Family discovers piece of Mississippi WWII veteran’s legacy in England
By RYAN PHILLIPS
Some stories can be years in the making. Others can happen in an instant, with the subjects unaware of how far into the future the story will reverberate.
The story of one soldier, his family and ties to Starkville encompasses both of these possibilities.
Karl William Carlson was born in Edwards, Mississippi in April 1923. Karl Carlson, or Casey as he was called during his time in the military because of his initials “KC”, enlisted in the U.S. Army at the age of 19 in September 1942.
Carlson would go on to serve as a side gunner on a 10-man B-17 crew that flew 12 bombing missions over Germany and Nazi-occupied Europe. He was part of what many now refer to as “The Greatest Generation,” and saw firsthand the scope of total war.
Stephen Carlson, his son, told the SDN the plane his father served in was memorably named “Paper Dollie.” He said the time duration of missions his father flew on were mixed, targeting German factories or other important locations like bridges to disrupt enemy movements.
“Once airborne on the crew’s first mission and at such a high altitude that the temperature was well below zero, Dad was so nervous that he threw up his breakfast on the inside wall of the plane near where his machine gun protruded to the outside,” Stephen Carlson says in his blog.
Stephen Carlson then said his father - embarrassed of getting sick - was relieved to find no one saw him vomit, so he pulled out his knife and scraped it off, throwing the frozen vomit out the gun’s opening.
This is just one of the myriad stories Stephen Carlson fondly recalls about his father - a man he said clung tight to his faith until the end and held his wartime experiences close to the heart, like the scores of World War II veterans who witnessed the bloodshed and carnage of battle.
After the war, Karl Carlson would return to the states and earn two degrees at Mississippi State University before working as a engineer in oilfields across the country. He would ultimately retire after serving as a professor of electrical engineering from 1962 to 1988. Karl Carlson and his wife Kelly, 88, had three children, Stephen, 60, Vaughan, 64 and Linda Carlson Lloyd, 67.
One of his stories, though, would not come to fruition until decades later.
While Karl Carlson’s military service saw him survive one of the bloodiest conflicts in recorded history, one chapter of his life was created after he passed away in June 2004.
BEGINNING OF A LEGACY
After more than dozen high-flying missions, the crew of the Paper Dollie would embark on its last in July 1944.
Stephen Carlson said the mission involved crossing the English channel to bomb a bridge in Creil, France. The objective of the mission was to destroy a bridge to block a German army division from retreating ahead of the advancing Allied forces.
The mission was a success, but on the way back into English air space, the Paper Dollie faced a perilous problem. The gasoline for the plane had been mixed incorrectly prior to taking off for the mission.
The plane would inevitably run out of fuel before reaching its intended destination of an air base in Molesworth.
Seeing no other alternative, the crew was forced to parachute from the doomed Paper Dollie.
Stephen Carlson said when his father jumped from the plane, he was in awe of the spectacle around him as the Paper Dollie plummeted to the ground and his crew mates jumped one by one into the air. As he looked up into the sky as his colleagues floated above him, the ground came quicker than expected and Karl Carlson landed on his backside, an anecdote that his son tells with warmth when he remembers his father.
Seven of the nine crew members of the Paper Dollie survived the jump, Karl “Casey” Carlson being one of them.
After the crash of the Paper Dollie, he was sent back to the states for rest and relaxation, then would prepare to enter the Japanese theater. Karl Carlson missed the Pacific theater of the war, though, after the surrender of Japan in 1945.
A STROKE OF LUCK
Karl Carlson lived a life that was a memorable and unique story in its own right, but his son Stephen Carlson and his family still had another tale to happen upon involving the family patriarch.
Stephen Carlson, a graduate of MSU and former Bulldog pitcher from 1975 to 1978, currently lives in Hendersonville, Tennessee and has done extensive background research on his father’s experience in the war.
Karl Carlson and his wife Kathy visited England on vacation once, and attempted to find the site or any other information regarding his experience, but were met with only dead ends.
Fast-forward to the present day.
Stephen Carlson’s son Tim, 25, along with niece and nephew-in-law Katie and Elijah Hixon, found the crash site near a town in England - The Bishop’s Waltham. The town - with a population of approximately 6,500 - is positioned roughly 90 miles southwest of London, where much of the aerial combat in England occurred during World War II.
The trio visited a pub in the small town, which yielded the most tangible connection to the faithful crash the family could have hoped for.
A plaque hung on the wall of the pub, commemorating the crew and the memories associated with the crash. Featured on the plaque was a picture of the crew - among them, Karl Carlson.
“When Tim saw the plaque, he said ‘That's my grandfather!’” Stephen Carlson said. “The owner took it off the wall so he could hold it and have pictures taken. When the owner handed it to him, he said, ‘Just don't steal it mate!’”
Stephen Carlson said there are even still a few eye witnesses of the crash living in that area.
“They saw the plane going down and remember seeing the first person to jump out of the plane--which was my dad,” he said.