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Bringing 1st Lt. Robert Eugene Oxford Home - Part II
By Editor Becky Watts

CONCORD - 73 years is very long time to wait for the return of a loved one after serving honorably in the Armed Forces. 1st Lt. Robert "Eugene" Oxford and the entire crew of the B-24J Liberator named "Hot as Hell" flew on their final flight on January 25, 1944. They were declared in Missing in Action and then Killed in Action with no word of what happened to them for 63 years. Now, 73 years later, Lt. Eugene Oxford is coming home.

Eugene was the youngest of six children born to Charlie and Bessie Oxford from Concord, Georgia. Fred was born in 1912, Paul in 1914, Clay in 1915, Martha Kate in 1917, infant Annie Elizabeth born September 19, 1918 and died two days later on September 21, 1918, and Eugene in 1919. Eugene and his sister and brothers played and went to school in Pike County. Eugene was engaged to be married to a Pike County girl named Susan Brown.

This is a bittersweet homecoming, however. Eugene's mother and father and all but one of his siblings passed away without knowing what happened to him in 1944. His brother Fred learned about the discovery of "Hot as Hell" on the side of a mountain, but he didn't live to see his brother come home. And Eugene's fiancé, Susan Brown Parham, who waited at home for his return, also learned about his death in the service of our country, but she didn't live long enough to see him come either.

Notification of the Family

The War Department notified the family that Eugene was missing after that January 25, 1944 flight. Charlie and Bessie Oxford received a letter from Matt Quackenbush on February 17, 1944 that encouraged them not to give up hope for him. He said that the fellows of the squadron feel bad that Gene was gone (Gene was known as "Ox" in the squadron) but that everyone expected to hear news of him every day. Quackenbush was Gene's navigator and had been with him for all but a few flights. He said that Gene "had not a fault, he is a very good and conscientious Bombardier, always did his job just as it should be done." he also told Gene's parents that he was very popular with everyone in the squadron and that Gene would sing hill-billie songs for them and spent a lot of time writing letters and thinking about home.

On February 17, 1944, a letter arrived from the Headquarters of the Fourteenth Air Force that advised Charlie and Bessie that their son had "cheerfully discharged the many duties assigned to him" and that "his loss is keenly felt by his comrades here." He offered his sympathy and that of the Fourteenth Air Force to the Oxford Family and let them know that Gene's personal effects were being shipped to them.

On the morning of February 29, 1944, Eugene's brother Clay sent a letter to his parents and sister from where he was stationed in Brazil. He told them that Lt. Matt Quackenbush has been there to visit with him on his way back to the states. Quackenbush had left a week prior and they had learned that the formation had run into bad weather and had to separate because of it, but they didn't know at that time if the crew had stayed with the plane or bailed out of it. He told Gene's brother that the country there was rough and it would take a while to walk out of it if they had baled out of the plane. He said that the natives would help them out and get them back to camp if that was the case.

Quackenbush also told Clay that Eugene liked to fly and was on most of the missions. "He had over 200 hours in and was real good, he was in line for another promotion too after the others left. Quackenbush told Clay that he would try to see Charlie and Bessie soon and that he sure would like for his parents to meet him. He also told them that he thought his brother Paul would be back before too much longer and that they were praying and hoping for the best with Eugene.

On the afternoon of February 29, 1944, Eugene's brother Clay wrote another letter telling his parents that he had talked with another member of Eugene's crew who was "Very encouraging" and told him that he thought Eugene had a good chance to walk out of there and not to give up. "There is a good place in the valley where they can get medical aid and treatment if they need it but it still takes a good while to get out of the swamp and back to camp." He told his parents that it could be two months before they heard anything. They knew it was bad storms that brought the plane down and still had hopes of Eugene walking out of the jungle. The person that he spoke with was named McGee and had made it out in 42 days himself, and he also said that the natives helped those who were hurt to get back to camp. McGee spoke well of Eugene and said that everyone liked him.

