LANGLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Va. – Captivated by a story he read, Chief Master Sgt. Craig Kirwin set out to find a photograph of a hero he knew by name, but not by sight.
"I came upon this story a number of years ago about this gentleman, Robert Shaw," said Kirwin, a history buff. "I was always struck by his story because it was very heroic and amazing, but there was no picture of him."
Kirwin felt as though he needed to put a face to the hero after reading about the events that occurred in the early hours of Oct. 25, 1944.
April 17, 2013 - Photos of 2nd Lt. Robert Shaw, along with a collection of photos of his family and the island where he passed away, are made into a collage. Shaw, an Army Air Force weatherman, died in World War II after sacrificing his life to protect his fellow soldiers. (Photo by Air Force Airman Areca T. Wilson)
Although organized resistance had ended a month earlier, remaining Japanese soldiers rushed the lines of an American camp set up on the island of Angaur in the Palau islands on the evening of Oct. 24, 1944. The Marines pushed the Japanese soldiers back; but, despite their efforts, a few of them made it through the lines.
In his tent, Shaw slept, unaware of the approaching danger. He was awakened by the sound of a firing gun, followed by his commander running into their tent, shadowed by a Japanese soldier with a pistol, hand grenade and a mine strapped to his chest.
The 21-year-old weatherman jumped out of his bed, grabbing the enemy from behind. Shaw and the Japanese soldier wrestled for control of the weapons. Sadly, the Japanese soldier managed to set off the mine, killing both himself and Shaw and wounding ten other weathermen.
Shaw had given his life to protect his fellow weathermen. Kirwin contacted the Air Force Weather Agency historian but came to find that there were no photos in their archives of this young man who had unselfishly given up his life. Kirwin became curious, feeling a strong desire to see what this hero looked like.
Trying to find a photo of someone who died in World War II, who didn't have a wife or children, was difficult for Kirwin. Despite challenges, he searched on-and-off for two years, eventually building Shaw's family tree. After countless ancestry and internet searches, Kirwin finally caught a break when he found the last name of one of Shaw's nieces -- Carol Brown, who lives in Pennsylvania.
Kirwin soon started sending letters and making phone calls to different Carol Browns, hoping to reach the correct one. He was successful and Brown, now Carol Durrwachter, eventually contacted him.
"Carol contacted her sister Sandy and she sent me an incredible collection of photographs, letters, personal items, and medals that were saved by Robert Shaw's father; including pictures of the island and tent compound where [Shaw] was killed and the notification of his death from the government," said Kirwin. "All I set out to do was find a photograph of the man and now I have so much more."
Kirwin cataloged, copied, and scanned all the memorabilia and sent the original items back to the family. He is sending the entire collection to the Air Force weather history archives. He hopes to also send a copy of the collection to the 7th Weather Squadron, the unit Shaw was a part of during the war. He is also aspiring to build a heritage display to honor Shaw at the weather school house located at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss.
According to Kirwin, Robert Shaw's history will never be lost now that we have this great collection of memorabilia to go along with his story of heroism. Through the hard work of Kirwin, Shaw's face will not only be seen, but what started with a search for a photo will now give Shaw the due honor he deserved.
By USAF Airman Areca T. Wilson
Provided through DVIDS
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