2nd Lt. Ellis Homer Fish
Born June 12, 1916, Ellis Homer Fish was the oldest of the boys on 463. He
was a stocky 5'6" tall and 169 pounds, with black and curly hair. He made
the trip from his home in La Crosse, Wisconsin to Fort Snelling, Minnesota
on February 24, 1942 to enlist as a private in the Army Air Corps. At the
time, Ellis had completed one year of college and was working at a retail
store. Like any other aviation cadet at the time he had begun in pilot
training, washed out, and was redirected to bombardier training. On August
21, 1943 was commissioned a second lieutenant.
Ellis had a younger brother, Carroll (September 18, 1918-November, 1965) who worked as a machinist on the railroad and an adopted sister, Arlene. Their parents were Lyle (November 18, 1897-August 18, 1953) and Susan Fish (March 10, 1900-July 28, 1996).
All the IDPF files for the boys on 463 and Exterminator are interesting, not only for what they contain, but for what they often donít contain. There is a lot of duplication of telegrams, letters, official documents, and memos. Medical reports centered around dental charts and identifying remains are extensive to non-existent, depending upon which of the boyís file you look at. What makes the IDPF for Ellis so interesting is the volume of documentation covering (the impression is "justifying") the familyís expenses for attending his funeral at Arlington National Cemetery. Unfortunately, all this paperwork doesnít tell us anything about Ellis Fish. It is telling of how penny ante administrative protocol nitpicking can suck the life out of a familyís grieving.
Mileage expenses, at five cents per mile, was computed by "the most direct rail mileage." Carroll used his private automobile to transport himself, Susan Fish, and Arlene Granberg. One check, each, was sent to Susan and Arlene on October 20, 1960 for $108.00, representing 2160 miles, round-trip from Winona, Minnesota to Arlington, Virginia. No per diem to pay for hotel or meals was authorized. Carroll was reimbursed at seven cents per mile because it was his car, for a total of $151.20. The internment costs for Ellis H. Fish were $75.00.
One day, after Christmas 2012, I opened up my email and there was a message from Tonya Ratajczyk which I read with much excitement. She and her son were doing some family research and had come across the blog Iíd created for my previous book. Ellis Fish is mentioned in one of the entries. Tonya is the grandniece of Ellis Fish. Her father is David, the son of Carroll Fish, brother of Ellis. Through Tonya I got a phone number for David and he and I had a nice conversation about his family.
"My grandmother showed me the articles back, oh gosh, way back, it must have been the seventies I suppose," David told me. He doesnít know much about his uncle though. "Gram used to tell some things but that was so long ago I donít remember a whole lot."
Prominent in the materials Davidís grandmother had was an issue of Stag, the magazine that published William Lansfordís article about Hester Lake and Clint Hester. His mother ended up with all of the papers relating to Ellis and she didnít want it to get lost or thrown away. Eventually she told David, "You better take that stuff because it may be valuable some day." If nothing else memorabilia like photos and letters are valuable for children far removed from events to learn something about their family history. As it happened, Davidís grandson wound up doing a school report about Ellis and, "Kids in the classroom were pretty interested in all that stuff!"
Given the difficulty in finding family members from any of the boys, making contact with the nephew and grandniece of Ellis Fish was fantastic. Imagine my surprise and delight when Ellisís granddaughter, Debbie Coulter, contacted me! Debbie had purchased a copy of Final Flight, thinking it might have something to do with her grandfather. I do mention the loss of 463 in one chapter but only as one example of several other airplane losses in Kings Canyon National Park. Seeing that, she decided to contact me. And she had real bombshell to drop too. Debbieís grandparents had not been married.
As Debbie Coulter explained to me, "Here is the deal. Ellis and my grandmother, Adelaide Ekhern, went to high school together in La Crosse, Wisconsin." Adelaide, "came up pregnant. And they did not get married. And Ellis was killed in that plane crash." Adelaide ended up marrying someone else and had three more children. "She died during childbirth," during a home birth. Debbieís father, Don Ekhern, along with the other three kids, were raised by their aunt, Adelaideís sister.
As they said in those days, Ellis wanted to make "an honest woman" of Adelaide but his mother, Susan Fish, would have nothing of it. No matter what the scandal, no matter if it was the talk of the town. "You donít have to marry that girl," Susan Fish told her son. "You have your career to think about." As Debbie Coulter tells the story, "So he did his career. And died on a training mission."
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