Eugene's brother Paul sent a letter home on March 5, 1944 where he asked if his sister and Mom and written any letters to Eugene. He was worried that his brother would get back to camp and be disappointed because he had no mail.

A letter from Clay written on March 19, 1944 detailed a conversation from a pilot who had flown the flight that Eugene's plane went down on. This pilot had flown it 23 times and said that "a lot of them come out of there." He told Clay that there is a good system where the natives help the soldiers and there are three planes that do nothing but hunt for those who have gone down and drop food, a radio, and other supplies that are needed and that there is a really good hospital in there that can help them. "He said they never worry about anyone until he has been in there three months or more... I still feel like he is safe and will be out before long. I sure hope so and I believe he will."

The wait continued for the family. A letter arrived from Brigadier General Robert H. Dunlop on May 4, 1944. "It has been my fervent hope that favorable information would be forthcoming and that you might be relieved from the great anxiety which you have borne during these months. It is therefore with great regret that I must state that no further report in his case has been forwarded to the War Department." He emphasized that a continuous effort was being made to establish the status of those who are missing and that the family would be notified as soon as information was received.

A letter was sent from Army Air Forces in Washington on September 15, 1944 that advised the Oxford Family that Eugene was still missing from his flight between China and India on January 25, 1944 and that the details of the "time, place and circumstances surrounding the disappearance of the bomber are unknown." A list of names and addresses of the next of kin of others on the flight was included with an assurance that "a continuing search by land, sea, and air is being made to discover the whereabouts of our missing personnel."

December 27, 1944 brought a letter from the Adjutant General's Office of the War Department from Brigadier General Dunlop advising that First Lieutenant Robert E. Oxford of the Air Corps was receiving the Air Medal at the direction of the President, "For meritorious achievement in twenty-five combat missions as bombardier during the period 23 March 1943 to 12 August 1943. These officers participated in missions over enemy-held territory in China, Burma, India, and Indo-China, often under adverse weather conditions and where enemy fire was probable and frequently encountered. He has at all times shown an aggressive spirit, love for combat and unusual courage in the face of the enemy. His actions are in keeping with the best traditions of the Army Air Force." He closed by advising that the Air Medal would be presented to Charlie since it could not be awarded to his son and offered his deepest sympathy.

The Major General from the War Department wrote a letter in regard to Eugene to his family on February 9, 1945 saying that the records of the War Department show that First Lt. Robert E. Oxford was reported missing in flight on January 25, 1944 when his flight failed to land at its destination and that his status continued as Missing in Action as of January 26, 1945. He advised that if there was any change in status, the family would be notified. "I regret that the far-flung operations of the present war, the ebb and flow of combat over great distances in the isolated areas, and the characteristics of our enemies impose upon some of this heavy burden of uncertainty with respect to the safety of our loved ones." Another letter arrived from Major General J. A. Ulio of the War Department on May 9, 1945 advising that no additional information had been obtained and once again conveying his heartfelt sympathy to the family.

On February 7, 1946, The Pike County Journal ran an obituary for Robert Eugene Oxford. "1st Lt. Robert E. Oxford, of the Air Corps, who was reported missing in January, 1944, has been declared dead as of January 1946, by the War Department." It told how he had been commissioned as a 2nd Lt. in the Army Air Forces and sent overseas as a bombardier and that his plane went down on January 25, 1944 with no trace of him being found since that time. "Gene, as Lt. Oxford was called by those who knew him best was loved by all with whom he came in contact... He is survived by his parents, Mr. and Mrs. C.E. Oxford; one sister, Mrs. Mitchell Roan, and three brothers, Paul, Fred and Clay."

A Tale of Two Gene's

Susan Brown was born in Pike County, Georgia to Luke and Claude Childers Brown in 1921. She graduated from Pike County High School and later worked at Sears Roebuck in Atlanta. She was engaged to be married to Eugene when his flight went down.

