LT (jg) James Bruton Nelson
Pilot of an Avenger, based on the USS Croatan (VC-42)
MIA/KIA 28 March 1944
Lost at Sea in the North Atlantic
-- Patricia Nelson Fitch --
My father, James Nelson was born on June 22, 1923, in Lampasas, Texas to Wilma Green and Calvin Nelson, Sr. He had two
sisters, Wilma and Alma and two brothers, Calvin, Jr. and George. George, the only surviving sibling, currently lives in
He grew up in Palestine, Texas, and this is where he met my mother, Hazel Ferguson. He played basketball and saxophone in
the school band. He had a good voice and enjoyed harmonizing with Mother, especially on Christmas songs. Many family and
friends have described him as having a kind and gentle spirit. His loving nature can be seen in the many poems he wrote Mother
during and after their courtship.
Following high school graduation, he followed the family tradition by attending Baylor University in Waco, Texas, for the next
two years to pursue a degree in Business. When the war started, he wanted to join the service but had to wait until he turned
20. He left Baylor in 1943, to join the Navy Air Corps. He trained as a pilot and became very proficient flying a plane called
an Avenger, a torpedo bomber. He loved flying and was not afraid to land his plane countless times on the deck of a Jeep Carrier.
These smaller aircraft carriers, while not receiving the glory of the larger ones, proved to be an invaluable asset to the Navy
during the war.
My mother and father were married April 14, 1943, at the Seventh and James Baptist Church in Waco, Texas. There was not much time
to plan a wedding as it had to be planned around the war schedule.
His squadron was based on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, with my mother following cross-country by train as long as she
was able. His squadron was assigned to the USS Croatan, situated in the North Atlantic and it was from this carrier that on March
28, 1944, he left on a mission with his navigator, a gunner. When they did not return from their mission, unsuccessful attempts
were made to locate his missing plane and crew. The seas were rough and search planes were called back fearing there would be
more loss of life. My mother received many letters of comfort, encouragement, and disbelief. I can only imagine her heartbreak
on hearing the news of his missing plane. News came from the military via a telegram. At the time she was eight months pregnant
In a memorial service held on the carrier, he was described as "one of the best pilots serving in this squadron. He was an officer
and a gentleman, and as such was beloved by all."
Tributes to his memory are found on the campus of Baylor University with a lamp post given by the family and dedicated from me
to him with the Seventh and James Baptist Church ironically in the background. His name is also on a marker in a harbor in New York
City dedicated to all who lost their lives in the Atlantic Ocean.
As a child, I always felt he would come back for me and that maybe he just did not want to come back. I know that was just my way of
trying to come to grips with an intangible situation. After many years of thought, I finally decided to have the long overdue
funeral and to give a deserving person who gave me not only my name, Patricia, but gave me life, a fitting memorial service. I did
this on Memorial Day, 2003, with Military Honors presented by the Navy and Marine Corps Reserve Unit from San Antonio, Texas, at
the family cemetery in Uvalde, Texas. My husband, George, and my children, Holly and Ross, were a big support to me in this endeavor.
Mother was an exceptional record keeper and she saved all the paperwork from the military, letters, etc. and I have now preserved
all these for future generations.
My mother remarried when I was eight to Robert Bletsch and he was the only father I was ever to know until his death eight years ago.
My mother lives in Nacogdoches, Texas, near me.
I will always regret never having had the opportunity to know my dad; however, it is a comfort to know that he named me, his only
child, whom he never had a chance to know. I will cherish the words he wrote to my mother which said, "I Love You Both." I look at
the picture of him when he was 20 years old, the blue eyes, like my own and the sandy red hair, like my own and stare in amazement
at my own picture taken at the same age. The resemblance is remarkable. I wonder what he was thinking in those last few moments
before his plane crashed. I wonder about his potential - what he might have done later in life. I know he would have been proud
of me as I am so very proud of him and the sacrifice he made for me and for our country.
I love you, too.