Cincinnati woman reflects on family's legacy of military service and perseverance
A U.S. Army Air Force Lieutenant from Dayton, Ohio was killed during a World War II bombing mission 80 years ago this week.
First Lt. Howard L. Dickson was 30-years-old in the summer of 1943. His plane was shot down on August 1 of that year.
After years of efforts to have Dickson’s remains verified and returned to the U.S., one of the grandchildren he never knew, tells us that soon he’ll be laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery.
Transcript (edited lightly for length and clarity):
Jenny Ryan: My name is Jenny Ryan, and I am the granddaughter of 1st Lt. Howard Lawrence Dickson. We knew him as Larry. His story isn't complete, he died at such a young age, so there's still quite a bit of his story that's missing. But what we do know of him, he was beloved. His mother always raved about how he was her favorite of he and his three siblings, and she just thought the world of him.
My grandfather, Larry Dickson, was born and raised in Dayton, Ohio. He went to the University of Dayton where he met and married Adeline Ambrose.
My mother was born in 1939. Her name was Gerry or Geraldine Dickson and her story is a sad one because her mother died three months after she was born from tuberculosis, and my mother felt a lot of guilt for that, undeserved guilt because her mother probably should never have gotten pregnant and should have never borne a child. It deteriorated her health, and I know my mother felt quite a bit of guilt for that, which, no amount of counseling can make you work through. But as her family would always say, 'Hey, she loved you. She wanted to have you and she did all that she could to make sure you were born happy and healthy.' I think that speaks to the love that she had for my mother. Then she lost her father at the age of four.
Again, she felt lost, abandoned and I think that it was a pervasive feeling that she felt throughout her life. It's hard to kind of go through that loss, and one great thing that helped her was Larry's younger sister, Natella Dickson Bova. She was one of the people who helped raise her, so, she was raised by her grandparents and her aunt and uncle Anthony and their daughter Paula. She was able to have a bit of a family. She had her first cousin who she grew up alongside of—very much a sisterly relationship—and despite all of that loss, she loved them all.
But she was honored to be their daughter, thankful for her parents giving her life. To this day we thank Adeline and Larry to bring such a beautiful person into the world.
In 1942, Larry enlisted in the Army Air Force, and he was stationed as an intelligence officer on the ground. His mother was thrilled that he wasn't in action, but that wasn't good enough for him. He wanted to be more of an integral part and be able to do missions, so, he eventually was transferred to become a gunner instructor. When he wasn't on duty, he actually volunteered on many missions to learn more about the plane, to be a gunner in some of the missions but a large part of what he did was just a go and provide some companionship for the other members of the plane. He would read Shakespeare to them to try to get their minds off the incoming battle. The fact that he did over 25 missions because he wanted to, I think, speaks a lot to the type of man he was.
On August 1st of 1943, the U.S. held a large offensive to bomb the Axis' fuel refineries in Ploesti, Romania. My grandfather, because that's what he did, volunteered again on this mission to actually work the gunner position on the plane. During that mission, the plane was shot down by anti-aircraft guns, and of the 11 crew members on board, five were killed, three survived but were captured, and then three were missing in action, including my grandfather. He and the other two members that were pronounced missing in action in August of 1943, they were eventually determined to be killed in action in November of that year.
When he was determined to be killed in action, they had a memorial service, and my mother was invited to come because she was his next of kin. She was only four years old at the time and she does remember being frightened because she was the only child. I mean, most of the fallen soldiers were either represented by spouses or parents. She remembers asking her grandmother, 'Can you walk up there with me?' She received his medals and as an adult, she looks back and was thrilled that she was able to be there.
Fast forward to 2015, my mother, as well as two cousins, were contacted by the Casualty and Mortuary Affairs Division of the Army Past Conflict Reparations Branch. They reached out to my grandfather's family members to get their DNA trying to identify his remains. My mother passed away in 2017, so she wasn't able to see everything come to fruition, but we were very pleased to learn in August of 2022, that there was a chance that they might be able to find some of his remains. In November of 2022, we got the call to say that his remains were positively identified. There was no doubt about it was him.
We did decide to honor our mother's wishes and bury him in Arlington Cemetery.
My grandfather's legacy, his bravery inspired us. For myself and my two sisters, we admire that bravery and thank him for fighting for freedom, for our country, and we are very proud to say we are his granddaughters.