After Third Down and a War to Go publication, hearing from
the women whose boyfriends were killed in action
Left: Arlene Bahr sent this
picture to her boyfriend, Marine Bob Baumann, in the Pacific. She's wearing his letter sweater and is at the Madison firehouse
where Baumann lived as a Badger football star.
Right: Irene Smith at the grave of
Madison Gillaspey at the Keokuk (Iowa) National Cemetery. As Irene Eck, she was engaged to P-38 pilot Madison Gillaspey.
I've received considerable gratifying
reaction to my World War II research and writing, including from Third Down and a War to Go: The All-American 1942
Wisconsin Badgers since its hardback publication in 2004, and then the appearance of a new, updated and revised Third
Down and a War to Go in 2007.
Among it all, I've been perhaps the most touched by hearing
from two women whose fiancés I wrote about and were killed in action.
was engaged to former Wisconsin tackle Bob Baumann -- my father's Badgers teammate -- when the Marine first lieutenant was
killed in the Battle of Okinawa on June 8, 1945.
I heard from her in 2004 and was able to get what she told me in the paperback.
Irene Smith was engaged to P-38 fighter pilot Madison Gillaspey,
my father's tentmate in the 26th Photo Reconnaissance Squadron, when Gillaspey was missing in action in early 1945 and later
I heard from her in 2012.
Arlene and Irene reminded me that so many
women lost sweethearts during the war, men with whom they had talked about spending lives together.
First, Chandler's letter, with a Bucky Badger return address label, arrived from San Luis Obispo, Calif.
She wrote: “You have given me a wonderful gift, a gift more meaningful than you will be able to realize.”
When they met,
Baumann had enlisted in the Marines and was awaiting his call-up.
He was waiting for teammate Pat Harder outside
Rennebohm’s Pharmacy when Arlene Bahr, 19, emerged. Arlene realized she had forgotten something and went back into the
store. As she rushed back out, Baumann laughed and asked, “Hey, are you trying to get my attention?”
Years later, Arlene assured me her response was uncharacteristic. She asked Baumann: “I did, didn’t I?”
Arlene told him about the errands she was running, including mailing some material for the Daily Cardinal, the
student newspaper. Baumann asked if she would join him for a beer that evening after practice. They went to Lohmaier’s
on State Street, where players often gathered for conversation and beers. (The legal drinking age was 18 for beer.)
immediately,” Arlene recalled later.
By the time the ’42 season started, the Daily Cardinal writer and the
big tackle were a couple, “going steady.” They stayed that way through the Badgers' 1942 Helms Foundation
national championship season and Baumann's move to the Marines, along with many of his teammates.
In late 1943, during Baumann’s Marine training, he and Arlene visited his family in Harvey, Ill., and returned
to Madison, where Arlene was a senior.
“I saw him off on the train on Thanksgiving morning,”
Arlene told me. “He stood on the step, and he waved goodbye to me.”
Baumann was in the same company as
his close friend, Badgers star end Dave Schreiner.
Bob Baumann sent this picture to Arlene Bahr
and hand-wrote the caption on the back. Arlene gave me the originals of this and several other photos he sent her.
From the Pacific, Baumann
wrote to Arlene about marriage and where he hoped they would honeymoon, in northern Wisconsin.
After serving in island fighting elsewhere,
they ended up together in the horrific Battle of Okinawa. They were first lieutenants in the Sixth Marine Division.
21, 1945, Baumann’s aunt, Emma, called Arlene and said that Baumann, a first lieutenant in the Sixth Marine Division, had been killed in the Battle of Okinawa.
“No, no, it’s
a mistake!” Arlene cried.
“No, it’s no mistake,” Emma said. “The telegram is here.”
said she hadn’t known the details of Baumann’s death until she read what his fellow Marines told me about it.
She always had feared that he had suffered, but the book made it clear he was killed with a single gunshot to the head. Later,
she sent me copies of many of his letters and the originals of several wrenching pictures he had sent her from the Pacific,
including with his captions in pencil on the backs.
Here's the passage from Third Down and a War to Go that Arlene read
about Baumann's death:
On the third day of the assault, June 6, the Schreiner-led platoon was pinned down and under heavy fire. Captain [Clint] Eastment was directed to move ahead with scouts and left Baumann in charge of the company.