Susan's cousin and best friend, Montine Wilson was with her on the day that Susan found out that Eugene wasn't coming home. Montine is 91 years old and lives in Griffin. Montine read about Eugene's homecoming from the two articles from Pike County Times that have been republished in The Grip, the Griffin bi-weekly printed newspaper. She contacted Moody-Daniel Funeral Home and asked for contact information for Merrill Roan. She talked to Merrill Roan this weekend and allowed me to interview her as well.

Montine was soon to be married to Gene Wilson who was also stationed in India. Montine's Gene served in the Signal Corps in Calcutta and was stringing communication lines on poles during the day with the enemy cutting down those lines at night. Both Susan and Montine waited for their soldiers to come home after their tour of duty overseas.

"There were a lot of things about our years that coincided," Montine said. First and foremost was that Montine's grandfather and Susan's Father were brothers. They also both worked at Sears in Atlanta. Then they were both in love with men named Gene.

Susan and her Gene were planning to meet in Miami in March to get married at Fred and Lily's house. Gene volunteered to go on this flight so he could come home early. At the time Eugene's plane went down and Susan was told that Eugene wasn't coming home as scheduled, she and Susan were in Atlanta walking together on a road about two blocks from where she was living. Susan's family was living in the other side of duplex on Drewry Avenue that they were renting from Clay and Opal Oxford.

Montine said that someone called Susan's mother with the news about Eugene. Eugene had been planning to fly into Miami in a few months to get married to Susan and had taken that fateful flight so he could come home sooner than originally planned. Susan was holding a sugar bowl that she has bought for her hope chest, and that Susan threw the lid to the sugar bowl as far as she could throw it.

Merrill told Montine that it was said that Bessie Oxford, Eugene's mother, used to be so happy but after Eugene's plane crash, she was not happy anymore. Montine said that Susan said for years and years after the crash that she kept saying that "Eugene is going to come home and I'll be standing here waiting for him."

Susan was good friends with Opal and kept in touch with the family through the years. "She never let go of that," Montine said. "You don't let go of something like that."

Montine's Gene came home in December of 1945. They were married for 62 years. "We had a wonderful life together," she said. But life was very different for Susan.

Montine said that Susan put a lot of things on hold when she found out that Eugene's plane had been lost. After that, Susan's life was spent waiting, hoping and praying that one day there would be word about her Gene. She waited all of those years, Montine said. For a long time after Gene was gone, she worked at First National Bank of Barnesville and looked after her Mom and brother Roger.

Eventually, Montine moved from Barnesville to Griffin and came back to Barnesville for Susan's wedding. Susan married late in life to Reverend Joe Parham and traveled with him as he ministered in the Baptist Church and worked for the Extension Department of Mercer University. She had no children, but she was very close to her husband's daughter.

Rick Ballard, from Haisten Funeral Home in Jackson, knew Susan both as a child and later in life when she married Rev. Parham and moved to Jackson. They were both raised in Barnesville and played the organ together when they were young. He said that they became friends again when she was older. She played in a band and just had a good time playing for ladies' groups and churches, he said. "She was one of the most delightful women I've ever been around."

Susan knew that her Gene's plane had been found, but she did not live long enough to see him come home. She died in 2011 at the age of 90.

Susan's obituary mentions her love of music and use of her talent in organizations like the Mixed Nuts Band and the Towaliga Toe Tappers dulcimer group. She was preceeded in death by husband, Rev. Parham and sisters, Winnifred Daniel, Mildred Hemphill and Claudia Smith and her brother, Roger Brown. Rev. Parham was buried at Evergreen Memorial Park in Athens, Georgia with his first wife. Susan Brown was buried at the Brown Family Cemetery in Pike County.

Not a lot was known about Eugene Oxford when the Oxford family learned about the discovery of the "Hot as Hell" wreckage. When the news broke, the family was contacted by a woman named Susan Brown Parham, Eugene’s previously unknown fiancée. Susan met with the family and told them about their Uncle Eugene.

