California Swedes Part 2 - A Finn and a Flight Engineer

Logo of 652nd Bomb Squadron-hornet with telescope on a rain cloud

Anna Viktoria left Gothenburg in 3 April 1902, traveling unmarried and alone.  She met a Finn named Claus Frederick Westerholm, born 23 June 1888, working as a “stacker man” in a door factory  in California sometime after 1910.  By 1917, they married and had a son Claus Henry (23 Apr 1914) and a daughter Irene Lillian (4 Jan 1917). Young Claus Henry passed away the age of 8 on 15 September 1922. Earl H., another son, was born a little less than a year later.

Claus Frederick changed jobs during the 1920s, striking off on his own as a carpenter contractor.  When he passed away on 14 October 1937, Anna may have performed housework to make her living during the end of the Great Depression.

Earl joined the Army Air Force in San Francisco on 4 February 1943.  Earl, eventually earning the rank of Technical Sergeant, was assigned as a flight engineer/top turret gunner on a B-17G out of Cambridge, England.  As part of the 25th Bomb Group’s 652nd Bomb Squadron, Earl’s aircraft performed weather and photo reconnaissance and anti-radar chaff-dropping missions.  The aircraft crashed on takeoff on 6 Sep 1944 at Watton, Norfolk, England.  The crash claimed Earl, pilot Clarry Stephenson, co-pilot Joe Ward, navigator Gene Swiatnicki, and ball turret gunner Leon Licurse. A book was written about the life of pilot Stephenson, She Called Him Raymond, by Ray O’Conor.

I was unable to learn much about the daughter, Irene, for a long time.  She lived with her parents and was listed in Oakland city directories as a musician or music teacher.  I couldn’t find anything more about her—no marriage, no children, not even a death or burial.

Although it was exciting to discover a World War II hero in the extended family, researching this branch of the Larssons was also sad.  I put myself in the place of Anna Viktoria:  her first son died young, her husband passed away at a relatively young age, her remaining son died in World War II, and it appeared that this branch of the tree ended there.  How must she have felt, away from her home country with perhaps only her daughter nearby?

From time to time, I returned to this family and continued searches until one day I discovered what happened to Irene Lillian—a story I will share in the next installment of the California Swedes.