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Robert E. Daw, Jr. from the small community of Joaquin, Texas became a fighter pilot during World War II. He was born on January 4th, 1922 to Robert Earnest Daw, Sr. (1900-1964) and Christine Irish Daw (1901-1969). Robert Jr. or June as he was known by was an only child. I would like to thank Jack Irish who provided me a copy of a eulogy he presented to the family at an August 2012 family reunion about his cousin June. June was a good looking guy growing up with an excellent physical build that contributed to his being a great athlete. He grew up during the depression but his father being a steamfitter made good money. In 1937 they moved to his mother’s farm that she had inherited from her father.
June graduated as the Valedictorian of the Joaquin High School class of 1940. That fall he enrolled at Texas A & M and became the first member of the Irish family to attend college. He was majoring in chemical engineering and lived in what was called a project house with 12 to 25 other students who did their own cooking and cleaning which significantly lowered college expenses. Coming from a small east Texas school June found he was behind many of his fellow students but with hard work and determination he caught up with his classmates.
As the junior year began the world changed forever with the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941. The plan at A & M was for the junior class to finish the spring semester, receive their commissions and wait to be called to active duty. June who was studying chemical warfare in ROTC wanted to fly so he dropped out of school and joined the Army Air Corps. It was almost one year before he was called to active duty and he spent that time working at the Hughes Tool Company in Lake Charles, Louisiana. He was then ordered to active duty on February 18th, 1943 and spent the next 18 months in the Aviation Cadet Program. It was a grueling program of which half did not finish. June was given advanced training in the P-47 Thunderbolt Fighter that was at the time the largest and heaviest plane to be powered by a single engine. It was equipped with eight 50 caliber machines guns and 2500 pounds of bombs. I can imagine it lit up the eyes of every fighter pilot who came close to it. In April 1944 Second Lieutenant Robert E. Daw, Jr. graduated and received his silver pilot wings.
Before receiving his orders to France in October 1944 June narrowly escaped death while training in Richmond, Virginia. The Champion Newspaper of April 5, 1945 reported that his plane crashed and caught fire as it landed and he was pulled from the plane just before it exploded. The 362nd Fighter Group he joined in France had been in combat since November 1943 and moved frequently to support ground troops. The Prosnes Airfield he was assigned to had a runway that was described as “pierced steel planking and the taxiways were tar paper over dirt”. They were billeted (housed) in tents and there was mud everywhere. In a letter to his mother, June wrote “we are living out in tents and it’s very muddy and nasty, but we do all right – if I only can get a bath”.
The pilots flew about every three days and as cousin Jack told the family “if you survived, you get to try it again”. In early November 1944 the 362nd moved their field closer to the ground troops but bad weather limited the number of missions they could fly. The Battle of the Bulge began on December 16th, 1944 when Hitler launched a major offensive through the densely forested Ardennes region in Belgium, France and Luxembourg. December 30th saw a counter offensive by the 3rd and 1st Armies and was one of the greatest and most costly battles of WW II. The American victory that day was the turning point in the battle and was the last mission for 22 year old Lieutenant Robert Daw.
I obtained an official copy of the Missing Aircrew Report dated February 8th, 1945. The mission was from Etain, France to Bastogne, France for close air support and return to Etain. Weather was overcast at 4000 feet with visibility of 3 miles. The time was 1600 hours (4:00 p.m.). The aircraft was a P47D-11, serial number 42-125294, nickname “Spunky” and was installed with 50 caliber machine guns. There was one person aboard, Daw, Robert Ernest, Jr., 2nd Lt. Serial Number 0-829827. There was an eyewitness statement in the report from 1st Lt. Robert J. Racine who had been in contact with June by radio. His statement is as follows “I was flying Blue three with Lt. Daw on my wing on a mission in the Bastogne Area. We were strafing armed vehicles on the edge of a woods. On our last pass I looked back and saw Lt. Daw going over the edge of the forest very low. In a few moments I looked back and saw Lt. Daw going straight off his pass about 100 feet off the ground. About the same time Lt. Daw sounding very excited called over the radio that he just flew through some trees and he was going it. Red leader not understanding his call told him to bail out if he was in trouble. Lt. Daw then called again that the engine was dead and he was going in. From the time he first hit the woods till his last call over the radio was enough time for him to reach good ground to belly in and possibly on our side of the front lines. It is not known whether he did or not. This took place at 1600 hours about 17 miles southeast of Bastogne”.
About two weeks later his mother received a telegram telling her that June was “missing in action”. The following week she received a letter from his commanding officer. “Lt. Daw was strafing tanks when his plane was hit. He made a safe landing in a snow covered field. The crash site was only one mile from American lines and they arrived at the site in one hour. There was no blood in the cockpit. He is probably now a "prisoner of war" He also explained that the weather had turned so bad that the only pilots flying that day were volunteers."
Confirmation of June’s death came two months later in a telegram. He had been killed in action on December 30th, 1944 and his body was buried in the American Cemetery in Luxembourg.
A memorial service was held at Joaquin Baptist Church on Sunday afternoon, May 6, 1945 at 3:00 o’clock for Lt. Robert E. Daw (June Daw). The following service paying for deserved tribute to this fine young man who has given his life for his country was held: Song, “Precious Memories”, Quartet Mrs. S. H. Sanders, Mrs. Edith Mill, Choe Muldrow and Campbell; Prayer, Rev. Gipson, pastor of Joaquin Baptist Church; Life of Lt. Daw, D. D. Dunham, Superintendent of Joaquin High School; Song, “I’ll Meet You at the Gate”, by Quartet; Address, Judge D. R. Taylor; Solo, “My Buddy” by Choc Muldrow; Sermon, Rev. Joe Smith; Presenting of Flag by two Boy Scouts of Joaquin, Taylor Johnson and Don Brown; Closing Prayer by Ed Bolton”. (Note: Boy Scout Taylor Johnson would later become Major Taylor Johnson, US Army and be killed in action while piloting a helicopter in Vietnam on January 26th, 1966).
June’s family chose to bring his body home in 1948 and the Champion Newspaper, September 2, 1948 reported the following “Reburial rites for Second Lieutenant Robert E. Daw, US Army Air Corps, son of Mr. and Mrs. R. E. Daw of Houston will be held Thursday, September 2nd at 2 p.m. at the First Baptist Church in Joaquin. Rev. V. E. Gibson and Chaplain Russell Whiteside officiating. The remains were brought to Joaquin on the 10:20 train Wednesday, September 1st. They were carried to the home of Mrs. Ann Irish until final rites were held. The body was accompanied by military escort and full military honors were paid at the cemetery where the American Legion Post of Center had charge of the services”. Cousin Jack said that at the funeral David Dunham, who was the Superintendent of Joaquin Schools said “the death of June Daw was a severe loss to American and his family. He was the most outstanding young man to ever come through Joaquin High School”.