Sergeant Steiner S. Straw, Jr. (1920–1943)

Steiner S. Straw (Courtesy of the Delaware Public Archives)
HometownCivilian Occupation
Wilmington, DelawareAccountant or accounting clerk
BranchService Number
U.S. Army Air Forces12133875
TheaterUnit
Mediterranean414th Night Fighter Squadron
Military Occupational Specialty (Presumed)
911 (airplane armorer)

Early Life & Family

Steiner Stanley Straw, Jr. was born on April 3, 1920, at 2108 Lancaster Avenue in Wilmington, Delaware. He was the second child of Steiner S. Straw, Sr. (a machinist for the Pennsylvania Railroad, 1889–1975) and Naomi M. Straw (née Perry, 1890–1974). He had an older sister, Amelia Emma Straw (later Whiteley, 1914–1998), and a younger sister, Martha June Straw (later Davis, 1922–2009).

The Straw family was recorded on the census on April 11, 1930, living at 423 West 26th Street in Wilmington. At the time of the next census on April 6, 1940, Straw (recorded as “(Jack) Steiner Straw Jr”) was living with his parents and younger sister at 2901 Jessup Street in Wilmington. He was listed as working as a clerk in a jute mill.

When Straw registered for the draft on July 1, 1941, he was living at 2901 Jessup Street and working as a clerk at the Ludlow Manufacturing & Sales Company in Edgemoor, Delaware. The registrar described him as standing about five feet, 9½ inches tall and weighing 146 lbs., with brown hair and eyes.

Straw’s enlistment data card stated that he completed two years of college. Journal-Every Evening reported that Straw graduated from Pierre S. duPont High School and “attended the University of Pennsylvania[.]” The article added that “He was an active member of Peninsula Methodist Church.”

On September 6, 1941, Straw married Olive Lillian Oswald (1920–2015) at the First and Central Presbyterian Church in Wilmington. His bride, a classmate at P. S. duPont High School, worked for the Industrial Trust Company. Journal-Every Evening reported that Straw’s younger sister was Olive’s “maid of honor and only attendant” and added that the “bride wore a gown of burgundy chiffon velvet with matching accessories and carried a bouquet of white roses and baby’s breath.”

After the ceremony, Straw’s older sister and brother-in-law hosted a reception at their home in Price’s Corner. The newlyweds honeymooned in New England. After the couple returned, Straw moved to his wife’s residence at 102 East 29th Street, which was less than two blocks from his old home.

In a statement to the State of Delaware Public Archives Commission, Straw’s wife listed his occupation as accounting clerk. (The U.S. Army recorded a similar occupation upon enlistment, accountant or auditor.) She added that he had experience in the Delaware State Guard, a militia—previously active during World War I—which had been reactivated in May 1941 after the Delaware National Guard entered federal service.


Military Career

Straw volunteered for the U.S. Army in Camden, New Jersey, on November 17, 1942. Assigned to the U.S. Army Air Forces, he trained as ground crew, eventually serving as an armorer. His wife’s statement indicated that Private Straw was initially assigned to the 613th Technical School Squadron and began his training at the Atlantic City Training Center, New Jersey, on November 21, 1942. She wrote that he was stationed at Buckley Field, Colorado (December 10, 1942 – February 23, 1942), followed by Kissimmee Army Airfield, Florida (February 25, 1943 – April 19, 1943). Straw’s wife wrote that he was promoted to corporal in April 1943. It appears likely that he joined the 414th Night Fighter Squadron at Kissimmee, at the very latest on April 21, 1943.

The 414th Night Fighter Squadron had been activated on January 26, 1943. The first purpose-built American night fighter, the Northrop P-61 Black Widow, was not yet operational. The squadron initially trained with the Douglas P-70 Nighthawk, a converted A-20 Havoc, but would enter combat equipped with a more effective British aircraft, the Bristol Beaufighter. The Beaufighter was a twin-engine heavy fighter that, among other things, saw use as a night fighter since it was large enough to be equipped with the bulky airborne radar systems of the era.