One story that stuck out to family members who knew Susan was that of an old teapot that she brought down from storage. The teapot had been a gift for her engagement to Gene. It was the only gift that she had to mark the engagement because she and Gene had not purchased rings. Susan gave the teapot to Mary Kate Roan Allen along with hand-written letters about her life with Eugene and the Oxfords. It is one of Mary Kate's most treasured possessions.

The teapot will be at the funeral home this weekend along with a binder with copies of these letters for those who would like to read them. There will be many pictures of the families and Eugene as well. (Photos are below the article.)

Montine ended our interview by saying that Susan was waiting for Gene all of these years, and it turns out that he was waiting for her. Montine told me that Susan had said, "I'll be standing there when he comes home... Just like Gene was standing there waiting for her when she came home that November of 2011."

Montine plans to be standing by the roadside in Susan's place since Susan can't be here to see Gene come home. Montine will have Susan with her--a picture of Susan in her younger years just like Gene would have remembered.

Closure for the Oxford Family

Here are thoughts from the family of Eugene Oxford as they are looking at closure in the death of their loved one 73 years ago. They didn't know their Uncle Eugene and while they saw Susan at family gatherings, they were so young that they didn't know who she was. The pain from losing Eugene and not knowing what happened to him has been extremely hard for the family.

Charles Evan Oxford and Annie Elizabeth (Bessie) Ballard Oxford were married and had six children.

Fred Oxford married Lily Johnson but had no children. Fred Oxford wrote a letter to Merrill, Bill and Mary Kate dated September 23, 2007. In it he thanked them for the pictures, letters and other information about Eugene. He sent them copies of letters from the time when Eugene was missing as well as letters and cards that Eugene wrote. "Maybe Mary Kate can figure a little bit of what he was like from his letters and the others dated February 5, 1944 and February 29, 1944," he said. "I think Eugene played the guitar some. I suppose without lessons from a teacher," he wrote. Eugene's guitar was likely shipped home with his belongings after he was missing.

He told them that Eugene enlisted in the Air Force instead of being drafted and how he met the weight requirement of 125 pounds. Eugene phoned their Doctor's nurse and asked if she knew how he could gain weight. She told him to eat bananas for a couple of days, and he did--thus passing the weight requirement to join the Air Force. Fred was the only one of Eugene's brothers and sisters to learn what happened to him in 1944, but he died in 2011 before his brother could be brought home to rest in Concord.

Paul Oxford married Marguerite Hemphill and had three sons: Danny, Gene and Tommy Oxford. Danny and Loraine Oxford live in Concord. Tommy and Carolyn Oxford live in Concord. And Gene Oxford lives in Deltona, Florida. Paul died in 1975 without knowing what happened to his brother.

Clay married Opal Roan and died in 2006 without knowing what happened to his brother.

Katie (Martha Kate) Oxford married James Mitchell Roan, and had two children: William (Bill) Charles Roan and Susan Roan Smith. Bill and Merrill Roan live in Thomaston. Merrill is the family historian. Susan and Walter Smith live in North Carolina. Katie died in 1998 without knowing what happened to her brother.

Great-nieces and great-nephews include Terri Conner and husband Perry of Glenwood, Charley Roan and wife Candice of Thomaston, Mary-Kate Allen and husband John of Savannah, Bryan Smith and wife Brendyl of Hickory, N.C., Brad Smith and wife Jen of Raleigh, N.C., Charlie Oxford and wife Coty of Williamson, Laura Rogers and husband Brandon of Concord, Will Loyd and wife Tiffany of Concord, and Tangi Adams of Snellville.

Susan Smith, Katie Roan's daughter, lives in Hickory, North Carolina. She doesn't have any real memories of her Uncle Eugene. "But I remember the look of sadness and regret that I would see, even as a young child, on the faces of my grandparents, my mother, and her surviving brothers, whenever his name was mentioned," she said. "My mother told me that her mother always believed that he would come walking out of the jungle one day. These were good and humble people. They never questioned God’s decision to take him so young. They met this challenge, as they had many others, with strength and faith."

