On March 14th, hundreds of us huddled in the snow on Brighton High School’s Reifsteck field. In a powerful and moving ceremony, the names of the 17 victims of the Parkland, FL shootings were read.
After the event, I noticed a plaque in the lobby of Brighton High School: a gift of the class of 1945 to honor BHS alums who died in World War II. Although I graduated from BHS, I can’t recall looking closely at the plaque. That day, reading the names of the 14 young men who perished resonated with the deaths of the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
To be sure, dying in a senseless school shooting is different than fighting Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan. But the tragedy of young lives ended too early is the same — as we saw at yesterday’s March for Our Lives at Washington Square Park. Even though it was over 70 years ago — yet no different from today — I thought of the families whose dreams for their children were lost.
Through internet searches, I discovered the gravesites of seven and at the Brighton Memorial Library found several yearbook pictures. Many were only 21 or 22 when they died. The most well known is Edward Reginald Crone. Buried in Mount Hope Cemetery, Crone was Kurt Vonnegut’s model for the character Billy Pilgrim in his novel Slaughterhouse Five. Perhaps the most poignant is Paul C. Zaenglein who died in a bombing mission over Kyusliu, Japan just seven days before V-J day and the end of the war.
Not surprisingly, not much information is in the archives. The stories they left behind are short stories.
Paul A. Beamon (13 May 1919 – 12 Jan 1941)
Beamon served as a Private in the 1st Signal Company, 1st Division, 1st Army, U.S. Army. He enlisted in the Army on September 30, 1940 in Rochester, New York. He died in Binghamton, New York of a traffic accident while on leave prior to World War II.
Robert F. Behnke (23 July 1923 – 16 Aug 1944)
Behnke served as a Technical Sergeant & Radio Operator on B-17G #43-37693, 369th Bomber Squadron, 306th Bomber Group, U.S. Army Air Force during World War II. He resided at 51 Kirk Drive, Rochester, prior to the war. Behnke enlisted in the Army on January 16, 1943. He was noted as being Single, without dependents. Behnke was “Killed In Action” when his B-17, after being hit by enemy flak which cause two engines to catch fire, crashed near Leipzig, Germany during the war. He was awarded a “Distinguished Flying Cross”, Air Medal with 2 Oak Leaf Clusters, and the Purple Heart.
Monroe Earl Billings (6 Apr 1915 – 6 Mar 1944 )
Ogdensburg Journal – Friday March 10, 1944
“Flight Commander Monroe Erle Billings who was killed in an airplane crash in Kansas City, Mo. were held at Fairview Cemetery this morning at 11 o’clock. Prayer services were held previously at the R. B. Lawrence Funeral Home.
The Rev. Hugh S. Tigner presided and a military escort was present. Flight Commander Billings was the son of the late Erie and Inez Bush Billings of Canton.”
Edward R. Crone Jr. 26 Apr 1923 – 11 Apr 1945)
Born Edward Reginald Crone, he was a student at Hobart and William Smith in Geneva, New York when he enlisted in the Army in the spring of 1943. Crone was sent to the Advanced Engineering School at the University of Alabama but was eventually was sent to the European Theatre of Operations with the 106 Infantry. Crone’s unit took part in the Battle of the Bulge where he was captured in the Ardennes. Along with 150 other prisoners he was dispatched to Dresden, Germany in cattle cars where they were housed in a meat-packing plant. Living on starvation rations, the prisoners took part in forced labor clearing the city of rubble and bodies after the Allied firebombing. Crone, though suffering from malnutrition, tended to trade his food for candy whenever possible. He died less than a month before the end of the European war and was interred in Dresden. Following the war, his family had his remains brought back to the United States for interment in Rochester, NY. Fellow POW Kurt Vonnegut eventually admitted that he used Crone as the role model for the character of Billy Pilgrim in his novel Slaughterhouse Five.
Ross C. Danford (1923 – 5 Nov 1944)
Son of Mrs. Grace Danford who resided in Rochester, NY. Danford served as a Private in the 334th Infantry Regiment, 84th Infantry Division, U.S. Army during World War II. He resided at 1962 Monroe Avenue, Rochester, prior to the war. He enlisted in the Army on January 2, 1943. He was noted, at the time of his enlistment, as being employed with Camera Works as a Clerk and also as Single, with dependents. Danford was “Killed In Action” near Geilenkirchen, Germany during the war. He was awarded the Purple Heart.
Leo A. Gertin (10 Aug 1924 – 11 Aug 1944)
Gertin served as a First Lieutenant & Pilot, 319th Fighter Squadron, 325th Fighter Group, U.S. Army
Air Force during World War II. He resided at 134 Orchard Drive, Rochester prior to the war. Gertin, who normally flew a P-51, died while testing a B-25 when one of the engines caught fire causing him to crash in Southern Italy in the “Line Of Duty” during the war. Gertin completed 29 Missions during the war.
Lee H. Streeter (birth unknown – 8 Apr 1944)
Streeter served as a Second Lieutenant on a B-24 Bomber in the 733rd Bomber Squadron, 453rd Bomber Group, Heavy, U.S. Army Air Force during World War II. He resided at 51 Sonora Parkway, Rochester, prior to the war. He was “Killed In Action” over Brunswich during the war. He was awarded an Air Medal and a Purple Heart. Streeter is buried in the Lorraine American Cemetery and Memorial in Saint-Avold, Departement de la Moselle, Lorraine, France.
Streeter graduated from the University of Rochester in 1944. His name is on the plaque of the fallen in the UR’s Wilson Commons.
Paul C. Zaenglein (24 Jun 1924 – 7 Aug 1945)
Zaenglein served as a First Lieutenant & navigator on a B-24J #44-41494, 431st Bomber Squadron, 11th Bomber Group, U.S. Army Air Force during World War II. He resided at 121 Southern Pkwy., Rochester, prior to the war. Zaenglein was first declared “Missing In Action” and later, when his remains were found, he was noted as “Killed In Action.” He was on his 23rd mission while flying in the lead plane in a bombing mission over Kyusliu, Japan. Zaenglein was awarded a Purple Heart. He was first interred overseas and later re-interred here on December 22, 1948.