to her crew) took off from USAAF Alconbury, Huntingdonshire, England on a mission to bomb the Fiesseler aircraft plant at Kassel, Germany.

It was their first, and last, mission of the war.

They made it to the target for a successful bomb run, but on the return flight to England, Patches was hit by German flak and forced to fall out of formation.

Her end was a fait acommpli.

As 5 Focke-Wulfe 190’s and their 20mm cannon begin shredding what was left of her, pilot Harold Porter gives the order to bail out. Ball turret gunner Sebastian Stavella described the final moments:

“We were attacked by five FW190s. They were hitting us from all sides. Things happened so fast. As I was sitting in the ball-turret I noticed parachutes going by underneath. I didn’t know what was going on because my intercom system and warning signal were destroyed. I had no contact with inside the ship. When I looked up, I saw the pilot coming through the bomb bay and he was waving his arms. The two waist gunners were still there and, of course, I was there. The rest of the crew had already bailed out and that’s what I saw going underneath the ball turret.

I quickly got into position to get out of the ball turret and as I did an FW190 attacked the side of the ship and hit it with a 20milimeter, ripping off the side of the ship and hitting one of our waist gunners, killing him. The other waist gunner was hit in the back with shrapnel and of course I had a little shrapnel wound too. I had no chute on; you can’t wear a chute in the ball turret because there is very little space.

I got my chute on. The waist gunners were gone, except for Jerry, who was just lying there, full of blood. I’m sorry for that.”

Patches would continue on in auto-pilot until finally breaking apart over the Dutch countryside. The body of Jerre Algeo remaining with her until the very end, coming down with the tail section over a ditch outside the village of Gorinchem.

It was almost three weeks before Jerre’s body was finally recovered from the wreckage by the occupying Germans and initially buried at Schelluinen cemetery. He was re-interred after the war to share his final resting place with 8,301 fellow Americans at the Netherlands American Cemetery outside the village of Margraten. Each and every grave at Margraten has been adopted by families, businesses, or local groups who ensure that their sacrifice will never be forgotten. To this day, 70 years after the end of the war, a waiting list of over 100 still stands ready to adopt a grave should the need arise.

Last month, I had a chance to see for the first time the land that 73 years ago Jerre Algeo saw for the last time.

It was a perfect October afternoon. All that remained of the morning cloud cover were a few puffs of white moving briskly across their deep blue canvas, as if trying to catch up to the front already passed. The air was crisp with a bit of a chill yet tempered by a sun determined to stay relevant as fall pushed its way in.

Railroad tracks still in use today split the farm into two adjacent triangles. Grassland to the south, a newer, replacement barn and house to the north. I couldn’t help but wonder how many times Jerre had heard the old steam locomotives pass in the night. Had he stood there as a wide eyed kid in the middle of a Missouri summer waving at the Engineer, the fireman, the brakeman in the caboose? Dreaming one day, he too would ride the rails.

Standing there, alone with the peace of a gentle breeze, the knowledge of what he gave up and the sacrifice he made, was to say the least, a moment I shall never forget. But what jerked the emotion right out of me were two simple concrete steps; the top one, having carved in cursive in its lower right corner, a single word: “Algeo”.

And it came over me that standing atop those two simple steps was not just the memory of Jerre, but the spirit of each and every man and woman who from the very beginning of this great nation has put the “exception” into American exceptionalism.

The Jerre’s of America are eternal. They were there before the war, they were there during and they are with us today and through the thousands of tomorrows to come.

“They” are the men and women of America’s armed forces and their dedication and sacrifice has no equal. Our thanks will never be enough, our gratitude never fully felt.

So as we give our veterans their “day” this year, it is imperative that we remember they deserve so very much more. If you can’t find a vet to thank in person, say a prayer or take a moment; Anything, just do something, in your own way, that none be forgotten.

God rest your soul Jerre Algeo and God bless each and every one of your brothers and sisters, past, present and future.

Jerre Algeo's final resting place.  American Cemetery, Margraten, Netherlands

Jerre Algeo’s final resting place. American Cemetery, Margraten, Netherlands












PUBLISHER’s NOTE:  An condensed version of this column appears in the Sunday, November 8, 2015 print edition of the Joplin Globe.

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