LISTEN to Jim Escalle and Bill Beigel on Hometown Heroes
Debuting on Memorial Day weekend, 2015, episode #368 of Hometown Heroes features author Jim Escalle and World War II researcher Bill Beigel. Thanks to Hometown Heroes affiliate KNZR in Bakersfield, CA for providing space to record these interviews with Jim and Bill.
7,800 Americans are still unaccounted for from the Korean War, and more than 5,000 of those remain missing on the North Korean side of the demilitarized zone established on July 27, 1953. Jim Escalle was born six years later, and was largely unfamiliar with the Korean War. Listen to Hometown Heroes to find out how he came across a photo of a Korean War fighter pilot, and how he learned that pilot was the man he was named after, an uncle he never knew existed.
Jim will retrace the steps on his journey of discovery, sharing piece by piece how a picture of who his uncle was started to come into focus. Through letters written more than sixty years ago, we’ll hear about the dangerous and frequent missions Second Lieutenant Jimmy Escalle was flying behind enemy lines as a 23-year-old in F-86 Sabre jets. Jim knows his namesake uncle received the Soldier’s Medal for non-combat heroics in putting out a fire that could have been catastrophic, and he knows he was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart on the presumption that he was killed.
He has clues to what happened on June 19, 1953, but no one will be able to explain with certainty the fate of 2nd Lt. Escalle until North Korea opens its borders to allow investigators to search for remains. Jimmy was already missing in action when his younger brother Bob (Jim’s father), also serving in the Air Force at the time, received a letter from the fighter pilot. Jimmy describes the low-level bombing missions he had been flying, as many as four in one day. He refers to the level of danger those missions carried, and the loss of other pilots. “I hope you don’t have to come over here, Bob,” he writes in the letter, dated June 18, 1953, one day before Jimmy was shot down. Fellow fighter pilots spotted burning wreckage 30 miles behind enemy lines, and the tail section was later identified as Jimmy Escalle’s jet, but the cockpit was never found, and no conclusive evidence of the pilot’s ultimate fate has ever been found.
Was he killed immediately when his plane was struck by enemy fire? Was he able to eject before the jet went into the ground? Was he taken prisoner? If so, did he die in captivity? Could he be one of the Korean War P.O.W.s secretly shuttled into the Soviet Union, a practice revealed decades later? These are some of the questions examined in Unforgotten Hero: Remembering a Fighter Pilot’s Life, War, and Ultimate Sacrifice. Jim Escalle is hoping he can add an epilogue to that book someday, and ultimately settle the unanswered questions about his uncle.
Unanswered questions are what Bill Beigel seeks to solve every day. A researcher who has worked with families of the fallen to investigate more than 1,600 veterans, Beigel also appears on this edition of Hometown Heroes.
In this link from Beigel’s website, http://ww2research.com, Bill shares information about two men who died in World War II.
More than 406,000 Americans died while serving in World War II, and in addition to those two men he researched, Bill discusses the relative of his whose own WWII mystery led him to this satisfying work of helping families find clarity and closure. You’ll hear Bill refer to one project he’s been working on for more than seven years, as well as the groundbreaking search he completed for UCLA, chronicling every student, faculty member, or Bruin staffer who died during World War II. One thing he has learned through his research is that the United States went to greater lengths than any other country to bring home its war dead after World War II, spending the equivalent of more than one billion dollars in today’s money. Bill’s book on that subject is expected to hist shelves in 2016. Memorial Day brings us an opportunity to reflect on those who have paid the ultimate price for our freedom. Through listening to the stories Jim Escalle and Bill Beigel share on this edition of Hometown Heroes, I hope that we’ll be inspired to seek more information about the men and women in our circles who never got to come home. What better way to honor them in death than to find out how they really lived.