S/Sgt. Howard Wandtke
Howard A. Wandtke, radio operator on 463, was born November 30, 1923,
which means he celebrated his twentieth birthday less than a week before
he died. According to a summary of his enlistment record, Wandtke was from
Lucas County, Ohio and had enlisted as a private in the Air Corps at the
US Army post at Camp Perry in Lacarne, Ohio, nearly one year to the day,
December 8, 1942, before his death. He was 5'8" and weighed 157 pounds.
Wandtke graduated in 1941 from Toledo’s Macomber Vocational High School
where he studied plumbing and refrigeration. Howard’s senior photo shows a
handsome boy with a slightly crooked smile. His hair is pomaded into a
Pompadour with a prominent "widow’s peak."
From census records I learned that Howard had an older sister, Dorothy (August 4, 1917-May 30, 1953). Their parents were Arnold E. Wandtke (September, 1893-May 6, 1938) and Sophia (circa 1894-?) and were married in 1915.
Howard Wandtke had an uncle, Edwin Herman Wandtke (December 13, 1894-November 20, 1959) who was married Edith A. Harry (March 7, 1899-June, 1958) on May 27, 1916. The marriage produced four children: Leroy F. (February 4, 1917-October 31, 1982), Lucille A. (April 29, 1919-December 30, 1969), Richard Arthur (August 14, 1926-March 16, 2003), and Doris Evelyn (May 12, 1929-October 6, 1986).
At some unknown time after her husband, Arnold’s, death in 1938, Sophia Wandtke was remarried to David Valentine, of Toledo, Ohio. From here the record, gleaned from newspaper reports, gets murky then grows muddled and unclear. It all begins, or unravels, depending on if you are a glass is half full or half empty sort of person, with an August 4, 1960 account in Tucson Daily Citizen about the recent discovery of 463. Howard Wandtke is identified in the article by Mrs. Elizabeth Shanks as the brother-in-law of her son, W. E. (Winfield) Shanks (circa 1914-November 26, 1966). This would make Winfield the husband of Howard’s sister, Dorothy.
Elizabeth Shanks reports that, "His (Howard Wandtke’s) crew was in training at Fresno for night fighting in the South Pacific and flew here to receive promotions to staff sergeants." Part of that statement might be true but they weren’t training for any kind of night flying in the South Pacific; their unit eventually went first to North Africa and then Italy with the 15th Air Force. Also, the boys were already staff sergeants.
The Saturday, November 26, 1966, issue of the Tucson Daily Citizen reports the death of fifty-two year old Winfield Shanks from an automobile accident. He left behind his second wife, Virginia, two stepsons, Cary and Carl, and three grandchildren.
One last word about Howard Wandtke. Very little that we possess truly belongs to us. Material objects are temporal; like people they get old and wear out or lose their ability to satisfy and please us. One thing that does remain our own from birth to death is our name and our identity. Given how little we know of Howard Wandtke it is a shame how often his name has been misspelled both in official reports and in the books and articles covering the loss of 463. Wandtke’s name usually appears in print as "Wamptke" but other variations occur as well.
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