"I only wish that my mother had been alive to see his recovery. She would scarcely be able to believe the whole thing. Back then, his plane might as well have been lost on the dark side of the moon as in India, in the Himalayan mountains. To think that one day, we would turn on our computers and see actual pictures of his wrecked plane, is mind-boggling. And now to have his remains brought home is beyond all expectations," she said.

"I am sorry that he did not get to come home, celebrate the war’s end, marry his fiancé, and settle into a happy life. I would have liked to have known him," Susan said. "I know that if he was anything like my mother and her 3 brothers, he would have been a delight to know."

Merrill Roan, wife of Eugene’s nephew Bill Roan, is the genealogist of the family and said that she and her mother in law talked about Eugene many times. "She took her last breath not knowing where he was and that hurt."

The following is the thoughts from Bill and Merrill Roan: "As I look at the pictures of Eugene and Susan side by side I feel cheated of not having them in our lives. I keep going back to Mary-Kate's article and wonder what he was like. I can see Paul Oxford in his eyes when he smiles. I would like to have believed he was a character who like to pick on you and laugh with you like Paul did. I also think he would have been loving and caring like his sister Kate Oxford Roan. I think he would have been a hard worker like his brother Clay. I also think he would have been a humble man like Fred. Like most of the Oxfords I believe family would be everything to him. I wonder what it would be like if he had lived and followed his dreams to marry Susan and have a family and grandchildren. We will never know. All that matters now is that he is coming home to be with his family and NOW he and Susan can live happily ever after."

Gene Oxford is Paul Oxford's son, and he lives in Deltona, Florida. He remembers Uncle Eugene from a picture on the mantle. "All we knew as kids was that he was lost in the war in Burma in 1944. That was basically all that they said about him. He was a bombardier on the plane and he was lost in the war," he said. "They never talked about him."

Gene said that he knew Susan from when she attended family gatherings, but he never asked who she was or who she was kin to since there were so many kinfolk there. "I wish I had known," he said. "I was probably in my 40's or maybe my 50's before I found out," he said. "Being young, I didn't ask." He said that he is glad that Uncle Eugene is finally being brought home.

Tommy Oxford is Paul Oxford's son and lives in Concord. "As Gene (his brother) said a picture was about all we ever knew of Uncle Eugene; Daddy and his brothers never talked about the war—nobody that was in WWII ever talked about it that I know of—it surely must have been hell," he said.

"I am so proud to be able to have Eugene home so he can be laid to rest with his Mama and Papa and sister and brothers, exactly where he belongs, albeit 73 years late, Tommy said. "I am so glad his oldest brother Fred got to learn of his aircraft being found and Fred died knowing we, his nephews and niece, would take care of all arrangements for Eugene should he be found. I honestly did not think we would ever see this day."

Final Arrangements

The family can go to the airport to view this homecoming ceremony from beginning to finish. An Honors Team will show respects to Lt. Oxford as he begins his final journey home accompanied by his escort, and Lt. Oxford and his family will be escorted to Pike County by the Patriot Guard. The Georgia State Patrol and Pike County Sheriff's Office will lead this escort. There will likely be assistance given from law enforcement in each county as the procession moves through as well.

Lt. Oxford will be flown into Atlanta on Thursday, June 8th. He and his family will be escorted from the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Airport to Moody-Daniel Funeral Home in Zebulon by the Patriot Guard, Pike County Sheriff's Office, and Georgia State Patrol. There will be an honor ceremony for Lt. Oxford at the airport and then there will be a departure from there to Zebulon. Those wishing to show respects to the family on this day can line the roadways with American flags to show your support.

The escort to Moody Daniel Funeral Home will depart Delta Air Cargo around 4:30 p.m. and will take I-75 South to Tara Blvd and follow U.S. 19 to Zebulon. Estimated arrival should be between 5:30 and 6 p.m.

