August 2012. In what felt like a miracle from the “Wild Blue Yonder,” I received an email from Barbara Connolly, a 57th Bomb Wing Association member. We exchanged a few emails in 2007 when I replied to a query on the 57th BW list serve about members who lost family members in the war. After a series of emails with other people in August 2012, Barbara remembered my note and our correspondence from 2007 and sent me this message:
“Oh Joni, Please be here. . . Please. . please.... I found the Cahills.”
And then a few hours later, she wrote again:
“Joni meet Michelle ... and Michelle, meet Joni :) :) :) :)
You both talk away and do some research together.”
Michelle is the niece of Tom Cahill who was killed in action on February 5, 1945. Tom and Ang served in the 486th Bomb Squadron on Corsica. I have noted the various times Ang mentioned Tom and his brother Jack, in the letters sent to Betty, and that Betty visited Mrs. Cahill while she lived in Los Angeles. If you enter Cahill in the SEARCH box or click on the name under Categories, you can find these mentions.
Michelle had the letters her uncles Tom and Jack wrote to Michelle’s grandmother while they were overseas flying on B-25’s from Corsica and B-24’s from England. She told part of the story in a feature published in her local paper. http://www.ocregister.com/2012/03/29/she-found-wwii-letters-met-her-uncles/
In 2015 she told her uncles’ stories in her book, "Dear Mom. A Family Finds its Past in World War II Letters Home."
I don’t know when I first became aware of a guy in my Dad’s squadron who was killed in action while they flew missions from Corsica in 1944-1945. I feel like I always knew about the story in some vague way. I assume it was mentioned here or there on the occasions the War was mentioned by my father. After he died in December 1998, I made many trips out to California to help my mother. On one particular visit I sat at her dining table for several sleepless nights, reading Ang’s letters and his Army records, and taking notes. One record described his “severe operational fatigue.” His personal flight log mentioned “February 5 Cahill.” He told Betty about his friend's mother who lived in the Los Angeles area and sent her address so Betty could go visit her. His February 1945 letters revealed (to me) a rather cranky Ang. Then his March 6th letter to Betty finally told her about Tom being listed as MIA, and how he had to wait 30 days to talk about it. Maybe I was being overdramatic, but it seemed like the operational fatigue was certainly related to Tom’s MIA status. Ang said as much in his March 6, 1945 letter:
"You may have wondered why I’ve gone to so many rest camps lately—now you know. It hit me like nothing ever has before—or ever will I guess. I wasn’t much good for anything for quite a while. I’ve seen other fellows go down before, of course, and I didn’t feel too well after, but Tom was rather a special case. He was about the nicest person I have ever known—the kind one can’t help but like—and he was about my best friend. And to top that off, I knew his brother was listed as missing—and all I could think of was his poor mother."
I asked my mother if it was OK with her if I brought all the World War II files home with me to Maryland. I thought I might be able to “do something” with all of it. For the next few years, I did research; found the 57th Bomb Wing web site and list serve where I read as much as I could about the 340th Bomb Group and 486th Bomb Squadron. In 2007, I had finally transcribed Ang’s letters and Betty’s diaries, scanned his scrapbook and other items in his file. I began working on a web site using Apple's iWeb. And I kept thinking about this guy Tom Cahill, who appeared in the letters. That’s when I replied to the query on the 57th list serve, with a note about Tom and his brother Jack who were both MIA, as far as Ang’s letters were concerned. I had been unable to determine if either survived. When I asked my mother about it, she told me that not ever knowing what happened to his friend always bothered my father. Then, using the information in the letters I was pretty sure I had identified them using the ABMC and VA grave locator sites. I was pretty sure that Thomas D. Cahill was listed at Ft. Scott National Cemetery in Kansas with a death date of 2/5/45. And the brother was John W. Cahill, DOD November 21, 1944, buried at the Netherlands American Cemetery. I hoped that someone from the list serve could confirm my information. Barbara Connolly confirmed the date, but I figured Tom’s mother who Betty visited in California, was certainly dead and I would have to be satisfied knowing the brothers didn’t remain MIA and had burial sites in American military cemeteries. Meanwhile I published my site in November 2007 and so when I shared the site with my mother, at least I could confirm Tom and Jack's KIA status.
Then in June 2012, Apple discontinued iWeb and I had to decide what to do with my site. I backed it up and saved all the pages as PDFs. Should I rebuild a new site? Write a book? Or just give up? I was so frustrated. I tried to convince myself that I should be satisfied, knowing I had finished the first site and shared it with my mother before she died in May 2009.
But after connecting with Michelle in August 2012, I knew I had to rebuild the site and began to figure out a new home for Honeylights on wordpress. Michelle inspired me to re-create my site and then, when it was attacked by malware and I took it down, she encouraged me with ideas try one more time with a book or another web site. Honeylights #3. You are now reading my third attempt! Michelle and I finally met in California in March 2015, 70 years after her Uncle Tom was killed in action. Seems to me, we should have met well before that, say sometime between 1955 and 1965, when our families lived about 40 miles away from each other in Southern California. I suppose Ang and Betty were too busy raising five kids. As far as I know, they never attempted to contact the Cahill family. Seems odd to me from the 2017 perspective, but it's much easier now for us to find each other thanks to the internet!
