Reflections remembers the events leading to solving the mystery of a missing Shaw Field cadet. In 1943, Gerald T. Held of Chappaqua, New York, was on a routine flight when his plane crashed. The ensuing search, led by Maj. William J. Esch, …
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Reflections remembers the events leading to solving the mystery of a missing Shaw Field cadet. In 1943, Gerald T. Held of Chappaqua, New York, was on a routine flight when his plane crashed. The ensuing search, led by Maj. William J. Esch, operations officer, included thousands of volunteers and additional troops from Fort Jackson. The search parties were joined by the cadet's father, Marcel F. Held, who offered a reward for the safe return of his son. The massive search yielded no results until September 1946, when Held's remains were found by accident. The story of this event helped solve one of the major mysteries occurring at Shaw Field during the flight training phase. Information and photos used to construct this article were secured from The Sumter Item archives.
Cadet Held began his day conducting a routine training flight and disappeared from the skies at about 9:25 a.m. near U.S. 76, two miles north of the Wateree River. The assistant operations officer, Lt. Emmett M. Manning, flew over the swamp for several hours unsuccessfully attempting to find the young cadet. Cadet Held's father, Marcel F. Held, joined the search for his son along with several crews of men from Shaw Field. Many civilians familiar with the swamp volunteered their services. These volunteers were soon joined by a company of soldiers who came from Fort Jackson.
The hunt for the young pilot continued into a third day with a $200 reward posted for anyone finding Cadet Held. Col. R. C. W. Blessley, commanding officer of Shaw Field, ordered that the area be combed with continued vigor. The reward increased to $300 with $100 being added by the American Legion post in Held's hometown. Gov. Olin D. Johnston termed the search the largest of its kind ever to take place in the state. He called on civilians in the area to render assistance in the hunt. Sumter's Mayor F.B. Creech offered the aid of the civilian defense forces, which he commanded, and begged civilians of Sumter County to give every possible aid to help locate the missing youth.
The rural police, led by Sheriff George L. Mabry, were very familiar with the Wateree Swamp. They had spent many hours searching for bootleggers and other individuals who became lost while hunting and fishing. Blessley issued a statement declaring that the recent rain had caused no relaxation in the giant manhunt. With the grounding of planes necessitated by bad weather, the pilots and crews were added to the available manpower. Many training officers and cadets volunteered to join the search. The colonel expressed gratification for the assistance provided by neighboring Army posts and civilians. Camp Sutton, North Carolina, provided a company of Army engineers led by three officers to assist in the search. Fort Jackson sent a sanitary company to swell the number of organizations already engaged in the massive manhunt. Cadet Held's father added $200 to the reward, bringing the reward to $500 for information leading to the finding of his son.
The cadet pilot's
remains are found
The mystery of the missing pilot was solved on Sept. 20, 1946, by P. A. Broughton, a Sumter County game warden, bringing an end to the three-year search for the missing cadet. The remains of the flier were identified when a rotted parachute was found near the skeletal remains. Also, a molded leather flight jacket and a pair of military-issue shoes were located near the chute. Cadet Held had become the subject of an intense search when his aircraft crashed near Wateree at 9:25 a.m. Wednesday morning, Nov. 24, 1943. Mr. Broughton reported "that both legs of the remains were broken as if the body had plummeted to the ground." The parachute apparently was unopened. "Broughton and a neighbor, R. L. Wright, were traveling in the swamp when they lost their trail between Ramsey Lake and Beech Creek. The two men became separated; as Mr. Broughton waited on a knoll, he noticed what he thought was an old cushion. He picked it up and observed cords attached, leading him a short distance to the pilot's skeletal remains."
Broughton notified Shaw Field officials and The Sumter Daily Item about the discovery. A party from the air base led by Col. T. W. Blackburn, a staff of officers and representatives from the medical corps, Broughton, Mr. Wright and Heyward Crowson, The Item's staff photographer, went to the site. The remains of Cadet Held were carried to the Shelly-Brunson Funeral Home, and his parents were notified. "The discovery of the cadet's remains ended a three-year search for the missing flier, a search which included at one time some 1,500 persons who combed the 49-mile-long swamp finding no trace of the body."
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