SANDOWN – During a well-attended Memorial Day ceremony at the Center Cemetery, the life story of one of Sandown’s own who lost his life during World War II was told.
The day was dedicated to 2nd Lt. Richard E. Drowne and to all of the men and women who served in the armed forces and lost their lives in that endeavor.
Every year at this time Lt. Col. Kevin Major tells the story of one individual who lost his life during wartime and through the telling, hopes to make real the sacrifice of all.
Prior to the story, the day featured a parade down Main Street from the Train Depot to the cemetery. The Timberlane Middle School marching band was the main attraction and the parade route was filled with onlookers. After a brief stop at the war memorial at Town Hall, where children placed wreaths and flags, the parade moved on to the cemetery, where the proceedings were opened with a benediction from Rev. Steve Murray of St. Matthew’s United Methodist Church. The ceremony included the recognition of every service man or woman in the audience, both those who are serving and those who have served. It’s a tradition for Major to call up each branch of the armed forces in turn.
Major also makes a point of tallying those who had died in service since the previous year. No New Hampshire active duty service man or woman has died since last Memorial Day, he said.
This year the board of selectmen presented Major with a plaque for the work he does each year for Memorial Day. Selectman Jim Devine presented the recognition in front of Major’s family, noting that when Major first came to the town, he simply wanted to put together a parade, but the effort has grown into an important tradition.
To tell his story, Major researched Drowne’s life and on Monday painted a detailed picture of the young man, his hometown and the situation surrounding his death.
“The Tin Can on the Stonewall” was the title.
Sandown was a small place with a population of just about 250 when Richard Drowne was born in 1923 to Clarence and Marion Drowne. Clarence ran a fruit orchard and Richard grew up helping on the land. He was an avid reader, his name frequently appearing on the library rolls of the time, Major explained.
He said Richard shined in his studies and by the time he graduated as salutatorian of his high school class at Sanborn Seminary, he was a sure candidate for college.
He was also a well-liked young man, voted most likely to succeed, most brilliant and most radical by his peers. But there wasn’t money for college, and he began work with his father on the orchard and in planning to start a nursery business.
By then the machinations of a world war had begun and soon Richard and two of his brothers had volunteered to serve their country in the armed forces.
In 1942, at age 19, on Halloween, Richard volunteered for the Army Air Force.
Major traced Richard’s route through the military, both geographically and through the ranks and education to become a bombardier for a B-24.
Major told of the young man through details such as his signing for his bombardier kit and what was in it, and shared his letters home.
Also detailed were the conditions the young man would have found over Germany – how the sky would fill with exploding shells, sending shrapnel into the aircraft, often blowing off wings or tails or engines.
In Richard’s first mission seven of the bombers he flew with were shot down, six were damaged. Sixty-two men were killed or declared missing in action by the end. And his next 20 missions weren’t much different.
Major explained that to be sent home, he would have had to fly 30 combat missions, but that was nearly impossible.
“You knew not to make a lot of friends in the Air Corps,” Major said.
Richard made 20 missions, all in full daylight and lasting between three and six hours.
On Tuesday, Nov. 21, 1944 Richard’s bomber, “Little Joe,” was hit over the oil fields of Hamburg, knocking out two engines. The craft still flew, but was slow. The crew began a flight to Sweden, 250 miles away, but they were intercepted by a German Messerschmitt and their ponderous plane was no match for the fighter and soon after engaging, went down.
Around Christmas, Sandown got the news that the young man was missing in action. On Jan. 18, 1945 the German government, through the Red Cross, alerted the U.S. government that the plane had been found with eight dead and one prisoner of war. Richard was among the dead.
In a letter Richard wrote to friend Harold Lovering not long before his death, he gives the title of Major’s story. Among other questions about Sandown and observations about life in England, he writes, “I often feel like a tin can sitting on Walter’s stonewall when he has a whole party of his friends up half crocked and with plenty of .22 bullets. I used to think hunting with Maurice LeClair was dangerous, but not anymore. Do you ever see any ducks on Harris’s pond or much game coming to work?” And he goes on to ask about friends and their doings in Sandown.
Members of Drowne’s family were in attendance Monday and were recognized before the crowd.