Saturday’s column was about Peter Pokrifcsak of Martins Creek, an Army Air Corps flier who drowned on D-Day.
Sad as Pokrifcsak’s story is, it’s the kind of thing that happens in a war. Brave men and women are killed. The twist here was that his family didn’t know what exactly happened until military researcher Bill Beigel began investigating the case.
Today, I want to tell you about Arthur Haring, one of Pokrifcsak’s best friends in Martins Creek. Both of them appeared in a September 1942 Sunday Call-Chronicle photo of new Army Air Corps cadets, which appeared with the hopeful caption: “Thirteen more good reasons why the Axis can’t win.”
Unlike Pokrifcsak, who died on one of his first missions, Haring, a flight engineer and gunner, survived 42 missions over Italy and France and seven more in the Pacific. He flew out of Sardinia and Corsica from Aug. 7 to Dec. 3, 1944, as part of the B-26 Marauder group, then was moved to Okinawa, where he finished out the war. He was a great letter-writer, offering a wonderful picture of life at war and longing for home. In the last letter I saw, written Oct. 18, 1945, from Okinawa, he wrote, “Dear Mother and Dad, Just a few lines to let you know that I expect to be on my way home real soon. So you can stop your writing. I don’t know what day we will load up but I’m pretty [sure] it will be within a week.”
Unfortunately, Haring’s story had a terrible twist of its own. From the Express-Times, June 25, 1946:
“Arthur Haring, 25, popular young resident of Martins Creek and senior vice commander of Lt. Pokrifcsak-Cpl. Brandt Post No. 6148, Veterans of Foreign Wars, of that town, died at about 5 p.m. yesterday in Warren Hospital, Phillipsburg, from injuries suffered in an automobile accident between Delaware and Columbia, N.J., early Sunday morning.”
Katherine DiFebo of Martins Creek, Arthur’s little sister, says the family had just arrived home from a vacation when it found out he had been killed in a three-car accident. “My mother and father took it very hard,” she said. “The whole family was affected.”
Katherine was just 6 years old when her 19-year-old brother pursued his interest in planes by moving to California to attend Aero Industries Technical Institute in Los Angeles and work at Vega Airplane Co., a subsidiary of Lockheed. Her collection of photos and letters from her brother includes shots he took on a trip to Catalina Island, Calif., on Dec. 7, 1941.
He enlisted the next year and was called to active duty in March 1943. His letters describe his life during training and later at war, although he tended to downplay the danger he faced, focusing instead on his recreational activities and asking regularly about his mother’s canning back home and Katherine’s progress in school.
Still, you get glimpses. He wrote on Aug. 23, 1944: “I got number five mission in yesterday. I had a little trouble with one of my guns when I test fired them. But I got it fixed alright. I don’t know if I told you or not, but over here I’m in the top turret instead of the tail. I like it, but it is a little hard getting to when you got your flak suit on, ha ha!
“We ran into a little flak, but they were very poor shots and didn’t even get close to us. Well, we don’t give them much time. After we drop our bombs it don’t take us long to get out of there.”
Interestingly enough, he also wrote about D-Day, which for him was Aug. 15, 1944, when the Allied invasion of southern France began. It was known as Operation ANVIL.
He wrote, “This is the big day and I’m glad I am in on it. I wouldn’t want to miss this for anything.
“We had a meeting last night and they told us what was going to happen. They told us about how many men and ships was taking part.
“… We been looking forward to this for about the last two weeks. And if it works out as well as they say, I hoping to be home for Christmas. Ha! Ha!
“… I don’t want you to worry about me, because we got them beat before it even started.”
According to an Express-Times story, Staff Sgt. Haring received the Air Medal with two Oak Leaf Clusters, the Presidential Citation with one Oak Leaf Cluster and the Croix de Guerre with Palms from the French government.
DiFebo says she first came upon her brother’s wartime letters about 10 years ago and read them all. But it wasn’t until a month ago that she learned about all the letters he had written from California. Her nephew came across the letters as he was cleaning out the family home. “He thought I would want them,” she said.
He was right. “I got to know him through the letters,” she explained.
At 6, she hadn’t really known and understood her brother as an adult would. “When I read those letters, I cried,” she said. “It’s so emotional to get to know my brother after all these years.”
She took me this week to Church Hill Cemetery, where Haring and Pokrifcsak are buried. It’s a beautiful spot, but their graves are a silent reminder of the cruelty of war — and sometimes, of life itself.
“They were so young,” she said.
Bill White’s commentary appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.