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.
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
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.
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.
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
By USAF Airman Areca T. Wilson
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