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D-Day Journeys: “The Report of My Death Was an Exaggeration”

June 6, 2019 marks the 75th anniversary of D-Day, the Allies’ famed invasion of the beaches of Normandy. In honor of this momentous occasion, the Veterans History Project (VHP) is publishing a special series of blog posts revealing hidden facets of D-Day illuminated within VHP’s collections.

This post, a guest post by Library Technician Sam Meier, is the first in the six-part series and reveals both a previously unknown connection between two VHP collections and a hidden truth about what happened to two men on D-Day.

Robert Harlan Horr in his flightsuit standing next to a training aircraft, Bear Mountain, Oklahoma. 1943. Robert Harlan Horr Collection, Veterans History Project, AFC/2001/001/30055/PH03.

At first glance, Robert “Bob” Harlan Horr’s collection seems to yield few clues as to his life and his service. The 23-year-old glider pilot was killed in action in 1944. His collection was donated posthumously by his daughter, Karen Horr Burton. Its central component is a meticulous pilot’s log, which details dozens of flights Horr took before entering the European Theater, but scarcely anything at all about his own experience of war.

Horr’s final entry in his log, written in blue pen sometime after June 6, 1944 is an exception to this rule. In this entry, Horr describes what happened to him on D-Day in heart-wrenching detail. It reads, in part:

INVASION STARTED. Over 80 holes in my glider. The Germans were shooting many tows. Best pal “Buck” Jackson was killed just after releasing over enemy territory. Knocked down 3 times in landing. Made it OK. Could feel heat from those bullets. Mighty lucky to come out alive. Gave my pal a morphine shot to ease the pain. Stayed by him in the open field for an hour. Made him as comfortable as possible untill [sic] I could get medical aid…

While Army medics rushed to assist Jackson, evacuating him from the field, Horr wrote that it was too late:

“Buck” finally died. If I get decorated, his mother is going to have that medal.

A little over a month later, Horr himself died in a tragic accident. On July 7, 1944, he was en route from the British Midlands back to Aldermaston, England. Horr’s WACO CG-4A glider was in tow behind a larger plane when its tail section collapsed. The glider crashed, and Horr was killed.

Mary Elizabeth Cullen holding newborn Karen Sue Horr in Sacred Heart Hospital, Fort Madison, Iowa. A photo of Robert Horr is visible on the bedside table. 11/09/1944. Robert Harlan Horr Collection, Veterans History Project, AFC/2001/001/30055/PH09.

Four months later, his daughter, Karen Sue Horr, was born.

That seemed to be where the story ended: a sad story of two young pilots who lost their lives abroad, flying dangerous missions for their country.

Except that wasn’t the full story.

Here at VHP, we know that every veteran’s collection shows only one facet of a multi-faceted event. We collect as many stories as we can in order to achieve as panoramic a picture as possible. One of the amazing things about the Veterans History Project is that our collecting scope enables us to learn more about an individual veteran’s story by locating other veterans with parallel or intersecting experiences.

While researching Horr’s story for VHP’s upcoming D-Day Story Map, I searched VHP’s online database to see if I could find any other veterans who belonged to Horr’s service unit. I was thinking maybe the stories of other members of the 74th Troop Carrier Squadron, 434th Troop Carrier Group would help me figure out more about Horr.

My search retrieved three results: Robert Harlan Horr, Robert Butler, and Claude R. Jackson.

“Wait a minute,” I thought. “Could that be…?”

It was. A quick glance through Horr’s Army Air Forces yearbook confirmed it. “Buck” and “Bob” must have become friends while they were still stateside. They likely met at the Southeast Training Center at Maxwell Field in Alabama, at Stuttgart Army Air Field in Arkansas, or at one of the other airfields where glider pilots trained before being sent to the European Theater of Operations.

 

Cover and inside pages from Horr’s copy of the Stuttgart Army Air Field yearbook, 1943. Robert Harlan Horr Collection, Veterans History Project, AFC/2001/001/30055/PH03.

 

When I reviewed Jackson’s collection, I realized that Horr’s story of what happened on D-Day was incorrect. Buck Jackson had survived the invasion and its aftermath. It turned out to be his buddy Bob Horr who would not make it home.

I was not the first person to learn this truth. In 2003, Karen Horr Burton sent an email to Claude R. Jackson, Jr. asking whether he happened to be related to “Buck” Jackson, her father’s service buddy. He was, Jackson Jr. replied. He was Buck’s son.

“I know that it must have come as a shock to learn that my father, Buck Jackson, had survived after all these years,” wrote Jackson Jr. in a 2003 letter to Burton. “My father had spoken of the men who had given him care and protected him immediately after landing. I am certain that if it were not for the heroic efforts of your father, my father would not have survived and I would not be here today.”

He enclosed photocopies of two articles originally printed in the Washington, Georgia News-Reporter in 1973 and 1994.

Claude R. Jackson Jr.’s correspondence with Karen Horr Burton. 2003. Claude R. Jackson, Jr. Collection, Veterans History Project, AFC/2001/001/30099.

As detailed in the News-Reporter, on June 7, 1944, Buck Jackson’s mother received a telegram notifying her of her son’s death in France. A few weeks later, a letter arrived in the Jacksons’ mailbox. It was from their son, Buck—severely injured, but alive. A few days later, Buck’s brother Carl—who was stationed in Germany with the Army at the time—called to tell his parents that he had found his brother in a hospital in England.

Just as Horr recorded in his log, Buck had been seriously wounded on D-Day. But instead of dying that day, he had been evacuated to a field hospital where he underwent emergency surgery. On June 13, 1944, Buck was transported to England for further medical care. Tragically, Horr was killed before he could learn that Buck had survived the invasion.

“As you can imagine, this has always been an epic story in our family history,” wrote Jackson Jr. “With the information that you have shared with me, this story has yet another chapter.”

To ensure the full truth was known, Jackson Jr. donated his correspondence with Karen Burton, as well as the clippings he sent her, to the Veterans History Project. The News-Reporter ran another story in 2003 about the seemingly serendipitous meeting of two children of veterans, marveling at “the wonder of computers and the internet.” VHP is honored to help bring together the families of veterans who have long since passed away, and to preserve the interconnected stories of Robert Horr and Buck Jackson here at the Library of Congress.

Stay tuned for a special D-Day Story Map, as well as a new Experiencing War online exhibit. For more on D-Day collections at VHP, see previous Experiencing War online exhibits here and here.

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