Chief honors heroic weather veteran

  • Published
  • By Airman Areca T. Wilson
  • 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs
Captivated by a story he read, Chief Master Sgt. Craig Kirwin set out to find a photograph of a hero knew by name, but not by sight.

As enlisted functional manager of the Air Combat Command Weather Operations Division, Kirwin found the story of U.S. Army Air Forces 2nd Lt. Robert Shaw, 7th Weather Squadron Detachment weatherman, among the pages of an Air Force Weather history book. During World War II, 68 Army Air Forces weathermen were lost; Shaw was killed in action when he sacrificed himself to save the lives of his fellow Soldiers.

"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."

Kirwin felt as though he needed to put a face to the hero after reading about the heroic events that occurred in the early hours of Oct. 25, 1944.

Although organized resistance had ended a month earlier, 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.

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.

Shaw had given his life to protect his fellow weathermen. Kirwin contacted the weather 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 searches, Kirwin finally caught a break when he found the name of Shaw's niece -- Carol Brown, who lived in Pennsylvania.

Kiriwn soon started sending letters to different Carol Browns, hoping to reach the correct one. He was successful and Brown eventually contacted him.

"[She] sent me a photo and an incredible collection of personal letters, medals and everything her father saved; including pictures of the island where [Shaw] was killed and the notification of his death from the government," said Kirwin. "All I set out to do was get a photograph of the man."

Kirwin has been cataloging the memorabilia, trying to save it for the Air Force's weather history archives. He hopes to also send archives to the unit Shaw was a part of and 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, history will never be lost now that a photo is there to go along with that heroic event. Through the hard work of Kirwin, Shaw's face will not only be seen, but what started with a photo also gives Shaw the due honor he truly deserves.