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Hi-Line woman recalls her fallen aviator brother

When Hingham resident Mary White picked up the Tuesday edition of the Havre Daily News, she was shocked by the photo she saw on the front page.

"My first shock was, 'I've got this picture, how come this picture's in the paper?'" she said. "I thought, 'How did the Havre Daily News get that picture of my brother?'"

The black and white photograph, taken during World War II, showed four men standing in front of a B-26 Marauder military bomber. One of the men in the photo was Staff Sgt. William "Billy" Brown, White's older brother.

The 21-year-old was killed less than two months after the photograph was taken, when his aircraft crashed into a hillside in Wales while on the way to England to join the war effort.

A Welsh aviation enthusiast is planning to honor Sgt. Brown and his three crew members by establishing a memorial on the site where their plane went down. The man, Steve Jones, e-mailed the Havre Daily News last month in the hopes of contacting some of Brown's relatives.

The gamble paid off.

Mary, whose last name is White by marriage, and Linda Keeler, the niece of Sgt. Brown, both read Tuesday's article and immediately wanted to meet the man who cared enough about Brown to honor him 60 years after his death.

"I think it's great. I think it's just terrific that somebody's doing this," White said.

Jones and White spoke by telephone for more than hour Thursday night, Jones wrote in an e-mail this morning.

During an interview Wednesday, White gave additional details about her brother and their family. She and her brother were named after their parents, William and Mary Brown, and had two sisters and a brother: Helen, Dorothy and Donald. White is the only surviving sibling.

Their father, William, was the son of Walter Brown, a Scottish immigrant who became a prominent sheep and cattle rancher in the Havre area. William Brown took after his father, and at one point attempted to start a sheep ranch in Canada. It was there that Billy was born on Nov. 11, 1921.

The Canadian endeavor dwindled, and the family returned to Montana, and at times lived in Box Elder and Havre, White said. Billy graduated from Box Elder High School, and left home not long afterward.

"He left home at an early age. As a young man he worked in the coal mines," she said.

He always managed to curry his mother's favor.

"He was my mother's favorite child," White said. "He was truly my mother's son."

White was the youngest of the five children and was a preschooler when Billy enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps, but still has some distinct memories of spending time with him.

"He came home on furlough with a broken arm one time and we went fishing," she said. "I have this picture of us standing by a stream with a whole string of fish."

As a little girl, White said, she was always impressed with the way her brother treated other people.

"He was a very polite man," she said. "He was very, very polite."

Brown was also a talented artist, as he demonstrated in letters to home while being trained in the Army Air Corps, White said.

"He was quite an artist. He would draw a little picture at the bottom of every letter he wrote," she said.

Keeler described her uncle as "quite the ladies' man," and White said she believes he had a serious girlfriend in Biloxi, Miss., before he was sent overseas.

Brown enlisted in the military on Dec. 8, 1941, the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor. He was trained at several locations in the South as a gunner and a flight engineer, and earned the rank of staff sergeant.

He was killed June 4, 1943, when his plane crashed into a mountain in Wales during foggy weather while flying to England. It was one of two planes in an eight-aircraft formation to crash that day.

Jones grew up not far from where Brown's aircraft went down, and has devoted countless hours to researching the crash and the men who died in it. In an e-mail to a Havre Daily News reporter, Jones said the other men in Brown's crew were the pilot, Lt. Robert Lawrence of Newark Valley, N.Y., Lt. Hulbert Robertson, of Comanche, Texas, and flight officer James Jackson of Carrollton, Ga.

"The B-26 flew into a mountain called Carn Llidi, near the town of St. David's, Pembrokeshire," Jones wrote. "The mountain is really a rock which stands above the relatively flat countryside around it. The aircraft came in and hit the slope about half-way up. It then careered up the hill; one engine carried on over the summit. A few pieces of aluminum can be found in the green area on the right-hand side of the rock a few feet from the summit."

In 1999, a hiker on Carn Llidi came across a propeller blade from Brown's aircraft. A Welsh company refurbished the blade free of charge, and Jones plans to incorporate it into a memorial that will be placed at the crash site.

"During war time, such accidents were not widely reported," he wrote. "It's a chance to tell everybody about what happened on the mountainside on that day, and of course to remember the sacrifice made by four young men from far across the Atlantic."

Jones has managed to get in touch with at least one other relative of the men in Brown's crew. He contacted the daughter of Hulbertson, and she eventually traveled to Wales and visited the crash site.

White said she may also visit the site where her brother's life came to an end and where Jones plans a memorial, but the prospect is daunting.

"Right at the moment, it's a scary feeling," she said. "It's so far."

Sgt. Brown was buried in England following the crash. After World War II, with the help of the International Red Cross, his family arranged to have his body brought back to the United States, where he was given a military burial at Fort Snelling Cemetery in Minnesota, Keeler said.

White remembers the ceremony vividly. She recalls picking up the shell casings from the 21-gun salute, which were then distributed among family members.

For years after the funeral, flowers appeared on Brown's grave, White said, adding that they may have been left by his sweetheart from Biloxi.

The fallen aviator's name appears on a plaque in front of the Hill County Courthouse that honors those from Havre who were killed during World War II.


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