Monday, May 28, 2012

Honoring 1LT Jay Willis McElroy, WWI KIA

1st Lieutenant Jay Willis McElroy
Born: 1 September 1893 Saratoga, California 
Killed in Action: 29 September 1918 Romagne, France

Jay Willis McElroy was called 'Bill' by his little brother 'Mac' (Joseph Harold McElroy, my great-grandfather) and came from a family full of fun and laughter. He was a tall man with a medium build, light brown eyes and red hair who lived at the Berkeley, California YMCA that his parents (John William McElroy & Irene Lane Davis McElroy) helped operate, while studying at the University of California. He was also a Corporal in Cadets who had applied to serve in the American Ambulance Corps when he was drafted in June 1917 for World War I and served in the 99th Aero Squadron.

1st Lt McElroy was pilot and his observer was 2nd Lt Howard I Kinne when they left the airdrome at 2:10 pm 29 September 1918 on an artillery surveillance mission in the area of Romagne as part of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. While on this mission they were attacked by enemy aircraft and shot down in flames.

Caution - the details of their deaths in the italicized paragraph below are gruesome but for me it is important to include their complete story in a digital format online so both my family and the family of Lieutenant Kinne may locate it in the future. ILT McElroy was missing in action for months, with an article in the San Francisco Chronicle published on 29 December 1918 noting "Efforts to trace McElroy through Governmental agencies have failed." His parents finally received confirmation of his death via a letter from the American Red Cross in April 1919. I cannot fathom how heartbreaking this was for them to endure, both the uncertainty and the awful finality of the truth. I doubt they were able to visit his gravesite in France, which I maintain online on Find a Grave with gratitude to the American Battle Monuments Commission for creating and transferring it to me, but one day our family will visit him there. 

From the letter - Lieut. Kinne the observer jumped from the burning plane and was buried where he landed. The plane burned in two just behind the gas tank, the tail falling about 100 yards from the spot where Lieut. Kinne fell, the motor, wings, and body of Lieut. McElroy about a 100 yards further on. The gas tank had evidently exploded while the plane was falling and was blown clear of the plane, landing about 75 yards to one side of the motor, wings and body of Lt. McElroy.  Lt. Kinne was stripped of all identification and rifled by the Germans and buried where he fell by the Americans who later advanced over this territory. The Americans who buried him left a note in a bottle on his grave giving a description of him. The body of Lt. McElroy was very badly burned, his arms and legs being completely gone. He had been extracted from the plane, thrown in a shell hole, and covered with two or three inches of dirt. There was absolutely no marking to indicate this was a grave and it was by the [unreadable] that his body was located [the rest of the letter is cut off]

May all who have fallen in service for freedom rest in peace. 

© 2012 Nicole S. Dettmar


  1. Thanks for doing this - we should all know more of the details of sacrifices made to preserve our freedom. Making me think of what I might do with a blog, to honor family and friends for their public service.

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