Courtesy of his son, John A. McCarthy
John Anthony McCarthy
Service: United States Air Force, 1951-54, Army Air Forces, 1941-48
Rank at time of death: Captain
Captain McCarthy was a bombardier on B-17's in World War II and B-29's in Korea.
Millitary Campaigns: Germany, North Africa, Sicily, Italy and Korea Military awards: Bronze Star, Air Medal with Silver Oak Leaf Cluster and 4 Bronze clusters, World War II Victory Medal, American Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with 2 bronze campaign stars,
National Defense Service Medal, Korea Service Medal, United Nations Service Medal (Korea), Korean War Service Medal, European Victory Commerative Medal World War II Victory Commerative Medal, Combat Service Commerative Medal, Korean Presidential Unit Citation, Air Force Commendation Medal.
Captain McCarthy died while on active duty in September 1954, and was buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery.
Saturday, April 10, 2004
By Curt Hodges
Courtesy of the Jonesboro (Arkansas) Sun
John McCarthy's quest to find his father has had a storybook ending.
Even though McCarthy's father died almost a half-century ago, he's still happy with the ending of the story — which he says he's been urged to put into a real book. He said he is considering doing so and may call it “The Lost Bombardier: A Son's Quest to Find His Father.”
McCarthy, who was born in San Antonio and grew up in Little Rock from age 7, said he never knew his father, John Anthony McCarthy.
The elder McCarthy and John's mother, Laura Alice Cathy, met at a USO dance in San Antonio in June 1945. She was working as a PBX operator at the local phone company. She was 15 but got the job by stating her age as 18, McCarthy said.
His parents “immediately hit it off.” The young first lieutenant told the girl that he was a fighter pilot ace, and three months later they were married by a justice of the peace in Seguin, Texas.
“My dad took the license to have it validated at Kelly Field” but never did, John said. His father was sent off to fight in Europe.
It turned out that the elder McCarthy was already married and had a son in Connecticut, the family discovered in January 1946 when his wife, expecting her first child, could not get base privileges or hospital use.
At that time “Dad was off flying, but his mother, Sara, came from West Haven, Conn., to visit me,” John McCarthy said. It was at that time his mother and his grandmother both discovered that his father was already married.
McCarthy said his father, instead of being a fighter pilot, was in reality a bombardier on a B-17 with the 301st Bomb Wing and 419th Bomb Squadron in World War II and served as a bombardier and central fire controller on a B-29 with the 307th Bomb Group of the 371st Bomb Squadron in Korea.
McCarthy's mother remarried, and later the family lived in Little Rock.
“I lived with an alcoholic ex-military stepfather. He found the only photograph I had of my dad and destroyed it,” McCarthy said. “I was devastated.”
That was the only link the youngster had with his father. By that time McCarthy was being told that his father had been killed in Korea.
McCarthy had struck up a strong relationship with a Christian family in Little Rock that helped him get through some rough times.
“They talked with me about joining the service before something terrible happened with my stepfather that might ruin my life forever,” McCarthy said. “I had all I could take and reluctantly gave up a promising football career to join the Air Force, like my father.”
During the Vietnam War, McCarthy served in casualty notification and awards and decorations units. He spent some time at Blytheville Air Force Base and attended Arkansas State University while stationed there. He also met his wife there.
Since leaving the Air Force, McCarthy has had a successful career in sales management for more than 30 years. He had lived in Germantown, Tenn., and now lives in Jonesboro.
He and his wife have two daughters, whom he said have always wondered about their grandfather.
His mother, who now lives in Houston, Texas, never really talked much about the elder McCarthy.
“We all wondered what he looked like and what he did in the Air Force,” McCarthy said. They even wondered if he really did exist.
After many years of wondering, things started to happen in March a year ago, McCarthy said.
On a trip to Washington, D.C., with his wife, Carol, youngest daughter, Heather, and her husband to see a family friend., they visited the Vietnam and Korean War memorials and took a tour of Arlington National Cemetery.
“I had been to D.C. several times but had never visited Arlington,” McCarthy said.
“My daughter insisted that I inquire about my father, even though I felt there was one chance in a million that he would be there,” McCarthy said. “I gave the receptionist his full name and USAF, Captain.”
In five minutes the clerk returned and asked what the “A” stood for. Receiving the information, she returned in two minutes with a piece of paper with the name and grave site location on it.
“The emotion, the inner feelings are hard to describe when you come face to face with the headstone of a father you never got to know or meet,” McCarthy said. “As soon as I saw the grave, I knew this was him. This was divine intervention. I knew that after 47 years, the Lord had a reason to let me find my father.”
Working through the office of Congressman Harold Ford Jr. of Memphis, two weeks later McCarthy received some information.
It was only a partial file because a 1972 fire had destroyed many military personnel files stored in a St. Louis facility. He spent all weekend studying the file.
“I came up with a lot of information that I knew had to be confirmed,” he said.
He called his mother, who is in her 70s and in ill health. He needed answers, and she was the only one who could provide them. His mother told him the story that he wanted and needed to hear and then confirmed that the person buried in the national cemetery, and whose information files he had received, was really his father.
“I was really fired up,” McCarthy said. He discovered that his father was a highly decorated veteran of World War II and Korea who flew 50 missions World War II and 22 in Korea.
“He was never wounded in combat but returned home in 1954 to be killed in an automobile accident at Mather Air Force Base in California,” McCarthy said.
Through the assistance of a retired Air Force B-52 pilot, he has been able to obtained his father's awards and decorations. And at the urging of his family, he has received his own as well and has them all mounted and displayed in his office at home.
During the past year McCarthy has amassed boxes of information on his father and discovered three half-brothers and a half sister — quite by accident or through “divine intervention.”
When he discovered the second family of his father, he made an effort to contact a half brother, also named John McCarthy, who lives in Daytona, Florida.
Later, a sister of his late father called him, thinking that it was her other nephew, John.
“We had a very nice conversation, and I answered a lot of questions for her, and she said this had to be true and she would support my efforts to contact the family,” he said. “Two days later I got a call from Gail, my half sister.” She also lives at Daytona. The two other half brothers, Mike and Gary, live in Washington, D.C.
At first the call from Gail was unpleasant, McCarthy said. He explained that he had documentation to prove his story, and besides “I had no ulterior motive. All I wanted was a photograph of my dad.” He told her he was not looking for anything except to finally piece together the puzzle of his life.
To make a long story shorter, a trip was planned to Daytona last July to meet the other McCarthys.
“Needless to say, we were all nervous,” McCarthy said. They hugged, talked and shared photos. Gail put together a family welcome with the rest of the family for the next day, but she feared that his half brother, John, would not come.
“His childhood was very similar to mine, but he had not been able to handle it very well and preferred to forget it,” McCarthy said.
But on the day of the meeting John did show up.
“He was wearing a red, flowered Hawaiian shirt just like mine,” McCarthy said.
That broke the ice, and they all had a nice visit and “toasted and welcomed me to the family.”
But the amazing adventure is only beginning, McCarthy said. Now he wants to find much more about his “lost bombardier father.”
McCarthy said he knows there are thousands of similar stories, but unfortunately many never have the opportunity or take the time to search out truths that could help them put their lives into focus.
“All I can say is I encourage anyone to make the effort to find long-lost loved ones,” McCarthy said. “It's worth the time and effort.”
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Michael Robert Patterson was born in Arlington and is the son of a former officer of the US Army. So it was no wonder that sooner or later his interests drew him to American history and especially to American military history. Many of his articles can be found on renowned portals like the New York Times, Washingtonpost or Wikipedia.
Reviewed by: Michael Howard