WWII Story: A Missouri Family That Lost 3 Sons

Nov 14, 2013
Originally published on November 11, 2013 3:22 pm

Three young men from a family in Missouri were killed during World War II. The caskets bearing Frank Wright, Harold Wright and Elton Wright came home one by one and their father, Henry, met them at the local train station.

The caskets were taken to the Wright home and placed in the room where they were born, and they were later buried at Hilltop Cemetery.

The story is described in historian Rick Atkinson’s recent book about World War II, ”The Guns at Last Light: The War in Western Europe, 1944-1945.”

Here & Now’s Alex Ashlock recorded this conversation with Atkinson about that scene caskets’ arrival in Missouri and the legacy of World War II.


  • Rick Atkinson, author of “The Guns at Last Light: The War in Western Europe, 1944-1945 (Liberation Trilogy).”
  • Penny Wright, granddaughter of Elton Wright.
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Well, of all the veterans being recognized for their service today, about 1.4 million served during World War II. They are the last survivors of the 16 million Americans who wore the uniform during that war. Each has their own story, but author Rick Atkinson tells the tale of three brothers from Missouri who came home in caskets.

RICK ATKINSON: On Saturday, October 27, 1947, the Connolly berthed in New York. Stevedores winched the caskets from the ship two at a time in specially designed slings. Most then traveled by rail in a great diaspora across the republic for burial in their hometowns.

HOBSON: Rick Atkinson's book is called "The Guns at Last Light: The War in Western Europe, 1944-1945."

ATKINSON: Among those waiting was Henry A. Wright, a widower who lived on a farm in southwestern Missouri near Springfield. One by one his dead sons arrived at the local train station: Sergeant Frank H. Wright, killed on Christmas Eve 1944 in The Bulge; and Private Harold B. Wright, who had died of his wounds in a German prison camp on February 3, 1945; and finally Private Elton E. Wright, killed in Germany on April 25, 1945, two weeks before the war ended.

Gray and stooped, the elder Wright watched as the caskets were carried into the rustic bedroom where each boy had been born. Neighbors kept vigil overnight, carpeting the floor with roses, and in the morning they bore the brothers to Hilltop Cemetery for burial side by side by side beneath an iron sky.

HOBSON: Frank, Harold and Elton Wright, casualties of World War II. As Rick Atkinson writes, they came home together.

ATKINSON: There were a number of families that lost multiple sons. There was a Sullivan family, and five boys from that family were killed on a ship. But this is the only occasion when I have discovered all three sons coming home for burial at the same time, and the image of the father watching his boys come home is pretty extraordinary.

HOBSON: Penny Wright knows that story well. Elton Wright was her grandfather.

PENNY WRIGHT: My grandmother had a newspaper that had a picture of my great-grandfather standing there with three horse-drawn buggies with three caskets on them, covered with American flags. It's a sobering picture. He's got his head bowed down, and he's just standing there, and it's a sad-looking picture.

HOBSON: It was a scene repeated many times across the country during the war; 291,000 Americans were killed in action. Historian Rick Atkinson says that's something to think about on this Veterans Day.

ATKINSON: There was a terrific war correspondent in World War II named Osmar White, and he said as the war came to a close the living have the cause of the dead in trust. And I think that that's quite true, and I think that on Monday, November 11 every year we should take a moment to remember that we do have the cause and the memory of those who served in trust. And that's part of the legacy that was bequeathed us, and it's incumbent on us to remember that and to ponder it periodically.

HOBSON: Historian Rick Atkinson on the legacy of World War II. You're listening to HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.