1LT Peter L. Whelan
12th AAF, 27th Fighter/Bomber Group, H.Q.,
earlier of the 522nd Squadron
Killed while flying in the Service of his Country
11 September, 1944, on Mt. d' Annoisin, France
What I know of my father, this young man with the All-American smile,
comes from a large stack of letters, and an album compiled by my mother.
My research broadens facts into a definite composite of the father
whom I never knew:
Peter Whelan, said by family and friends to be a sincere, great guy,
was graduated at the top of his high school class. His voice was true and
rich, so he sang solo in his church choir. He could fix anything.
A gift for the written word was his. This talent is reflected in his
touchingly beautiful and descriptive letters to my mother, posted
Before enlistment, my father attended the University of Notre Dame,
then began a career in banking. After enlisting in the Army Air Corps,
he was sent in the spring of l942, to O.C.S. at Miami Beach. Upon
earning his commission, he married his true love, Nan, my mother,
on August 28, 1942.
By all accounts, my mother and father were similar emotionally,
intellectually and even spiritually. A great match. He wrote upon his
card to her on one occasion: "To the only girl I ever want to love."
My father's overseas orders came at the end of l942. By January of
l943, he was in North Africa. My mother returned home to wait for
him. She also awaited my birth, which was to come in July of l943.
The letters began, and the rest of the story unfolds... a continued
romance over the miles and across the ocean. Through the letters, I
trace his route through North Africa, Sicily, Italy, England, Corsica,
and southern France. The letters give witness to his determination,
humor, character, optimism, and deep love for my mother. And through
written words, very subtle references to the reality, horror and
destruction of war, are nonetheless obvious to the latter-day reader.
While overseas, he received word that his father died. Three months
later, in July of l943, he had news that his baby was born. Sorrow,
joy...so far away from home, as History unfolded before him:
My father saw the triumphal visit of King George VI in North Africa.
He endured the terror of the Salerno Invasion in September, l943. There
he and members of his Group were pinned down near the beach trying to
reach an airbase. He witnessed preparations for D-Day, for he was
sent on Detached Service to England in late April, l944 (The goal was
to train him for the Invasion, so he could return to his Group in
Italy, then give instruction, in preparation for a similar Invasion of
southern France). Rejoining his Group in Italy, in June of
l944, he saw the Liberation of Rome. He was present at a huge
audience for Pope Pius XII. And now I know that William ("Billy")
Wyler filmed the 27th Group in Corsica as they readied for Invasion of
southern France, August l5, l944.
On the final morning of his life, my father flew aboard a B-25D, along
with fourteen other young men, to reach a new airfield captured a few
days before from fleeing Germans. Surrounding the field was a range of
cliff-like mountains, shrouded in dense clouds.
According to the crash report, the pilot had radioed a message to the
tower (sent in code) warning that the plane was coming in on just one
engine. It was to be an emergency landing. And mountain-top visibility
within the clouds was estimated "not over fifty feet and about a hundred
yards." Striking its crest, the plane rose to smash the roof of a small
chapel. There were no survivors.
H.H. "Hap" Arnold, Commanding General, A.A.F. wrote on Oct. 26, l944:
"...My attention has been called to the excellent reputation Lieutenant
Whelan had...and to the high standard of his performance. His many
comrades, who liked him for his upright character and genial
disposition, share in your bereavement....your husband was a competent
officer who unselfishly gave his best for our cause..."
H.H. Arnold, General, Army Air Forces
Captain John B. Bell wrote on Oct.23, 1944:
...."The chaplain has details of locating his
beloved body, and his soul, without a shadow of a doubt, rests with the
angels...Pete was too good to live...he is the cleanest and purest
person who ever breathed a breath...No more wars for him and I wish I
knew of some way to console his loving and devoted wife and baby...I am
an admirer of his clean morals and I wish I could be 1/10th the man he
is. He shall live forever...Congratulations for any mother to have a
son like him. The entire group bereaves his loss and joins me in
extending the very deepest and most profound feeling of hurt so deep
that we shall never find another Pete. We know how much more he means
to his blood and kin...Believe me when I say we grieve with you."
One of Pete's best friends,
Captain John B. Bell, A.C.
Russell Brooks, American Consul in Lyon, wrote September l9, l945:
"..a very small..village..but its inhabitants unanimously decided to give
these dead an honorable burial and to commemorate their names at the
scene... plaque was unveiled on September l6, l945...above it, a large
banner bearing the words 'Thank-you, United States'..It is with greatest
sympathy and understanding that I have again recalled to you the tragic
death of your husband, but I could not let the occasion pass without
also bringing to your attention the fact that the heart of France and
its love for the United States are still strong..."
Very truly yours,
Russell Brooks American Consul
More recently, on February 17, 1998, Ralph "Klink" Klinger wrote:
"You can tell your children that Lt. Peter Whelan was one of THE finest
officers this Pennsylvania Dutchman ever served under.. he and I were on
many a scary trip together..."
Good luck and God bless,
-- Ann Whelan O'Connor --
In his memory, and close to my heart, always....