On March 23, 1943, the 414th’s air echelon shipped out from the New York Port of Embarkation bound for the United Kingdom, where they trained on the Beaufighter. While the air crews trained, the ground echelon departed Kissimmee on April 21, 1943, arriving the following day at Camp Kilmer, New Jersey. On April 29, 1943, the ground personnel, including Straw, shipped out of the New York Port of Embarkation, bound for Oran, Algeria. After arrival in Algeria on May 12, 1943, the ground personnel initially moved to the nearby airfield at La Sénia (today Ahmed Ben Bella Airport). Straw’s wife wrote that he was promoted to sergeant in June 1943.

The air and ground echelons reunited at Rerhaia Airfield, Algeria, on July 1, 1943. As part of the 63rd Fighter Wing of the Twelfth Air Force, the squadron began flying missions from Rerhaia, with one flight operating from Protville Airdrome, Tunisia, beginning on July 23, 1943. The 414th Night Fighter Squadron saw only limited action in 1943. Most of its missions were defensive in nature, protecting shipping and harbors from Axis air raids. During its first six months of operations, the squadron was credited with shooting down just four enemy aircraft, with all these victories during daylight.

Ground crews performing maintenance on an American-operated Beaufighter night fighter in Italy on November 17, 1943. As an armorer, Sergeant Straw would have been responsible for loading ammunition onto the aircraft, like the men visible on the wing in this picture. (Official U.S. Army Air Forces photo, National Archives via Fold3)

On October 20, 1943, ground personnel were alerted to prepare for a move to Sardinia. Two days later, they began moving by truck to the port of Bizerte, Tunisia, arriving on October 24, 1943. They boarded a ship on October 27, 1943, shipping out sometime that night. They arrived at Cagliari, in southern Sardinia, around noon on October 28, 1943, and moved to nearby Elmas Airfield (Aeroporto “Mario Mameli” di Cagliari) to prepare for the arrival of the air echelon on November 12, 1943.

On the evening of December 9, 1943, Sergeant Straw was severely wounded in an accident at Elmas. The squadron war diary for the day stated: “A very unfortunate tragedy occurred this evening.  Sgt. Straw, an armorer, while helping to start an aircraft, attempted to remove an object from under one wheel and was struck by the moving propeller.”

The war diary added on December 10, 1943: “Sgt. Straw died early this morning.”

The Adjutant General’s Office provided a similar account to Sergeant Straw’s wife in a letter dated March 20, 1944:

          Additional information received discloses that Sergeant Straw’s death was due to an accident which occurred at dusk on 10 [sic] December 1943 in Sardinia when he was about to motion an airplane forward to the taxiway, but while he made a move forward to grasp an oil can which was in the way of one of the tires, he was struck by the propeller, causing a compound fracture of the skull.  Your husband was immediately rushed to a hospital where an operation was performed, but he died without regaining consciousness.

Sergeant Straw was initially buried at St. Michaele’s Cemetery, Cagliari, Sardinia, at 1030 hours on December 10, 1943. A document in Sergeant Straw’s Individual Deceased Personnel File (I.D.P.F.) stated that “His funeral service was conducted by a protestant [sic] chaplain on the day of his death.  A guard of honor comprising many of his friends among the officers and men of this organization participated in the services and burial.”

His personal effects included four bundles of letters, a damaged wristwatch, a camera, two pipes, two Bibles, a deck of playing cards, three sticks of Dentyne chewing gum, a folio of pictures, his wallet, and about $23 in cash.

The War Department notified Sergeant Straw’s family of his death on December 20, 1943. Ironically, Journal-Every Evening reported the following day that “The family said they had received a letter dated Dec. 9, the day before he was reported dead, saying ‘everything is fine’ and that he was ‘well.’”

On January 24, 1947, Sergeant Straw was reburied at the U.S. Military Cemetery Nettuno, Italy. In a form notarized on February 24, 1948, Straw’s widow requested that his body be returned to the United States for burial. In the fall of 1948, Sergeant Straw’s body was repatriated to the United States aboard the Lawrence Victory and turned over to his family on November 26, 1948. The following day, he was buried at Gracelawn Memorial Park in New Castle, Delaware. His parents, younger sister, and widow were also buried at Gracelawn after their deaths.

Olive Straw remarried to Nelson Ray Stewart (1919–2001) in Wilmington on June 19, 1948. The couple raised two children.