So that is the story of how the niece of Lt. Tom Cahill and the daughter of Lt. Ang Adams tried to tell the stories of two men who flew in B-25s and how the two women found each other nearly 70 years after Lt. Cahill and his brother T/Sgt. Jack Cahill were killed in action during World War II.
But what might be more amazing is that Ang and Tom not only served together on Corsica but also probably crossed paths many times as they trained for war in the United States Army Air Corps. Ang enlisted in March 1942 in Chicago; Tom enlisted in May 1942 in Los Angeles. Ang was sent to Santa Ana California as Aviation Cadet on May 17. Tom arrived at Santa Ana on May 20. They spend the rest of 1942 and most of 1943 attending bombardier and navigation schools because they each “washed out.”
From Santa Ana, Tom went to Hemet, Las Vegas, and Albuquerque. From Santa Ana, Ang went to Albuquerque and Hondo Texas. In late 1943, they were both at Columbia South Carolina, for final overseas training on B-25s. Of course, as a single man, Tom lived on base, while Ang and Betty lived off base, sharing a house with another couple. However, as bombardier/navigators, I imagine they spent time in the same classrooms and then perhaps even on the same B-25s during training flights. We’ll never know.
However, in April 1945, they each received overseas orders and their routes to Corsica were the same. The both wrote home about their "trip over." After spending time in North Africa waiting for orders, they were each assigned to 57th Bomb Wing on Corsica. In May 1945, they both found themselves with the 486th Bomb Squadron, flying in B-25s as bombardiers and navigators. We don’t have crew sheets for all of their missions, but we know they often flew on the same missions — in different planes — and occasionally flew on the same plane. Crew sheets can be found under the "Official Documents" tab.
We even have pictures of them together, which I have posted here in previous posts. Before they ever flew a mission, they appeared in a public relations photo! Tom sent it to his mother with the following description:
“The enclosed photo was taken about six weeks ago. The characters are, left to right, Wells Morris, Jr., of Westwood, Yours Truly, a couple enlisted men, and on the right Lt. Angelo Adams. I don’t remember where Angelo is from but I think he married a girl from Santa Ana. The picture was taken by the group public relations man wanting something of ‘typical’ combat men. Morris, Adams and I at that time had flown exactly NO missions.”
They appear here, in another group photo, along with the “famous” dog, Jocko
In October, 1944, they went to the Capri rest camp together. Sadly, Ang’s photos from that trip do not include Tom. But after that trip, Ang writes to Betty with the address for Tom’s mother — “Dear Mom” — telling Betty she should go visit Mrs. Cahill. He also writes in November about Tom’s brother being MIA. Tom had already mentioned Ang went he sent the PR photo to his mother. Then he sends more PR photos, this time of a group of men playing cards in their officers club. Ang also had these photos in his collection, though I did not know that was Tom, smoking a pipe, until I connected with Michelle!
So - what does it all mean? Mostly, I suppose, it’s nice to know that Ang and Tom, like many others, established good friendships during war. You know, A Band of Brothers. Of course, we know this is true. The 57th Bomb Wing Association is an excellent example of the many friendships that outlasted the war. Ang and Betty kept in touch with many people they met during those years. Many of them appear in Betty’s 3X5 address card file box, where she noted Christmas cards sent and received into the 1950s and ’60s.
For relatives of people Killed in Action, like the Cahill family, it’s comforting to know that their relative mattered. That their relative was and is still remembered. For Michelle and I, I guess the magic of reconnection is beyond words. With all the problems the internet causes or is related to, it has a certain magic to it. It’s unlikely we would have found each other without the internet.
Finally, for me personally, well, it’s hard to put into words, even though I’ve written thousands of them here on this site. Perhaps honoring Tom and Jack is important to me because my family made it through that awful war without any losses. Sure, some family members made it through, only in the sense that they survived. There was plenty of what we now know as ptsd-like effects. Still, they survived.
I guess finally writing this post for this Memorial Day 2017, is my way to honor Tom Cahill and Jack Cahill. Actual brothers. Two of eight Cahill brothers. Their loss was devastating to the Cahill Family in so many ways. You might say Michelle Cahill was able to return her uncles to her family. It is my privilege to tell a little bit of their story - at least the part that is connected to Ang and Betty Adams.
Memorial Day started as "Decoration Day" to decorate the graves of dead soldiers. In that spirit, here are Tom and Jack Cahill's grave sites.
Here is Tom's Find-a-Grave page. https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=451938
Here is Jack's ABMC (American Battle Monuments Commission info: https://abmc.gov/node/531241#.WS2Z3RTpVN0
Joni Adams Sesma, daughter of Angelo and Elizabeth Adams. Ang served on Corsica with the 57th Bomb Wing, 340th Bomb Group, 486th Bomb Squadron. April 1944-April 1945.