Remains of Hillyard airman shot in WWII return after 77 years | North West
April 3—More than 18 years passed between the time in Belgium when Linda Chauvin, digging a trench, knew she was near the buried remains of her father and the time last month when she knew he had been found.
“It was one of the highlights of my life,” Chauvin, who lives in Charlottesville, Va., said in a phone interview last week. “Being able to actually look, physically, for my father.”
Beneath this Flemish soil was what was left of Second Lieutenant Eugene P. Shauvin, of Hillyard, of the United States Air Force. Shauvin’s C-47 Skytrain aircraft was one of the first six aircraft to enter Belgium during Operation Market Garden, the Allied offensive to open a river route to northern Nazi Germany in September 1944, said his daughter (who spelled her name the original French way before it was apparently changed by a nun from St. Patrick’s School where her father graduated in 1933).
From September 17, 1944 to March 2 of this year, Shauvin was missing in action. The other 13 members of his crew had either escaped by parachute or their remains had been identified in the years following the operation, which liberated several towns in Holland but did not establish the Rhine crossing.
Chauvin, who was 2 when her father died, said she never stopped wondering what was in her father’s eyes after being targeted by a German anti-aircraft gun.
“All that motivated me when I was a kid was that I wanted to know more about my dad,” she said.
The telegram arrived in Portland over a month later.
“The Secretary of War wishes me to express his deep regret that your husband, Second Lieutenant Eugene P. Shauvin, has been missing in action since September 17 over Holland,” reads the Western Union cable, still stained with the tears of Phyllis Shauvin.
It came two years after Eugene Shauvin, one of nine children who grew up in a Rich Avenue home in Hillyard, enlisted as a soldier in the Army Air Corps. Phyllis Shauvin followed her husband across the country to training sites in California and Georgia, Chauvin said, while staying with her grandparents in Eugene.
The family spent one last night in Chicago before heading overseas to England.
“He had told (my mother), their last night together, that he had a feeling he wasn’t coming back from the war,” Chauvin said.
The best Chauvin could muster, his father had started training as a scout after completing supply runs during the invasion of Normandy in the summer of 1944. This was the mission he carried out on September 17 1944, out of a field at Chalgrove in England, taking a path south to a drop site near Eindhoven in the Netherlands, where he was to drop paratroopers who would help clear the way for the three divisions airborne that would follow.
One of the men aboard was 1st Lt. Charles Faith, whom Chauvin met years later.
“As we crossed the front line in the vicinity of Retie, Belgium, our ship was shot down,” Faith wrote in a statement, part of a now declassified missing crew report held by the Archives. national. An eyewitness said the flak hit the plane’s left engine, which caught fire.
Faith told Chauvin years later that he did not see the plane crash. He landed in a channel behind enemy lines and crawled out of sight of the Germans. Eventually he came to a house where the family took him in and hid him until British soldiers arrived on a horse-drawn wagon, freeing the area from Nazi control.
Nine of the 15 men on board were killed. The other five who survived, in addition to Faith, were captured. The whereabouts of Eugene Shauvin were unknown, but in March 1946 his wife and Chauvin were awarded an Air Medal which, according to The Spokesman-Review, had been awarded posthumously.
Chauvin pieced together stories about her father as she grew up. She once dated a boy whose father had been a classmate of Shauvin’s at Rogers High School.
“This boy took me to meet his parents,” she said, “and his father burst into tears.”
Phyllis Shauvin became Spokane’s first female assistant fire chief and bought a house for her and Linda. She remarried – a rodeo cowboy and singer named Bud Burrows – and the family later moved to Arizona before returning to Washington state.
It will take the advent of the digital age for Chauvin to follow in his father’s footsteps.
In search of his father
Around the start of the new millennium, Chauvin began using AOL Instant Messenger and posting to chat rooms in an attempt to find out anything about his father.
“I live in Seattle and I went to a website for the C-47 plane he flew,” she said. “I posted this little message.”
She wrote that her father had died scouting and his remains had not been found. The message caught the attention of Dave Berry, an amateur historian who had taken it upon himself to track down the fate of these men who had served as scouts during the war. Berry told her to find as much documentation as possible, and that’s how she found Faith.
After speaking on the phone with his stepdaughter for several minutes, Chauvin was able to speak to one of the last men to see his father alive.
“He let out a moan,” Chauvin said.