Notes

Dates of Movements

It can sometimes be a challenge to parse information in the family-supplied statements on file at the Delaware Public Archives. These statements often have at least minor errors, but in many cases, they are the best source of information on a person’s movements due to the loss of many records in the 1973 National Personnel Records Center fire. Straw’s wife wrote that he transferred to the 414th Night Fighter Squadron at New Brunswick, New Jersey, on April 21, 1943, and shipped out four days later from New Brunswick for Oran, Algeria. It seems more likely that he joined the 414th prior to April 21, 1943, which is the date that the ground echelon left Kissimmee. Squadron records rule out either echelon from the unit being at New Brunswick on April 21, 1943, though the ground echelon did stage at nearby Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, beginning on April 22, 1943, prior to shipping out from the New York Port of Embarkation.

Straw’s wife wrote that he shipped out from New Brunswick on April 25, 1943, arriving in Algeria on May 10, 1943. Squadron records stated that the ground echelon boarded a transport at the New York Port of Embarkation on April 28, 1943, shipping out the following morning. The ground echelon arrived in Algeria on May 12, 1943.

Date of Injury

The letter from the Adjutant General’s Office to Olive Straw stated that her husband’s death “was due to an accident which occurred at dusk on 10 December 1943” though the unit’s war diary establishes that Sergeant Straw was actually injured on the evening of December 9, 1943, dying of his injuries the following morning.


Acknowledgments

Special thanks to the Delaware Public Archives for the use of their photo.


Bibliography

Cato, Harper C. “Movement of the Ground Echelon.” Reel A0800. Courtesy of the Air Force Historical Research Agency.

Delaware Marriages. Bureau of Vital Statistics, Hall of Records, Dover, Delaware. https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HT-618K-FX?i=447, https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/61368/images/TH-266-12583-57980-51, https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/61368/images/TH-266-12581-17732-1

Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930. Record Group 29, Records of the Bureau of the Census. National Archives at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/6224/images/4531893_00379

“Olive L. Stewart.” The News Journal, June 21, 2015. Pg. 39A. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/108016071/olive-stewart-obituary/

“Outline History.” 414th Night Fighter Squadron, February 1, 1944. Reel A0800. Courtesy of the Air Force Historical Research Agency.

“Sergt. Steiner S. Straw To Be Buried Saturday.” Journal-Every Evening, November 24, 1948. Pg. 27. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/107911992/steiner-straw-obit/

Sixteenth Census of the United States, 1940. Record Group 29, Records of the Bureau of the Census. National Archives at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/2442/images/m-t0627-00551-00200

Steiner S. Straw birth certificate. Record Group 1500-008-094, Birth certificates. Delaware Public Archives, Dover, Delaware. https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HY-6967-M3K

Steiner S. Straw, Jr. Individual Deceased Personnel File. Courtesy of U.S. Army Human Resources Command.

“Sgt Steiner Stanley Straw Jr.” Find a Grave. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/54128251/steiner-stanley-straw

Straw, Olive L. Steiner Stanley Straw (Jr.) Individual Military Service Record, November 4, 1944. Record Group 1325-003-053, Record of Delawareans Who Died in World War II.  Delaware Public Archives, Dover, Delaware. https://cdm16397.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p15323coll6/id/20996/rec/5

“This is Your Squadron.” Reel A0800. Courtesy of the Air Force Historical Research Agency.

“Three City Soldiers Are Killed, Two in Army Airplane Crashes.” Journal-Every Evening, December 21, 1943. Pg. 1 and 4. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/107914696/steiner-straw-dnb-1/, https://www.newspapers.com/clip/108015905/steiner-straw-dnb-2/

“War Diary, 414th N.F. Sqdn. Month of December, 1943.” Reel A0800. Courtesy of the Air Force Historical Research Agency.

“Weddings Of City and State.” Journal-Every Evening, September 9, 1941. Pg. 10. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/107913787/oswald-straw-wedding/

World War II Army Enlistment Records. Record Group 64, Records of the National Archives and Records Administration. National Archives at College Park, Maryland. https://aad.archives.gov/aad/record-detail.jsp?dt=893&mtch=1&cat=all&tf=F&q=12133875&bc=&rpp=10&pg=1&rid=573199

WWII Draft Registration Cards for Delaware, 10/16/1940–3/31/1947. Record Group 147, Records of the Selective Service System. National Archives at St. Louis, Missouri. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/2238/images/44003_06_00007-00260


Last updated on September 12, 2022

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