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Flipping through pages and clicking through websites, William Edward “Ed” Weaver of Galax suddenly stopped, his eyes coming to rest on an image of a Boeing B-29 Superfortress named “Abroad with Eleven Yanks,” one of more than 500 bomber planes that flew over Osaka, Japan, on June 1, 1945 during World War II.
The aircraft was leading the first airborne squadron over the primary target that day, and a crewman on a neighboring plane had taken a moment to immortalize it on camera.
But the next photo sent a chill through Ed: a photo of the same plane taken minutes later, blurred by flames and smoke, as it fell from the sky with 11 crew members aboard. The caption under the photo cited that a reporter for a Japanese newspaper took the picture.
According to the official report, “Abroad with Eleven Yanks” was struck in front of the bomb bay only 15 to 30 seconds before they were set to drop their bombs. After it was hit, the pilot pulled up and to the right to avoid colliding with another aircraft in the formation. As it fell from the sky, no parachutes were seen by any bystanders. The plane crashed in the waters of Osaka Bay.
Photos and stories like this are difficult to see, but especially for Ed, because these photos showed the death of his uncle and the man he was named for, Edward Morris Weaver.
Leighton “Mo” Weaver of Galax, Ed’s father, still remembers the first time he saw a scary movie. But as the youngest of four sons, he didn’t exactly tag along with his three older brothers… they dragged him along.
“Dad never enjoyed scary movies… he got a good dose early,” Ed told The Gazette.
As the baby of the family, Mo had a lot of examples to look up to, but his brother Edward was always his hero.
“He was my idol… my favorite brother,” Mo laughed. “His classmates always used to call him the smartest one in the school, and one fella once told me that he was the smartest man he’d ever met.”
Flipping through old photos, the family found several pictures of the four brothers standing together as young boys in front of their house on Painter Street. “This is Edward behind [Dad] in this photo, making him stand still,” Ed laughed as he held up a faded image of his dad and uncles. Edward appeared to have a strong chokehold on Mo, but his arms were still free to flail to the sides in infantile rebellion.
The boys spent their afternoons playing tennis and football. “Except for Don… he didn’t play any sports. He was the studious type… a bookworm.”
“It was an experience, [being the youngest],” said Mo as he thought back over his childhood. “We were a good, well-knit family. We looked after each other.”
Through the generations, Ed’s family has always kept and shared records with one another about their lineage. That same lineage has had a powerful impact on the growth of the city. Edwards Chair Company was brought to the city by Morris Edwards, Mo’s grandfather. And the family was also initially responsible for selling one of their family homes on Painter Street to Dr. Waddell, which would later become Waddell Hospital.
Serving their country
Mo described Edward as a typical Galax boy. Before the war started, he graduated Galax High School, and went to Virginia Tech.
“He wanted to be a lawyer, and he would have been a good one,” Mo said.
Instead, Ed was drafted into service — and his brothers followed.
“The college career back then was shortened from four years to three years, and it was year-round because of the war that was taking place,” Mo recalled.
The oldest brother, Donald Weaver, joined up with the U.S. Navy, as did the second-youngest brother, Bill. Edward and Mo joined the U.S. Army Air Corps.
Unlike his brothers, Mo never had to go overseas. “I was going, but I was stationed out at Salt Like City,” he said. After spending some time there, he was informed that he wouldn’t be shipped out like he’d thought.
“They said that the army gave us a raw deal, but they were going to do us all a favor — they didn’t need any bombardiers, navigators, or radio operators. They had all they needed.”
Instead, Mo went to technical school in Illinois, and ended up joining up with occupational forces. His group was set to go to Japan for two years, when the air force colonel surprised him again. “He called us over, and said ‘I’m going to do you all a favor,’” Mo laughed.
He added that he was the only private out of 500 that had not been overseas. “I was tickled to death,” he said. “I got on that train in Los Angeles, and went from there to Chicago, from Chicago to Bluefield and from Bluefield to Roanoke.”
He finally made it back to Galax, where he settled with his wife and raised his five children.
Bill was stationed in the Connecticut reserves for four years with the Navy, and then he lived in California until he passed away in 2007.
Donald Jr. traveled to New Guinea with the Navy, and didn’t meet his oldest daughter back home until she was nine months old. Digging into a box of photos, Ed pulled out a photo of Donald holding his baby girl after coming back home.
“He had three other children after he came home,” Ed noted.
Across a nation
According to initial reports, all 11 soldiers aboard the plane “Abroad with Eleven Yanks” were initially reported as missing in action. Several bodies were eventually found, with funeral ceremonies finally taking place in 1949.
Seven of the soldiers, including Edward Weaver, were buried together in a grave at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri, on the banks of the Mississippi River. “It was a beautiful place,” Mo recalled, as he had attended the funeral with his father in 1949.
A few years ago, when Ed’s company sent him on a field service trip to St. Louis, he got a chance to visit the gravesite. “It was so humbling to walk up to the grave and see his name… and this was so close to the end of the war, so they were so close to coming home,” he said. “I looked at some of the other flight crews there, and one of them was dated August 6, the day they dropped the first atomic bomb, so they were even closer to the end of the war. But that’s the great sacrifice for the freedoms that we enjoy today.”
Since the grave is so far away, Ed makes more consistent trips to the Blue Ridge Veterans Memorial at the Galax Public Library and the War Memorial Chapel at Virginia Tech, both of which have Edward’s name inscribed in memory.
In 2003, Ed noticed his uncle’s name in the newspaper when the Roanoke Times released a story about Jeffrey Kaylor, a soldier from Clifton Forge who died during the war in Iraq. “His name was inscribed on the same column, and the photo showed the mother reaching out to touch his name, while on the side of the column, you can see my uncle’s name,” he said.
This was just one example of how we are all connected, Ed explained. While numbers give a definitive count of victories and causalities, death tolls do a poor job of showing the impact that just one soldier’s death can have on other lives back home.
“We read the numbers… a million, half a million... but with each of those there is a story,” said Ed.
He quoted a motto of the United States: “E pluribus unum” which means “Out of many, one.” Each soldier who gave their life is connected to countless others, the ties binding together and stretching out like a spiderweb.
On the other side of the country, Gary Poulsen of Nevada had filled countless hours with research about his own ancestor, First Lt. Richard Poulsen of Fresno, Ca. — the copilot of “Abroad with Eleven Yanks.”
When Poulsen discovered Weaver’s hometown, he contacted The Gazette for help getting in touch with the family, and was put in contact with Ed. “Poulsen and I have talked through email… and afterwards I started searching for everything I could find,” Ed said.
Reaching for the book that included the photos of his uncle’s plane, Ed flipped to another page that showed the view from 19,000 feet after the bombs were dropped. “They say that the bombing was fierce. Ten B-29 bombers were shot down, and 535 bombers were on the mission that flew over that day,” he said.
Each of those families have stories to tell, and Ed’s family is dedicated to keeping Edward’s story alive through the generations. And, in keeping with preserving their memory, it is their family’s tradition to keep their loved ones’ names alive throughout the generations.
Ed’s brother John’s middle name is Morris, “which is my great granddaddy’s name and Uncle Ed’s middle name. Also, it was my mother’s maiden name. My brother, Thomas Andrew, was named after my great granddaddy as well,” said Ed. “We tend to pass it on.”