History in Focus: Ray Card’s errand of mercy
By August 1945 the atomic bombs brought the Japanese to their knees. Across the Pacific, American servicemen were filled with joy, relief and thoughts of returning to their previous lives. While a euphoric nation celebrated and prayed in thanksgiving, one family in the Yampa Valley was dealt the cruel blow of losing the man in their life.
For 34 year-old Sgt. Ray Card, of Craig, a radioman on a B-29, the end of war must’ve been an immense relief. Drafted in April 1944, he had left behind his wife, Betty, two young sons and an established career. Now he could look forward to his return to Colorado and regaining a life interrupted by war.
Born in 1911 in Rifle, Ray almost eluded the grasp of World War II. He came to Craig at the age of 4 and graduated from Craig High School in 1929. Earning academic scholarships, he graduated from Colorado University in 1933. In 1936, the Craig Empire Courier announced that Ray and his fiancé, Betty Monson of Steamboat Springs, had eloped! After obtaining a marriage license in Rawlins, Wyoming the couple surprised everyone when they quickly married in Dixon, Wyoming, on Jan. 19. Ray had just accepted a job in Denver at Gates Rubber Company, and after the wedding they soon headed to Denver to start their new life. By 1939, they had two sons, Ray Jr, and Van Allen. Even during the uncertainty of the Great Depression and looming war, “The American Dream” was a reality for Ray.
Even when the United States joined the war in 1941, it seemed Ray would stay one step ahead. However, the insatiable appetite of WWII cut an ever deeper swath through American life and finally caught up with him. At 33, he was drafted into the Army Air Corps in April 1944. After all his radio and flight training, the Craig Empire Courier reported he shipped out on June 2, 1945. He arrived in Guam and took part in eight of the final bombing missions over Japan. Suddenly and quickly, the atomic bombs ended hostilities.
In the late hours of Aug. 26, Card’s B-29 took off from Guam on a short flight to Saipan loaded with supplies for long-suffering prisoners of war. The dark of night and rain made flying difficult. In the poor conditions, pilot Claude Lawson mistakenly landed at nearby Tinian Island but immediately took off for Saipan. Once in contact with the Saipan tower Temper 11 — the call name of Card’s B-29 — was put into a holding pattern. Then, for an unknown reason, one engine gave out. Finally, just 20 minutes into Aug. 27, permission to land was granted, but the B-29 missed its first approach.
The tower directed Temper 11 into a left turn away from the airfield in order to make another landing attempt. Instead, the B-29 turned right and crashed into a hill in a fiery explosion that killed all aboard. According to the official accident report, confusion due to poor conditions and unfamiliarity with the terrain around Saipan led to the fatal crash.
Back in Northwest Colorado there were precious few details. Even two-and-a-half months later on Nov. 7 the commanding officer of Card’s 502nd Bombardment Group vaguely wrote to Betty: “The underlying causes we do not know, except the weather at the time was very bad.”
On an errand of mercy to POW’s, World War II snatched Card out of this world. An only son, a devoted husband and father of two boys, news of his death in the midst of the elation of VJ Day was a difficult cross to bear. Betty never remarried, returned to her hometown of Steamboat Springs and raised her boys.
Ray Card is buried at the Honolulu Memorial Cemetery. His name on the World War II memorial sponsored by the Museum of NW Colorado teaches us about the tragic twists of fate and the callous indifference of war in the life of one man and his family.
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