Years later (Marine) John McLaughry wrote his memories of what happened next.
He said Baumann’s platoon “was blind-sided by heavy enemy fire from the reverse slope to his left flank. . . . All this time I was in radio contact with Bob who was only some 50 yards away on the reverse side of the ridge.”
Sergeant Gus Forbus was with Schreiner. “We were getting the shit kicked out of us, to be honest,” Forbus remembered. “It was really hot, with snipers firing and mortars, you name it. We were in trouble, and we were trying to get out of there. So Dave and I were evacuating our dead and wounded. We were
running; there’s no walking when you’re under fire like that.”
Bodies littered the trail. Schreiner was used to that, but something clicked in
his mind as he and Forbus ran by one of the many corpses.
“That looked like Bob!” he hollered
“Now, don’t you go back there!”
With eyes misting, Schreiner kept running.
“We got the ones out we were
carrying,” Forbus recalled. “He didn’t
go back. I wouldn’t let him go back.”
fears were confirmed.
The body was Bob Baumann’s.
Eastment recalled, “When I came back, they told me Bob had been hit. He got a bullet right through his head.”
McLaughry wrote that Baumann “was hit and died as we were discussing [on the radio] how to extricate his platoon.”
The irony was that the day when word of Baumann's death reached his family and Arlene, Schreiner
died from wounds suffered the day before in the final stages of the Battle of Okinawa.
Arlene never forgot Bob Baumann.
(Continues below picture)
Bob Baumann's Bronze Star,
Irene Smith didn't forget Madison Gillaspey,
She and her daughter, Cindy Smith of Montrose, Iowa, sent me
a lot of material about Madison, too.
Cindy told me she had come across my November 2000 Denver Post story that served as the starting point for Third Down
and a War to Go. She had been searching for information on a World War II pilot named Madison Gillaspey.
She started checking after attending an air show in Burlington with her mother, Irene Eck Smith.
When it was announced that the third Friday in September was an annual day of remembrance for American POW and MIA, Irene
was moved to tell her daughter more about losing her fiancee during World War II.
Irene called him "Bud."
Madison and Irene Eck had attended high school together in Argyle, Iowa, were
long-time sweethearts and were engaged to be married. While he was serving in the Pacific, she took flight lessons and
was on the verge of taking a solo flight as a pilot herself when she got word that Madison was missing in action and
presumed dead. Irene told her daughter that she was heartbroken and never flew again. Irene eventually met and married
Cindy's father, Wendell Smith, taught grade school for many years, and now is a widow.
The 26th Photo Squadron's
pilots were entrusted with the one-man P-38 fighters reconfigured into reconaissance planes. They flew them unarmed,
with the cameras replacing guns. They flew alone or in two-plane missions over targets, taking pictures in advance
of the bombing runs.
My Dad had told me of how a small group of flyers in the 26th Photo Squadron, grouped
together by the accident of the alphabet, had become close. Ed Crawford, Jerry Frei, Don Garbarino, Madison
Gillaspey and Ruffin Gray. They made a pact that they all would come through the war alive. Because of an alphabet
cutoff after training Gray ended up with another unit, but he remained in touch.
In February 1945, my father
caught up to his unit, by then at Lingayen in the Philippines, after a brief leave. He saw one of the P-38s
Here's what he told me, years later, and this was both in the Post article and in Third
Down and a War to Go:
asked one of our people, ‘Who’s that?’ He said it was Madison Gillaspey,
and he was going on a low-level mission to Ipo Dam. I went over to the squadron area, to the others’
tent. It always was Ed Crawford, Don Garbarino, Madison Gillaspey, and me. But while I was gone,
they’d moved another pilot in with them when they got to Lingayen, so I was going to go get a cot and be the fifth.”
He didn’t have to get the cot.
“Madison Gillaspey never came back,” Jerry Frei said. “No one ever knew what
happened, but we lost two planes over Ipo Dam."
My dad remained in touch with the other men in that tent over
As did Irene, they missed Madison Gillaspey, too.
As of August
2020, Irene Smith is 96 and still lives in Montrose. Sadly, her daughter, Cindy, died at age 64 in 2018.
Here's Argyle, Iowa, High's Class of '41, with both Irene and Madison. They're in the top row. Irene
is the second from left, Madison is at the right.