Children of fallen soldiers kindle connection | VailDaily.com
YOUR AD HERE »

Children of fallen soldiers kindle connection

Carrie Click

Marble resident Bettie Lou Gilbert never met her father: The 27-year-old Marine Corps pilot, Capt. Rex Murrell Heap, was killed when a Japanese shell scored a direct hit on his bunker on Oct. 14, 1942. Gilbert’s mother, Lucille, was living in La Jolla, Calif., and was six months pregnant with Bettie Lou when the news came that her husband had been killed on Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands north of Australia. Exactly three months later, on Jan. 14, 1943, Bettie was born. Now, more than 60 years later, Gilbert is getting to know her dad posthumously. About 10 years ago, she joined the American WWII Orphans Network, which put her in contact with veterans who knew and fought alongside her father. And this Memorial Day weekend, Bettie and her husband, Ray Gilbert, traveled to Washington, D.C., to attend the network’s national conference, and the formal dedication of the National World War II Memorial. “There was a real feeling this weekend that the memorial is not only for those who died, but for the veterans who served, and an entire generation who prevailed,” Gilbert said. “You have to remember that winning the war at that time was not a sure thing. We look back on World War II now and it seems like it was, but it wasn’t.” Gilbert said she talks about her father, not for others to feel sorry for her, but to understand what the consequences of war can do to families. “I’ve had a really good life,” she said. “But it’s good for people to know that once war is over, and people are happy to see men come home, it isn’t always that way. There are children and women who don’t have someone coming home.” Gilbert’s father left for the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific in August 1942, stationed first on New Caledonia, and in October, at Henderson Field on Guadalcanal. It was there in a dugout that Gilbert’s father and five other staff officers, who were taking shelter under a heavy steel plate, were shelled by a Japanese battleship. The shell, which Gilbert said was 14-inches in diameter, struck a nearby tree and exploded, piercing the steel plate and killing everyone in the bunker. When Gilbert’s grandfather received the news of his son’s death, he went out in the yard.”My cousin told me that my grandfather just wailed like a dog,” she said. Gilbert said that, while she was growing up and even now, her mother doesn’t talk about her father’s death.”It’s just too hard for her,” said Gilbert.Gilbert said it wasn’t until about 10 years ago that she started feeling she wanted to know more about her father – who he was, what part he played in World War II, and how he died. That’s when she discovered American World War II Orphans Network, and began finding her father’s service records, and details like what kind of plane he flew, what squadron he was in. She even started getting in touch with people who served with him. “Be assured, Rex Heap was a fine officer and a true gentlemen, and served his country honorably in the United States Marine Corps,” wrote Col. James H. Clark, a retired Marine Corps officer who served with Heap, in a letter to Gilbert in 1999.==========================================American WWII Orphans network AWON is a nonprofit humanitarian organization open to any son or daughter of a member of the Armed Forces, Coast Guard or Merchant Marine who was killed, went missing, or died while on active duty during World War II or as a result of wounds. Friends of those killed or those who wish to participate in AWON activities and meetings are also welcome to join. Contact: 5745 Lee Road, Indianapolis, IN 46216, 540-310-0750, http://www.awon.org.==========================================


Support Local Journalism