Visitation with the family of Lt. Oxford will be at Moody-Daniel Funeral Home on Friday, June 9th from 5 to 8 p.m. Moody-Daniel Funeral Home is located at 10170 Highway 19 North just north of Zebulon.

There will be a second day of visitation for Lt. Oxford on Saturday, June 10th from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Moody-Daniel Funeral Home.

The Memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. on Sunday, June 11, 2017 in the Pike County School Auditorium in Zebulon. All of the family members of "Hot as Hell" will be remembered during this service.

Lt. Oxford will be laid to rest in Magnolia Cemetery in Concord, Georgia after the service. Those who would like to show their respects to the family can attend the funeral or gather along Highway 19 between the Auditorium and the Courthouse (or even at the Courthouse) and along Highway 18 between the Courthouse and Magnolia Cemetery in Concord with American flags.

The funeral will begin at 2 p.m. and end by 2:40 p.m. 2:40 to 3:25 will be the transition to the graveside at Magnolia Cemetery. Graveside remarks will be conducted from 3:30 to 3:45 p.m. with military honors conducted at the conclusion of the ceremony.

The family is asking that donations be sent to Clayton Kuhles at MIA Recoveries.org in lieu of flowers.


The families of eight crew members of the B-24J Liberator nicknamed "Hot as Hell" that went down in the service of the United States finally know what happened on January 25, 1944. For the family of Lt. Eugene Oxford, there will be closure. For the rest of the grieving families, there are still hopes that their loved ones will be returned to them after more than 73 years as well. This service will honor the service and sacrifice of all eight members of this flight as well as lay Lt. Eugene Oxford to rest.

Members of this crew were:
Pilot 1st Lt. William A. Swanson, O-728935 (MIA / KIA) Proctor, VT
Co-Pilot F/O Sheldon L. Chambers, T-000291 (MIA / KIA) Altoona, PA
Navigator 1st Lt. Irwin G. "Zipper" Zaetz, O-791661 (MIA / KIA) Burlington, VT
Bombardier 1st Lt. Robert E. Oxford, O-663308 (MIA / KIA, BR) Concord, GA
Engineer SSgt Charles D. Ginn, 15084114 (MIA / KIA) Crete, IL
Radio SSgt Harry B. Queen, 11021096 (MIA / KIA) Onset, MA
Gunner Sgt James A. Hinson, 14188472 (MIA / KIA) Greensboro, NC
and Gunner Sgt Alfred H. Gerrans, Jr., 34315848 (MIA / KIA) Kinston, NC.

For those who note the amount of time that has passed between the beginning and the end of this journey, remember that there are seven other families from this crash who don’t have the closure provided by this repatriation process including thousands more who have served and haven’t been returned to their loved ones.

The Pike County community celebrates the return of Lt. Oxford to his family, but we remember those who still mourn for their loved ones, and as time passes, loved ones pass away as they wait. Let’s continue to bring them home.

You can read more about the road to repatriation at www.pikecountytimes.com/secondary/BREAKINGNEWSoxford5.8.17.html. This article has links to other articles that go back ten years on Eugene's story.


The teapot

The note from the teapot

Merrill Roan and Montine Wilson

Montine holding the teapot

Susan and Montine

Montine and her Gene


Montine and Susan


Photos of Montine and Susan courtesy of Montine Wilson. All photos of Susan except this large young photo of Susan courtesy of Montine Wilson. Young photo of Susan courtesy of Gene Oxford. Family photos courtesy of Merrill Roan and Gene Oxford.


A young Eugene

Ma and Pa Oxford

Family Picture

Memorial in Manilla, Philipines

Memorial in Manilla, Philipines

Memorial in Manilla, Philipines

An engraving at the Manila American Cemetery reads, "Here are recorded the names of Americans who gave their lives in the service of their country and who sleep in unknown graves.” A dark dot will be added beside Lt. Oxford's name now that he has been returned home. A photo will be sent to the family after this is completed.