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Central Indiana man shares cousin’s letter detailing glider crash during WWII

ANDERSON, Ind. -- Tuesday marks the 73rd anniversary of D-Day, the battle that turned the tides of World War II for the Allies. It was June 6, 1944 that Ray Turner's cousin nearly lost his life.

Turner's cousin, Merrill Janney Jr. was a pilot in the war. He enlisted with his friends in 1941 at the age of 21.

While Janney rarely talked about the war, Turner learned more about the relative's time serving thanks to a letter Janney had written for the family's genealogy.

Merrill Janney with his wife.

Turner said he got into the family's history after his grandfather passed away. "I've been doing genealogy for several years now," he said.

The letter was written more than a decade after the war ended.

Turner read the portion of the letter pertaining to Janney's D-Day. "Among my other assignments for the first week of June 1944 was to fly an English type glider with 32 men into Normandy," the letter said. "This is proceeded to do very early in the morning of June 7. My volunteering for this duty was almost my undoing."

Janney passed away in 1963 due to complications from a liver disease. D-Day nearly took his life, too. The airfield he was set to land in wasn't there when he was trying to land his glider. Instead, he had to settle for a group of trees which he crashed into at 80 miles an hour.

The letter goes on to say, "Through some most helpful maneuvering, I was finally loaded on a jeep and headed toward a beach hospital. That's the last anyone knew of me until my dog tags, with me attached, appeared at a station hospital back in Western England. For all of this I'm taking the other pilot's word. I was completely knocked out as far as knowing or remembering anything."

Janney would have to recover the next five months from a laundry list of injuries:

  • Broken leg
  • Broken right hand
  • Fractured vertebrate
  • Fractured skull
  • Concussion
  • Three fractured toes
  • Fractured left shoulder socket

One might think his time at war was over, but Janney went on to fly in two more combat missions before flying himself back to the states.

Janney and Turner were close as they both lived in central Indiana.

"I helped his father on the farm when I was 11 and 12 years old," said Turner. "We spent quite a bit of time together during family reunions."

After the war, Janney enrolled at Purdue University, but Turner felt the war had taken a toll on his relative.

"Everyone who goes through any kind of battle has to affect them dramatically," said Turner. "They're changed in personality. There's no question about it."

Janney was an Anderson High School graduate and stuck around the area until his death. Turner said his cousin continued to fly airplanes with his friends at an airstrip that no longer exists in town.

Turner and Janney were third cousins, but there aren't too many closer relatives of Janney around. His three children have all passed away - an infant child is buried next to him at Anderson Memorial Park. His wife now lives in South Carolina at the age of 93.