She went to interview him in Texas, then together they flew to Belgium in 2001, where Faith revisited the ditch in which he had hidden from the Germans. Chauvin, along with Berry, tracked down anyone who might have known what happened in the field where the plane crashed.
She spoke to a witness, a man who lived in the house next door, who recalled seeing the plane crash in Kortinjen, a town near Retie, setting the house on fire. She also found a man who said he had been ordered to dig mass graves in the field for the remains of the men who died in the accident. Another woman living nearby, the daughter of a man who had collected evidence on each of the paratroopers who landed, provided photographs of the crash site, allowing the makeshift search team to piece together the where the plane crashed.
Chauvin stood in this field in 2001, knowing that she was probably looking at the same scene that served as a view before her father’s accident.
“I always imagined a place that was unpleasant and ugly,” she said. “It was the most serene and beautiful place.
“It was a beautiful place to die.”
During this trip, they found a man who was 19 at the time of the crash and told them he had helped dig two mass graves at the site. These remains were later exhumed and reburied at the Retie village cemetery, but reports said the remains of only eight men were contained within.
Chauvin, convinced her father was in that grave, pushed for an exploration when she returned with a team of researchers from the US Army’s Central Identification Laboratory, based in Hawaii, two years later.
The delay of the pandemic
In the years between that first visit and the 2003 excavations, the witness who remembered digging the graves suffered a stroke.
Chauvin believes this is why the grave was not prioritized on this trip, which ultimately provided no further evidence of his father’s whereabouts.
“We were heartbroken,” she said.
Twelve years have passed. In 2015, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency — a group tasked with identifying and recovering the remains of more than 81,000 soldiers still missing from conflicts beginning in World War II — passed through Spokane. He collected DNA samples from Chauvin’s uncles. Of the eight brothers who grew up with Shauvin, six served in the military during World War II.
Chauvin tracked down a researcher who had made the 2003 trip, Johnie Webb, from the Hawaii lab. After keeping what she described as “68 books of files” on the case, Chauvin convinced the POW/MIA agency to reopen the excavation.
Air Force Technician. sergeant. Apryl Hall was completing a four-year assignment with the agency, having worked on nine cases involving lost soldiers.
“We kind of have the luck of the draw for our missions there,” Hall said last week in a phone interview. “I was lucky to get the mission in Belgium and Linda’s case.”
Chauvin had befriended family living on property adjacent to the crash site. They informed that her work begins in April 2021, and although the country is still closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she managed to convince diplomats to let her return.
They kept her in a trailer at the site to quarantine her while she was there. Chauvin said she came to his door every day when the crew arrived and when they left, to thank them for their work.
“It just makes me cry when I think of the work they’ve done,” Chauvin said, his voice infectious. “You couldn’t stop them.”
Hall said Chauvin’s presence, which had initially resisted due to the nature of the work and intense local media interest in the case, became a rallying force for the workers.
“Having him there, I think, kicked the team into high gear,” she said. “We had just worked our butts off.”
The crew was finished in May, leaving Belgium with remains which were taken back to the United States for testing.
Chauvin was able to hold the case of the remains before they were taken out of the country and call his mother, who died in December at 99, just before the remains were identified.
“I called her and said, ‘Mom, they found some remains.’ That’s all I said,” Chauvin said. “I wasn’t specific, because I couldn’t be. That satisfied her.”
A last rest
Hall, who had been texting Chauvin since the previous spring, received a text she wanted to talk about immediately earlier this month.
“I was like, ‘Oh no, something’s wrong,'” the tech sergeant said. “I knew from the moment she picked up the phone that she was happy.”
The DNA she and her uncles gave to the agency matched the remains perfectly, which were found at the site where this man said he helped dig the graves in September 1944.
“I just whined,” Chauvin said when she got the call.
Plans are in the works for a funeral ceremony to bury the remains at Holy Cross Cemetery, where Eugene Shauvin will finally rest near the graves of his brothers and parents.
Chauvin worked with cemetery officials and Rudy Lopez, warden of the Washington State Veterans’ Cemetery at Medical Lake, as well as the local honor guard. His father will receive a full military burial in July; Chauvin hopes to be flown over by a C-47, the plane his father piloted on his last mission over Europe.
“It’s a really big deal,” she said. “I lived with it for so many years. It’s not a big deal for me. It was just a part of my life.”
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