Like Father, Like Son
Last week in my blog I wrote about Capt. James Black from County Antrim, a decorated World War I veteran and member of the Irish Guards. This week I’d like to take the opportunity to write about his son.
Did you look closely at the picture last week? Here it is again. Do you notice anything about the younger man on the left, James Alexander Walton-Black? If you look at both of his sleeves, you can see there is no hand coming out of his left sleeve. I wish I knew why.
This picture appears to have been taken as a Christmas portrait to send to Capt. Black’s sister back in Ireland, given the writing at the top of the photograph, “To my dear sister, Mary, with every good wish and my love always. Jim. Christmas 1945.” It would have been easy enough to take a head-and-shoulders portrait, but it seems quite clear that whoever arranged for the portrait was telling a story, showing the full cost of the service to his country by this young man.
James Alexander Walton-Black was the co-pilot of a B-17 bomber. His crew flew seven missions from their base at Rattlesden, England. There is no chance that he would have been qualified for this role with only one hand. But could he have lost it during the mission?
It seems unlikely. Because the plane was shot down and crew members were killed and injured on the mission, a Missing Air Crew Report (MACR) was generated. The National Archives website describes why these documents were created. “…in May 1943 the adoption of a special form, the Missing Air Crew Report (MACR), devised primarily to record the salient facts of the last known circumstances regarding missing air crews. The MACR would also provide a means of integrating current data with information obtained later from other sources in an effort to conclusively determine the fate of the missing personnel.”
MACR 43-37714 contains several pages of Casualty Questionnaires. Crew members including James Walton-Black and others report on the injured crew members - radio-operator John Kaufman who was hit by flack while still in the aircraft, and gunner Guido Valentine who broke his leg when he parachuted to the ground. These reports also detail what crew members knew about the fate of pilot, Mark Golden, the one man killed on the mission. None of these reports, however, mention any injuries to James Walton-Black. If he had sustained injuries during the June 18 mission, the MACR would have undoubtedly contained more information about it. This leads me to believe any injuries sustained by Walton-Black were incurred sometime after June 18, 1944.
The most likely explanation is that he lost his hand as a result of his prisoner of war experience. It makes what he wrote to William P. Golden, father of pilot, Mark Golden, especially poignant, “The details of my own capture would not interest you.“  Walton-Black was interred first in Stalag Luft III from the time of his capture until late January 1945. At that time Hitler ordered the execution of all American and British airmen, but his officer corps refused to carry out the orders. However, with the approach of the Russian Army, the German captors were afraid that their prisoners would be liberated and so ordered their transfer to Stalag Luft VII. The captives marched in cold and icy conditions on meager rations from 27 January to 4 February where they boarded over-crowded trains for the remainder of their journey. They spent the remainder of the war in this POW camp, designed to hold 10,000, but by the time they were liberated on 29 April, there were 70,000.
The conditions on the march and at Stalag Luft VII were horrendous – lice, bedbugs, latrines built for 40 men used by over a thousand. Disease was rampant, nutrition poor. If a prisoner was frostbitten or injured, there was little treatment to stave off the inevitable infection and amputation was the most common recourse. I don’t have any direct evidence that this is where Walton-Black lost his hand, but I think this is the likely explanation. The photograph speaks for itself.
I have found spotty information on Walton-Black after the war. He indicated to Mr. Golden that he would return to Yale University in the Fall of 1945 and took part in the December 1945 production of Volpone, but I don’t know if he ever graduated from Yale. He was president of Capital Goods and Commodities Corporation in Bogota, NJ in the early 1960s. In the late 1960s and early 1970s he pursued a career in aviation, working toward Commercial Pilot and Flight Instructor certifications in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
He married at some point Mary Jane Ede. When he wrote to the military in February of 1974 requesting his WWII flight records, his return address was 309 North Robinson Avenue, a home in Pen Argyl, Pennsylvania “where I live with my wife.” Apparently he had been mugged in Louisville and his suitcases and flight cases containing his flight records and credentials as well as his military medals were stolen. He wrote to request the army supply replacements.
Less than a year later, just six days before his 53rd birthday, James Walton-Black died of bilateral bronchopneumonia at Easton hospital in Easton, Pennsylvania. Curiously, Mary Jane Ede, the informant on the death certificate, responded “Unknown” to the question of James’ marital status. The death certificate shows an autopsy was performed but when I contacted the hospital they indicated that all autopsy reports from that era have been destroyed unless they involved criminal or otherwise suspicious deaths.
As far as I know James never had children. He was the only child of Louise and James Black, Sr. I’m working quite hard to find someone who knew him, someone who can perhaps tell me more about him and his life after World War II. I’ve reached a few dead ends, including his wife’s brother who didn’t want to talk and a flight instructor who signed some of his FAA licensing paperwork 40+years ago but didn’t remember him today. My latest attempt has been to contact the American Legion Post in Pen Argyl to see if perhaps someone there remembers him. It seems to me that a one-handed pilot would be pretty memorable, but so far, no luck.
Now I leave this post out here in the ether, hoping someone somewhere will stumble upon it and be able to share a story or two about this hero who lost so much serving his country.
 Fold3.com, Missing Air Crew Reports, WWII 1944, 43-37714
 Letter from James Alexander Walton-Black to William P. Golden, 12 August 1945. Original letter in possession of Violet Golden, sister-in-law of Mark Golden. Copy provided to Mary Roddy.
 http://www.moosburg.org/info/stalag/chaf4eng.html, John H. Chaffin memories of World War II
 Letter from James Alexander Walton-Black to William P. Golden, 12 August 1945
 Yale News Digest no. 19 November 30 1945
 May 1961 Archon - http://archive.org/stream/archon19612dumm/archon19612dumm_djvu.txt
 Copy of Airman Certification Records of James Alexander Walton-Black sent under Freedom of Information request FOIA#2014-000080F7 to Mary Roddy on 31 October 2013
 Copy of letter from James A. Walton-Black, 309 N Robinson Ave., Pen Argyl. PA 18072 to Federal Aviation Administration, Department of Transportation, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Attention: Personnel Records, dated February 19, 1974
 Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Health Vital Statistics, Certificate of Death of James A. Black, Date of Death 26 January 1975, Certificate number 742875. Note that the name on the death certificate is Black, not Walton-Black, but the certificate indicates that he was a veteran of WWII and that his serial number is A0807801 which is the same serial number of James A Walton-Black on Missing Air Crew Report 43-37714
Mary Kircher Roddy is a genealogist, writer and lecturer, always looking for the story. Her blog is a combination of the stories she has found and the tools she used to find them.