Doug Robinson: Utah man discovers powerful story behind family's 'forgotten' soldier

Published: Tuesday, March 4 2014 3:30 p.m. MST

Sharp, having lost his two fellow Musketeers, would fly a remarkable 78 missions in a P-47 before returning home. He earned a degree at the University of Utah, took an engineering job with Lockheed in California and raised a family.

As for Evans, he completed his education at BYU and became a businessman in Orem. He and his wife, Laura, raised four children. Evans held many LDS Church leadership positions, including stake president. According to his son Ken, Evans referred to Jerry in his sermons, using him as an example of someone who always held firm to his principles and didn't give in to peer pressure during the war.

After months of research, Kelly says he is thankful that no one spoon-fed him the history of his great-uncle Jerry. “That made it more meaningful that I had to do so much work,” he says. “It was like working a detective case at times. One thing leads to another, and there are still more things to learn. The more I find out, the more I want to learn.”

Sometimes Kelly, a devoted runner, runs the two miles from his home in Holladay to the site of the old family barbershop and bakery. They are long gone now, replaced by a furniture store, but the memories still live there.

“I run by it and I look at it,” he says. “It makes me feel closer to Jerry and my grandpa to realize they walked and worked and lived there. … We really are shaped by people we never met. I’m really indebted to a guy like my great-uncle and to the others like him. If they didn’t answer that call to serve, my life would be much different.”

On July 16, the family plans to visit Jerry’s burial plot in the Salt Lake City Cemetery. Jerry would have turned 90 this year.

One postscript: Kelly hired a World War II research expert, Norm Richards, to look for anything he could uncover about Jerry in the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis. Richards found two letters written by the war department to Jerry’s family. One of the letters, dated Dec. 8, 1944, contained this memorable account of Jerry’s final mission:

Lt. Kelly was … participating in a dive bombing mission to an area west of Koln, Germany, on October 20th … at about 11:50 a.m., as our planes were strafing a train, a radio message was received from your son stating that his aircraft had been hit. It then dropped out of formation, headed in the direction of its base and was last observed to disappear into a cloud.

“The thought that Jerry was last seen disappearing into a cloud is poetic,” says Kelly. “Jerry lived a good life and no doubt was worthy to immediately enter into a heavenly realm.”

Doug Robinson's columns run on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Email: drob@deseretnews.com

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